Sound of Metal is the directorial debut from the writer of The Place Beyond the Pines, Darius Marder. The story follows a drummer, played expertly well by Riz Ahmed, whose hearing declines. This life-altering event not only affects him but also his significant other played by Olivia Cooke. The Amazon Studio produced movie shines a light on the deaf and ASL community in a way that hasn’t been done before.
I was fortunate to speak with Marder, Ahmed, Cooke, as well Paul Raci recently and learned a lot that elevated the impact of the story and the passion that went into making Sound of Metal.
So how did you prepare for this role? Because this is a very emotionally tasking character.
Olivia Cooke: Probably the emotional stuff, I sometimes feel like I’ve got in spades, but it was just more the performance that I was like, “Oh God, this is going to be really difficult.” So, to start with, Riz and I had—for a few months—luckily had this amazing, woman called Margaret Chardiet of the band Pharmakon who I just robbed her whole being. Basically, she taught me how to play guitar and scream and loop and Riz had learned the drums. So, it was just my main focus was being a proper band.
How was the chemistry developed between you and Riz? You two really hit it off well.
Olivia Cooke: I think, luckily we had a long time for rehearsals and we shot Sound of Metal chronologically. So, we’d already gotten to know each other quite well. And we worked on the scenes and figured out who these characters were separately and together. By the time we came around filming it, it felt pretty easy.
Was there a personal attachment that you already had to this character to help you formulate or convey the character’s “voice”?
Olivia Cooke: I’ve definitely had relationships that are more codependent than you’d like them to be. I struggled with mental health myself. And so I can somewhat draw from that experience even though, a square peg in a round hole, the situation. I think it was all there in the script as well as—me and Darius worked on it a lot, went off-screen, and talked about it endlessly.
Your character is absent in the second act and reappears in the third act of the movie. Do you feel that was enough time for her character to grow off-screen or did it feel to be too sudden for you?
Olivia Cooke: I think it was enough time. She’d reconnected with her father. She was in Paris; she was living a life that was so completely different to what her and Ruben had together. And wonderfully, we shot this film in order. So, I went off and did go to Europe, did go back to England, and I think traveled around Europe and then met with Riz again in Antwerp [Belgium]. And so, we were kind of wonderfully astrain, in a way, by that point.
Paul Raci has been acting in Hollywood since 1997 but you wouldn’t know him by name. The Veteran, actor, and musician have been a big player in the deaf community. Known also as a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) and Court Certified ASL interpreter the man is someone to watch out for. His performance as Joe in the film helped heighten one of the biggest emotional turning points this story has to offer.
I love your performance in Sound of Metal. It was really fricking good. So, how did you get involved with this project?
Paul Raci: Just got a hold of the script. They were looking for somebody. I read the script. I felt that it was written for me—if you will. I really felt strongly that I had a big connection to—the original script had an Iraq war veteran. I’m a Vietnam war veteran. To read that script and the connection this guy had to the deaf community, I just felt like it was written for me.
Yeah, because I did a little bit of digging on you and I thought, “Oh wow. This dude is a real veteran.” Did you work closely with Darius [Marder] to make sure that he depicted the deaf community correctly for this film?
Paul Raci: Not closely, but I had some suggestions for him. As I’ve said to other people, I just want to remind Darius that the deaf community has a saying, “Nothing about us, without us.” In other words, they are sick of watching, hearing actors portrayed deaf characters on the screen. All the way back from Jane Wyman in 1940 at winning an Oscar for playing Johnny Belinda–a deaf woman—which is ridiculous. But I remember when I saw the movie with my mother–when I was a little boy—she [Wyman] was on television, my mother was thrilled. My deaf mother was thrilled because there’s a deaf person on the screen. Even though she looked like shit or it wasn’t portraying it correctly. So, there’s that, prior to that being portrayed wrongly or miss misportrayed.
In the scene where you’re speaking to Ruben about him getting the implant; you were really emoting your feelings on that. I saw that tear come out and that was genuine. Have you had any connection to a scenario like that in your personal life?
Paul Raci: Oh, well, that’s a real scene. That’s for real. The emotional trigger, if you will, is just that I know so many people that have had that done and it didn’t work for them unless you’re a very, very, very, very young. I’ve seen it fail so many times. And the other thing that got me in the scene though, was that he betrayed this particular deaf community’s trust. That’s not what we’re about here. It’s not about fixing anything, and he went ahead and did that. So it breaks Joe’s heart.
It’s understandable because he was having a real connection with this great community – which leads to my last question. How important was this role for you as somebody who both parents are deaf?
Paul Raci: Oh, it’s unbelievable. My parents are no longer here. But I’m still connected to the deaf community in this country. Not only in Chicago but here in LA and other places. I’m a CODA, which is childhood deaf adults, but really, when I look at myself, I always think of myself as having a deaf heart. I’ve always been therewith, and for deaf people interpreting for my parents when they needed me back in the fifties, my heart is so deaf. It just engulfs my whole person. I just love them so much.
Riz Ahmed is no stranger to taking up roles that makes the actor dig within to give a damn good performance. You get a sense that Ahmed gives it his all to make his character memorable. Sound of Metal brought a new challenge to the actor as he was required to learn ASL fluently and play drums like a man with an authentic zeal for music.
Side Note: I couldn’t help but ask about any involvement he might have with Disney Plus’s Cassian Andor show.
What attracted you to Sound of Metal?
Riz Ahmed: The script, beautiful script, Darius Marder wrote on Blue Valentine. He wrote Place Beyond the Pines, two films that blew my mind. I didn’t know that when I read the script; it just jumped off the page. When I met him, I was like, “Dude, that makes sense that I love this script. I love your other work.” And he then said, “Well, I want it all to be for real. I want you to really learn the drums and I want you to learn sign language. Are you up for that?” And I leapt at the chance because it’s kind of what I love about this job is learning new skills, going into different worlds, and living these different lives.
So, for seven months, I was learning to play the drums and learning American Sign Language. It just taught me so much. It just taught me so much about everything, about myself, and taught me the true meaning of communication. I learned that from the deaf community. I learned how to not hide behind words and really to be forced to embody viscerally and physically what you’re saying, you know? I guess just the emotional texture of the script and the depth of the script mixed with those kinds of challenges and have more technical challenges. I just thought, “Wow, this is going to be a wild ride. So, let’s jump in.”
Did you have a past connection to the deaf community and if not, do you feel that connection now after working on this movie?
Riz Ahmed: No. Sadly I didn’t. Like so many of us in the hearing world–in the hearing community—I lived a very segregated life from the deaf community and I think one of the things that blew my mind was just realizing how crazy that is. Working on this film, the amount of talent, the amount of potential—not within the deaf community. Not despite their challenges, because of their identity of deafness. Their perspective, the richness of their experience, their skill set that they have to offer to teach us.
I learned so much from them on this project. In terms of my connection to it now – I’m not able to sign as proficiently and as in as advanced or fluent in ways as I was when I was filming, cause it’s like a language. You have to keep it up, but I certainly contain a connection to members of the cause and to Jeremy Stone–my friend and my sign instructor—who I actually named the character after. We changed his name to Ruben Stone.
The chemistry between you and Olivia – did it just come naturally or did you guys have to work on it beforehand?
Riz Ahmed: I love Olivia, she’s such an amazing actress. She’s such an amazing actor and such an open heart. I mean, I guess we’re both Brits. So, we were able to connect on that level, like, two British people in New York. “The drums, mate. This is crazy isn’t it.” You know that kind of thing. So, we had that immediate connection and she’s just a down-to-earth, open heart, open spirit, and an incredible talent and it’s hard not to connect with her. She’s one of those people. She’s just lovable, cool, funny.
Okay, final question and I have to ask this because I’m a bit of a Star Wars nerd. We know your character from Rogue One, Bodhi Rook, is no longer with us and there is a Disney Plus show that is coming out circling Cassian Andor. So, I was wondering if you might be involved or maybe Disney has contacted you about making a cameo at any point?
Riz Ahmed: I haven’t had anything so far – but I’m always rooting for the Star Wars family. It was a privilege to be welcomed into that universe and wherever mythology needs to keep doing to do what it does, I’m here.
Lastly, I spoke with director Darius Marder about his process in creating the story and his connection with the subject matter. Marder even dropped some knowledge on the original link for the film—which I would’ve love to have seen.
What kind of research did you do to pin down the psychology of Ruben as his hearing begins to decline?
Darius Marder: Well, that’s an interesting question. I mean, there was a lot of things that informed the specificity of—I can never say that word—that experience. And some of it is from my grandmother who the film is dedicated to. Watching her hearing, actually, after taking an antibiotic and watching her stuck between two cultures—the hearing and the deaf culture. She was an alcoholic and she informed a lot in this script. So, a lot of it’s in me.
Things that I’ve dealt with and my brother as well brought stuff from his own life. We also met people along the way, like Sean Powell, who was a drummer in a band called Surfbort in Brooklyn, [New York] who had dealt with extremes in his life. We drew from so many places to build this character of Ruben and that we found Rubens all over our crew and set when we were shooting. Everyone was like, “God, I relate.”
The underlining message of Sound of Metal seems to circle codependency. Why was that something that you wanted to pair up with this type of story about sudden hearing loss?
Darius Marder: Actually, the thing that drew me to the film was this concept of codependency, but also the metaphor of the band and the roles that we play in a band and who we are, and then how we’re in meshed. Literally, our sound is intertwined and that’s what I think relationships are—our frequencies get intertwined. Sometimes you don’t know where one frequency starts and the other one ends and how do you untangle them? If you’re in a band and then you have tear at those fibers, you don’t have that sound anymore, you know? So it’s a wonderful metaphor for a relationship and that really intrigued me.
When Ruben is losing his hearing, the story jumps from him finding out what’s going on to him trying to figure out how to fix this. Did you ever plan to stretch that out longer?
Darius Marder: Do you mean the beginning of the movie?
Darius Marder: Well, the first cut of Sound of Metal was four hours long. If that answers your question.
Darius Marder: Yeah, it took a while to hone this in because we had a lot we were working with. It was tough in a way because you almost wanted to live in that world before it changes, but the film really required that it was short-lived. That you very efficiently feel into that world and the context of that world, just enough that you miss it when it’s gone. Because the film needs to rest and sit and if you don’t, if you take too long in the beginning, you don’t have it to spend. I mean, a movie is a movie, is a movie—it’s two hours. It could be three, but no one will watch it.
Sound of Metal is a heart-wrenching about loss and discovery and the path one takes to find see what life has to offer. That may seem a bit cheesy but that movie is that damn good. Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, and Darius Marder deserve all the accolades this film will be on the receiving end of.
The work the cast in front and behind the camera were able to construct a story that should be seen by many moviegoers that with little to no knowledge of the deaf community. These people have a story a tell and we should be there to learn from it.
Sound of Metal will be streaming on Amazon Prime on December 4th.