Duluth actor gets his biggest stage yet in the new movie 'CODA'

MPR News' Euan Kerr interviews Duluth actor Daniel Durant, who has a starring role in CODA, a movie acclaimed at Sundance, which opens in theaters and on Apple+ streaming this weekend.
Edited by Evan Frost | MPR News

It's a huge weekend for Duluth actor Daniel Durant. His new film “CODA” opens in theaters across the country and begins streaming on Apple TV+.

The family drama, which already has won multiple awards at the Sundance Film Festival, draws its title from the acronym for Child of Deaf Adults.

People sit at a table and speak.
Actor Emilia Jones (left) plays Ruby the CODA, child of deaf adults, in the movie of the same name. She is the only hearing member of the Rossi family, and is torn between her love and loyalty to her family which needs her to help run their commercial fishing business, and an opportunity to strike off on her own as a singer.
Image courtesy Apple TV+

The Rossi family works together in the fishing business off the Massachusetts coast.

Ruby, the younger child, is the only hearing member of the family. She has dreams of becoming a singer, and tells her mother, Jackie, that she is joining her high school choir.

Jackie signs. "If I were blind, would you want to paint?"

Ruby stares incredulous for a moment then explodes.

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"Why is it always about you?" she demands. "I'm meeting people. I am making friends. You know what, you should get out in the world too."

"Really what this movie is about is the CODA experience," Daniel Durant signed, with an ASL interpreter speaking. "Like what they go through and also what a Deaf family looks like."

Durant plays Leo, the older brother dedicated to help the family business prosper. He's felt displaced ever since Ruby was born.

Played by Emilia Jones, Ruby is torn between her loyalty to her family and her desire to sing. As a link to the hearing community she's important for the family business. Yet singing could win her a college scholarship.

And like many teenagers, she finds her parents embarrassing.

In one scene, her folks come to pick up Ruby at the end of the school day with rap music blaring out of their truck. Her dad likes it loud so he can feel the vibration through his seat. Ruby is furious and they battle over the volume.

"I mean, that's a true thing," Daniel Durant said about one of his favorite scenes. "I always crank my radio whenever I go. Any kind of music that has a loud thumping bass, I can enjoy that because I can feel that."

People sit in an audience and cheer.
Flanked by actors Amy Forsyth (left) and Troy Kotsur (right), Duluth native Daniel Durant sits beside Marlee Matlin, who has long been his idol. They first worked together on the TV series “Switched at Birth.”
Image courtesy Apple TV+

Durant loved the poetic physicality of American Sign Language even as a kid.

"For example, I've watched the Star Wars movie and then I would tell the story of Star Wars, and people could see the kineticism of that movie on my hands," he said.

When he was young, a Deaf teacher's aide in his mainstream school in Duluth suggested Durant try a drama program. He ended up with the lead role in his first show.

He switched to the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, and later attended Gallaudet University in Washington D.C.

People sit at a dining room table in a still from a movie.
Veteran actors Troy Kotsur (left) and Marlee Matlin play Frank and Jackie Rossie in “CODA.” The movie, which also stars Duluth native Daniel Durant, is about the challenges faced by a Deaf family.
Image courtesy Apple TV+

He's acted on stage, including a Broadway production of the musical “Spring Awakening” by the L.A.-based company Deaf West Theatre. Durant had a recurring role in the ABC Family series "Switched at Birth."

That’s where he first worked with Marlee Matlin (“Children of a Lesser God”, “Picket Fences”), a prominent Deaf actor and Durant’s idol.

Though intimidated, he found her warm and helpful, as was veteran Deaf actor Troy Kotsur (“The Mandalorian”). In “CODA,” they play the parents with a gleeful ferocity.

At its January world premiere, “CODA” took the four top prizes at the Sundance Film Festival. Due to COVID-19, at the time of the interview, Durant had not seen the film with an audience.

"And I want them to kind of forget that we are Deaf. I mean, is that going to happen? I don't know. But I'd like for them to like see the family dynamic in this and just feel what this family feels."