Alex Nowak has starred in a range of Deaf films, including The Beach House, The Silent Killer, and most notably The End. Just last weekend, he was offering young deaf people advice about acting at Deaffest in Wolverhampton. But what makes him tick? We interviewed him to find out.
Could you tell us how deaf you are and what growing up deaf was like?
I was diagnosed with profound deafness at the age of one-and-a-half years old. When my parents found out I was deaf, they focused on my education and my ability to speak, making sure I was up to date with my hearing peers.
I’ve attended mainstream schools all throughout my childhood. Lower and middle schools were all plain sailing until I arrived at secondary school.
Before this, I was very quiet due to my deafness and didn’t understand what everyone was saying around me. Sometimes I used to nod and pretend I understood what was being said. However, at secondary school, communication became more important to my identity.
How did you become interested in acting?
The acting bug came when I started drama lessons at the age of 12 in secondary school. I had a small group of friends at the time and we all enjoyed portraying various roles, this gave me the confidence and encouragement to participate in the lessons as well as the schools drama club.
In 2004, I remember staying at my Nan’s when my Mum was on holiday in Madeira, Nan watches all the soap operas, which I had to watch! ‘Home and Away’ in particular, there was a storyline that had me hooked where this crazy stalker was killing lots of people! This made me think about how other people act. I went on to complete my GCSE drama and received a Distinction in my BTEC level 3 Performing Arts.
My acting became more serious in Sixth Form. I began to meet inspirational deaf people out of school, this made me truly believe in myself and it was then that I knew I could achieve as a deaf actor.
I remember the first film I saw you in – Death by Deafness, thinking you had enormous potential. How has your career progressed since then?
Thanks Charlie. ‘Death by Deafness’ reflects on the emotions a fragile young girl is experiencing due to her deafness, which has devastating consequences. This film was purely based on my own experiences when I was at secondary school; feeling alienated and neglected from the hearing world, also not having many good friends to talk to.
I used to find myself in a local park alone to gather my thoughts. It got to a point where I thought to myself “This is stupid, I’ve just got a hearing loss, I’ll move on”. Not long after, an proposal came about – creating a short drama based on my previous emotions and that’s how ‘Death by Deafness’ was born.
The film has a strong message and I hope hearing people learn a message after viewing it. The fact that the film went onto win awards at film festivals not only gave me motivation but also helped me feel more at ease in front of the camera.
What happened after that film came out?
This led me to London, attending auditions and gaining lead parts in professional short films. I then completed a course at ALRA drama school in 2010, which gave me lots of theatrical and film knowledge.
Since then, I’ve done a variety of acting projects, landing parts in music videos, feature and short films (such as The End), TV auditions, pantomimes, theatre productions, etc. I’ve taken on a range of roles, created many strong friendships and met role models on my journey. I learn something new every day about the media industry, it’s never boring!
Which film and role are you most proud of?
The film I’m proudest to have appeared in is ‘The End’ – it had such a huge impact on the hearing and deaf viewers, and still does. It gave the audience food for thought with its strong storyline.
Quite a few deaf people have approached me and said “the story really hit me, will the stem cell treatment actually happen?” Part of that I believe is due to the fantastic ensemble cast and powerful acting from some performers that makes the story truly believable. And it could occur in the future…
My most rewarding role is Emmet in ‘The Beach House’. The film focuses on a deaf family which has one hearing member, thus they are the outcast – not the deaf person, for a change! I portrayed the role of the deaf brother, dealing with the loss of his parents and expressing his anger towards his hearing brother doing a disappearing act for the past six years.
It was a demanding role as Emmet is full of mixed emotions. An actor very rarely gets to play this – it was an enjoyable performance, too, being on location at the beautiful Putsborough Beach in Devon.
You’ve worked with a number of directors, who stands out for you as the best you have worked with?
There’s two. Ted Evans, who I worked with on ’The End,’ and co Kelly Ferguson and Stuart Elms of Beg Borrow Steal Productions that I teamed with on ‘The Silent Killer’ and more recently ‘Falling For Vilma’.
Ted is such a skilled expert – he’s definitely one of the UK’s up and coming film directors. Kelly and Stuart are such professionals and know what they’re undertaking and make the actors they work with feel at ease. I look forward to working with all of them again.
I don’t disregard the hearing world and not get involved, like some deaf actors do. I truly believe qualified hearing people in the media industry need to know that able deaf actors are out there! Together, we can create understanding, total communication and equality.
Tell me how you get into character?
Well, I look back to when the character was a child and view the whole timeline of his life to try and recognize why the character is who he is now.
I delve into the character’s family history, too. If I play a deaf, BSL character – does he have any other deaf family members? If he has a stubborn personality – why is he stubborn? All of these are important factors that help me get into the role of the character, which I believe gives a realistic portrayal.
I always read the whole script once or twice, not thoroughly over and over again as the character becomes too unrealistic. Yes, read and learn your lines but I try to think of it just like a real life situation – you don’t know what will happen around the corner.
What are your future ambitions?
I’m yet to portray a horror character in a thriller film, this has been a dream role of mine for a while as most of my roles have been poignant ones.
Travelling and observing as much of this wonderful planet we live on is another goal of mine. I’ve just very recently returned from Sri Lanka after spending two glorious months there on a volunteering project, teaching written English, Geography and Drama to young deaf children at a specialist school.
I’d like to see more deaf characters in mainstream TV programmes – there just isn’t enough currently. This is something I’d like to see change in the next couple of years. I’d also like to see a film that does not focus on the aspects of deaf people’s deafness, but a film that just stars a general deaf person in it.
Further down the line, I hope to relocate to either the US or Australia and carry on acting till the day I die!
Interview by Charlie Swinbourne, Editor
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