Interview with Marlee Matlin

According to her calculations, Marlee Matlin was exactly 21 years and 218 days old the night in 1987 that she won the Best Leading Actress Academy Award for her role in Children of a Lesser God and had to convince Academy Award producers to let her interpreter on stage with her.

She took home a Golden Globe that year too, and she remains the youngest woman to ever win a leading lady Oscar.

But Matlin’s rise to fame began much earlier: When she was seven-years-old, Matlin’s teacher at the Center on Deafness and the Arts approached her about starring in their stage production of The Wizard of Oz. “Would you like to be Dorothy?” her teacher asked. Matlin’s response: “I am Dorothy.”

Not long after, she won a competition for her essay, “If I Was A Movie Star.”

If I was a movie star, I would ride in a limousine.

When I go out of the limousine I would give everyone my best autograph and I would let people take my picture. Ohhh, when I am on the stage I would give everyone my best smile.

I would have a huge house which would have mirrors all over. I would love when people would write me letters. I would love to send them back but it’s hard to write all the people.

I would love to meet all movie stars! They are so nice!!

I want to make movies all my life!

I am the best!!!

Here’s my autograph.

Matlin’s new memoir, I’ll Scream Later, tells of her journey from childhood thespian to Oscar-winner to television star. Rather than the typical Hollywood tell-all, Matlin’s autobiography paints a picture of a plucky young woman who fought through stereotypes, childhood abuse, a tumultuous family life and an intense drug addiction to become one of the most respected actresses in Hollywood.

Her book is filled with uncommon grace and plenty of laughter as she recounts her early career as a film star; her transition to television as Tess Kaufman on Reasonable Doubts (1991-1993), a role which earned her two more Golden Globe nominations; her appearance in Seinfeld‘s subversive “Lip Reader” episode (1993); her role as the formidable Joey Lucas on The West Wing (2000-2006); her turn as a contestant on ABC’s Dancing With The Stars (2008-2009); and, of course, the time she spent on the set of The L Word, playing spirited artist Jodi Lerner (2007-2009).

A passionate advocate for gay rights, Matlin recently answered questions from us about her candid biography, her athletic prowess, how easy it is to kiss a woman, and why silence is the last thing the world will ever hear from her.

AfterEllen: The title of your book, I’ll Scream Later, alludes to the fact that you were in rehab when you got the news that you’d been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Your interpreter, Jack, told you the press needed some kind of reaction, and you told him, “I’ll scream later.” It seems like such a feverish time in your life. Did you ever actually get the chance to celebrate and scream later?

Matlin at the Academy Awards in 1987

Marlee Matlin: Actually, every day of sobriety for me is a celebration. I have a great family, I have a career. Had I not gotten sober, I don’t even know if would have had a career after Children of A Lesser God, or even if I would be alive. It was really that bad for me. So each day is a wonderful celebration. As for “screaming later” I think the book is “later.” I wanted the world to know that the time for silence was no more, that I couldn’t keep silent about the abuse, the molestation, the drugs. But I also wanted to scream about my triumphs and my sobriety.

In some small way, I hoped that my story, my truth, could help someone who was saying “I’ll scream later” because they didn’t know how or have the tools to break the cycle of silence that comes with abuse, molestation and addiction.