Backstory of Best Picture Winner CODA w/ Marlee Matlin

“CODA” made history at last night’s Academy Awards, taking home the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur). Recently, the film’s star, Marlee Matlin, sat down with The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk in an episode of “At Home With The Creative Coalition,” a podcast featuring unplugged and uncensored conversations with today’s biggest stars. In the episode – which is also available on video in American Sign Language (ASL) and closed captioning – Matlin talked about the groundbreaking film, her first Oscar win for “Children of a Lesser God,” and much more. Highlights below.

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Highlights from “At Home With The Creative Coalition” featuring Marlee Matlin —

On “CODA,” which just took home the Oscar for Best Picture:

“It won all four top awards at Sundance Film Festival, the first time that’s ever happened at the festival. It’s unique in the fact that Apple bought it for $25 million, more than any film that’s ever been purchased from Sundance. But more important than all of that is that the three lead characters are deaf, they carry the film, they’re authentically played by deaf actors – I mean, I get political about it sometimes. At the end of the day, though, it’s really a very sweet story, a very universal story that takes place in a deaf family with a hearing child. It’s just one example of the many, many stories that you can find in the deaf community. And we put it on screen in a movie […] I was on board right when it came out of the gate. It was a script that I pursued heavily. I wouldn’t let it out of my grips. I didn’t want it to get away with anyone else doing the script.”

On why her first Oscar win for “Children of a Lesser God” would have been different if she’d had more experience in Hollywood:

“In all honesty, when I got the Oscar, back then, if I had been in Hollywood prior to that – being that this was my first experience – I think my whole attitude would have been different. I would have probably approached it more stressed out, freaked out, been really nervous, been afraid. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but in a way that, you know, you experience a lot of pressure when you’re in the running for best actor, best actress nomination, being a nominee. But because it was my first time at the rodeo, if you want to call it that, I couldn’t get any more naive than I was at the time. I didn’t know about the whole stuff that goes along with being in the Oscars: the PR, what you’re supposed to be seen in, what you’re supposed to wear, the competition amongst all the nominees. But I can tell you that I had a lot of fun because I was so fascinated with all these people I looked up to as movie stars growing up. And there were people to the left of me, people to the right of me, and in front of me – and I was a fan. I’m a fan and I’m a nominee along with these people, these actors. I mean, actors can be fans of other actors. But I mean, I was really a fan, and a very naive one at that. And here I am, sitting amongst all of them, it really was so surreal.”

On learning the ropes of Hollywood while on the set of “Children of a Lesser God” and the memories she carries with her to this day:

“It was a blast, it was a blast. At the same time, I was in the process of growing up. I was turning 19 to 20 during the shooting of the film, and there was so much going on in my life. I went into a movie set – I’ve never set foot on a movie set in my life – and I didn’t even understand what it entailed and what was Hollywood all about, knowing how it all worked. I had to learn while I was shooting. I had to understand what everybody’s job was as a crew, learning their names, watching the director, understanding and working with the co-stars. At the same time, I was with William Hurt. He was my co-star, so I was in a relationship and making a movie at the same time with him, so there was a lot going on for a 19 year-old […] I watch the movie now, I can remember exactly what transpired in each and every scene behind the scenes while we were shooting the scenes because of our relationship. To this day, I still have a vivid memory of that.”

On the time “The West Wing” co-star Martin Sheen gave orders, as the president, to the real-life Secret Service to get her into the White House:

“One time the whole cast went to the White House, and we were visiting – Clinton was president at the time. So the cast was invited, we all went […] We were in line having to go through security. You know, you have to give your name and who you are, your social security number in order to get in the room with the president. So we’re sitting there and Martin Sheen was behind me. So he’s the one, of course, who loves to tell stories – I mean, he’s a big story teller, bigtime. And we were talking, and he’s talking about the Pope and meeting the Pope, and I was fascinated with that story. And then we’re getting closer and closer to the security checkpoint. Finally, it’s my turn and I say, ‘Marlee Matlin.’ And my name wasn’t on the list. And they were like, ‘Oh, sorry.’ And so Martin came up and said, ‘Excuse me, she’s part of the cast. She needs to be on the list.’ And they said, ‘Well, but her name’s not here. She can’t get in.’ And he goes, ‘Okay, I’m the president, but I’m not going in.’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, no, Martin! Martin, Martin! Go, go, go! Don’t hold up yourself just because of me.’ And he goes, ‘Nope. If you can’t get in, the president’s not going in. I’m not going in.’ And the Secret Service freaked out and they’re like, ‘Well, if the president says you can go in then you can go in.’”

On how she came to be on “The West Wing” over Chinese food with Aaron Sorkin:

“So how it started out, it’s really simple. I was a fan of his previous show ‘Sports Night’ – Aaron Sorkin’s previous show ‘Sports Night’ – and, in the show, Josh Malina had a sister who he’s writing letters to off screen. You never saw who she was, but she was deaf and he was writing her letters. So I reached out to Aaron and I said, ‘Hey, look. If you ever bring that sister on the show then why don’t you consider me for ‘Sports Night’? I’d love to be on it.’ And he said, ‘Hold off. Let’s meet for lunch instead.’ So we met for lunch in Beverly Hills for Chinese food – the food was fantastic, he paid for it. And we had a long conversation and he said, ‘I have a new show that I’d like you to consider. It’s called ‘The West Wing.’ And how do you feel about being in it?’ And I said, ‘Well anything that you write, anything you create out of your brilliant mind one way or another, of course I want to do it.’ And the next thing I knew, that afternoon he wrote the scene for me playing Joey Lucas.”

On the unnamed “West Wing” cast member who left her behind on set with morning sickness at four in the morning:

“I remember one time, well actually I was pregnant and I didn’t feel so hot. But I didn’t tell anybody that I was having morning sickness. I think this was my third child. We wrapped I think at, like, four in the morning. You know, we had to ride a shuttle bus to go from set, and someone – a cast member, who I will not name – got the shuttle bus, didn’t want to wait for me and left me standing there with my morning sickness.”

On her fortuitous run-in with Larry David at the gym that got her cast on “Seinfeld”:

“It so happened that Larry David saw me at the gym one day, and that’s all it took for him to be inspired to create a story […] It’s probably one of the most iconic roles that I’ve ever done. Again, it’s so iconic, I still to this day get stopped […] It reruns constantly. Jerry told me this is one of his top-10 favorites of his.” 

On how Henry Winkler inspired her to become an actor:

“When I was 12 years old, I asked Henry Winkler when he came to visit us at the Center, he was invited as a guest. I said, ‘I want to be an actor in Hollywood just like you. Just like you on television.’ And he said, ‘Well, why not? Sure. Don’t let anybody ever tell you otherwise. Follow your dreams. Believe in yourself and your dreams will come true.’ You know, that kind of inspirational message that you would hope to get from somebody. And I took it very seriously.”


More about “At Home With The Creative Coalition”

Hosted by The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk, “At Home With The Creative Coalition” brings listeners intimate portraits, key moments of discovery, and “art and soul” conversations with iconic entertainment industry personalities from the big screen to the boardroom, from L.A. to D.C. Listen now at

Upcoming guests include Justin Bartha (“The Hangover,” “National Treasure”), New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Isaacs (“Compromising Positions”), Melissa Manchester (“Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “Through the Eyes of Love”), Yolonda Ross (“The Chi”), and Tramell Tillman (“Severance”).

Previous guests include Jason Alexander (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Shiri Appleby (“UnREAL”), David Alan Basche (“The Exes”), Asante Blackk (“This Is Us”), Carly Chaikin (“Mr. Robot”), Wilson Cruz (“Star Trek: Discovery”), Alan Cumming (“Schmigadoon!, “The Good Wife”), Ethan Cutkosky (“Shameless”), The Creative Coalition President and actor Tim Daly (“Madam Secretary”), Lea DeLaria (“Orange Is the New Black”), Griffin Dunne (“This Is Us”), Kerry Ehrin (“The Morning Show”), Michael Fishman (“Roseanne,” “The Conners”), Jim Gaffigan (“The Jim Gaffigan Show”), Willie Garson (“And Just Like That…”), Judy Gold (“The Other F Word”), Nicholas Gonzalez (“The Good Doctor”), Clark Gregg (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Tony Hale (“Veep,” “Arrested Development”), Evan Handler (“And Just Like That…,” “Californication”), Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Middle”), Jon Huertas (“This Is Us”), Jason Isaacs (“Star Trek: Discovery,” “Harry Potter”), Richard Kind (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Chad Lowe (“Supergirl”), Aasif Mandvi (“The Daily Show”), Rachel Mason (“Circus of Books”), AnnaLynne McCord (“Let’s Get Physical”), Eric McCormack (“Will and Grace”), Wendi McLendon-Covey (“The Goldbergs”), Katherine McNamara (“Shadowhunters”), Molly Smith Metzler (“Maid,” “Shameless”), Marta Milans (“Shazam!”), Rob Morrow (“Billions”), Kathy Najimy (“Younger”), Ken Olin (“This is Us,” “Thirtysomething”), Haley Joel Osment (“Future Man,” “Entourage”), Joey and Daniella Pantoliano (“The Matrix,” “Memento”), Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”), Kyla Pratt (“The Proud Family”), Jessica Queller (“Supergirl”), Anthony Rapp (“Star Trek: Discovery”), Reid Scott (“Veep”), Mona Scott-Young (“Love & Hip Hop”), Alena Smith (“Dickinson”), Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”), Krista Vernoff (“Grey’s Anatomy”), KT Tunstall (“Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” “Suddenly I See”), Matt Walsh (“Veep”), Alfre Woodard (“Clemency,” “Luke Cage”), Constance Zimmer (“Good Trouble”), and David Zucker (“Airplane!,” “Scary Movie”).  

More about The Creative Coalition

The Creative Coalition is the premier nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) social and public advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment community. Founded in 1989 by prominent members of the creative community, The Creative Coalition is dedicated to educating, mobilizing, and activating its members on issues of public importance. Actor Tim Daly serves as the organization’s President. The Creative Coalition also creates award-winning public service campaigns including #RightToBearArts to promote the efficacy of the arts. The Creative Coalition harnesses the unique platforms of the arts community and entertainment industry to make positive impacts on social welfare issues. For more information, visit