Monday’s newest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “8 Footsteps,” involved a particularly interesting setting for a murder: a pitch-black room. Under suspicion? None other than Helen Keller, guest of honour at the dinner hosted by Alexander Graham Bell. We’ve seen John Tench in the role of Bell before, but never Keller, the deaf and blind American author, lecturer and political activist.
Playing the role of Keller was Canadian actress Amanda Richer, who we contacted to discuss the notable gig, being a deaf actress and some of her other work you should definitely check out.
Can you give me the Coles notes version of how you were cast in the role? Did your agent contact you? And did you have to audition?
Amanda Richer: Yes I had to audition. I have to thank Diane Kerbel for reaching out to my agent. I think I drank my weight in water prior to auditioning to calm my nerves! I wanted this role, bad, and walked into the room prepared and just poured everything I had into it! I left feeling really good. The audition was on a Monday, and on that Tuesday I was told my tape had made its way to the producers, and by Wednesday afternoon I got the much-anticipated call that the role was mine!
Helen Keller, unlike some of the characters on Murdoch Mysteries, was a real person. Did you do research into her life? I actually had no idea Helen and Alexander Graham Bell really knew each other.
Oh, I researched! I read up on every aspect of who she was; how she lived her life, and the legacy she left behind. I obviously knew who Helen Keller was, but quickly realized just how much I didn’t know about her! She was truly a political force, an activist, an advocate for human rights, and an incredible inspiration and voice for a lot of people. I didn’t realize how young she was when she met AGB, and if it weren’t for AGB, Helen would never have met Anne Sullivan, and well, the rest is history…
Helen had a close relationship with Anne Sullivan and I thought Severn Thompson and yourself did a wonderful job portraying that.
Thank you! I met Severn at the readthrough and we hit it off immediately! She is not only an incredible person, but a terrific actress. We had a lot of fun!
You already tweeted about this, but what was it like working with Colin Mochrie?
Colin Mochrie! What a guy! He is a great person with such a big heart! No matter what he’s talking to you about, you can’t help but crack up! He’s so good at what he does, so it was a pleasure watching him work.
You aren’t blind; was it difficult to train yourself not to look your fellow actors in the eye?
Being hard-of-hearing I’m very dependent on the lips, so direct eye contact isn’t something I normally do to begin with. Helen Keller was almost in her own little world being both deaf and blind, so I really tried to focus on ‘feeling’ what I’d otherwise see, and sort of shut out what was physically happening around me.
Does being deaf present a particular challenge as an actress?
If anything, I think it gives me a uniqueness! Being a deaf actress (or just deaf in general), I’ve inherited the ability to tap into another level of emotion, concentration and communication. I communicate and listen with my entire body rather than just my ears. I like to think of it as my superpower!
The challenge right now for so many deaf actors/actresses is that deaf roles are being given to hearing actors. If you want true, authentic characters and performances, that should be a huge consideration in casting.
What made you decide to go into the film and television business in the first place?
It sounds cliché to say, but I think I always knew I was headed down that road. It was more about just how I get there! After realizing my disability didn’t define me, I embraced that confidence and chased after every possibility and opportunity to be on set, both behind and in front of the camera … and here I am!
I just finished watching your short film Longhand, and it’s pretty amazing. Was it always your intention to not only be in front of the camera but behind it as well, creating your own characters and producing and directing your own projects? Why is it important for you to do that?
Thank you! Longhand means a great deal to me, and to have positive responses from people means a lot! When you watch a movie or a television show, a powerful character, performance, or storyline naturally impacts you and leaves you inspired. That feeling is exactly why I wanted to create my own work. I want to tell stories that provoke those emotions. To me, that’s the ultimate reward! Also, many actors know that you can’t just sit by the phone willing it to ring, you have to create your own work also!
I can’t let this interview go by without asking you about Deafplanet.com. That TVO series was really groundbreaking at the time. You must be really proud of it.
I’m super proud of it! It was an amazing show, and I’m just sad that it didn’t go on to get more seasons. I owe a lot to Matt Hornburg and Mark Bishop from marblemedia for sparking the acting bug in me! Being a part of the deaf community, I’m still best known for my role as Kendra, and every so often a kid will tell me it was their favourite show to watch, and to me, that speaks directly to the integrity and influence of the show itself.
And, what was it like to work on The Shape of Water as the sign language coach?
It was a dream! An absolute dream job! It was an incredible four-month journey working with Sally Hawkins. I was invited to the TIFF première, and I was just beaming with pride! The love and admiration I have for Sally is beyond words.
Geek question: Did you get to meet Guillermo del Toro?
I did! Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my Top 5 favourite films, so I totally geeked out before I met him! He is the sweetest man and just such a remarkable talent. Watching him work, and witnessing his vision being brought to life was a once in a lifetime experience! I feel incredibly lucky to be apart of it.
Last question: what are you working on next that you can talk about?
I have some secrets up my sleeve, but I’m available for hire guys!
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Got a question or comment for Amanda? Write in the comments below!