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Actress, Deanne Bray
When I was younger, Deanne Bray was a household name around our home. I grew up watching her help put away the bad guys as the title character on Sue Thomas, F.B.eye, while the rest of America knew her as Emma Coolidge, a character on the hit NBC TV series, Heroes. But whether you knew her as an F.B.I surveillance assistant or as a superhero, the whole of America has grown to know and love the wonderful actress who is Deanne Bray.
I was recently given an opportunity to interview Ms. Bray for Teen Ink.
RH- Would you mind telling us a little about yourself?
DB- I'm happily married to Troy Kotsur and we have a 5-year- old girl who is full of surprises every day.
RH- Were you born deaf, or did you lose your hearing?
DB- I was born deaf. I had residual hearing but i was born into the world of silence until a hearing aid was fit in my ear at the age of 2 and a half. I grew up appreciating the world of sound and the world of silence.
RH- Is it different for you performing in a speaking role than a signing role (such as in Universal Signs)?
DB- Every character I did, whether speaking verbally or signing only, is different.
RH- You once guest-starred on C.S.I: Crime Scene Investigator; tell us about filming that.
DB- William Peterson hired a CODA (Child of a Deaf adult) who coached him to sign/think as a CODA which I think is great what CSI did. I saw the details that he used that convinced my friends who have seen the episode that he had someone deaf in his life but in real life, he doesn't. It was a joy working with him and the team. The hair dresser who did my hair on CSI was the same hairdresser who did my hair for Heroes. Small world!
RH- How did you gain the role as Sue Thomas, in Sue Thomas, F.B.eye?
DB- Deaf West Theatre announced that there is an audition for this tv movie. I auditioned along with other hearing actors and some Deaf actors. After the 4th or 5th callback, my performance convinced the network people the I was right for the role. I learned later that the real Sue Thomas saw my audition tape and told the creators (Dave Johnson and Gary Johnson) of the show to stop looking because they have found their actress. I met with her and we became fast friends. I admire her. The TV movie ended up becoming a series which I didn't expect at all! Fun ride.
RH- Did you film on location in D.C? What was your favorite sight?
DB- In 2002, the F.B.eye team and I went to Deafway 2 and at the same time got montage shots of Washington D.C. and got some shots of the real FBI building where the real Sue worked. We shot some of Gallaudet University campus as well. We shot in Toronto, Ontario for 3 years.
RH- Do you have a favorite memory from the filming of the series?
DB- I have many. I really enjoyed working with guest stars who play Deaf characters. It was fun seeing other actors having the opportunity to be on the show. The F.B.eye team really paid back the Deaf community by showing all kinds of Deaf individuals. There are too many favorite memories of the 57 episodes I did!
RH- Is there any word on whether or not a Sue Thomas, F.B.eye reunion movie will be made?
DB- The producer almost made a movie two years ago but it didn't happen due to job conflicts with other members of the cast and other reasons. The producers/creators are still talking about doing it.
RH- Being based on the real-life FBI agent, Sue Thomas, how did you prepare for playing the role?
DB- Sue Thomas (the character and the real one) was not an agent but a surveillance assistant with the FBI team. Rick Peters (Bobby), Marc Gomes (Dimitrius), and I met the real FBI agents in LA; they gave us a tour and we got in a special room where we watched scenes and participated in some shooting events. They gave me a gun (not real) to participate in the game. They taught me how to hold the gun and so on. We asked the agents some questions and they shared some of their experiences. Tara Samuel taught the cast how to read body languages of criminals. That's one of the training they go through as well. I also interviewed Sue Thomas and wanted to know her journey working for the FBI. She's hilarious. She gave me a great insight of what she went through.
RH- Was it interesting having Sue Thomas portray the actress Deanne Bray on the show, while you, Deanne, portrayed Sue?
DB- It was a fun idea. Sue said in real life that she had always wanted to become an actress but didn't think it was possible until after she saw Phyllis Frelich in a TV movie. Sue admired Phyllis's work.
RH- Sue Thomas relied greatly on her Christian faith to guide her and to encourage her friends. Do you share this faith?
DB- I grew up belonging to none of the organized religion but was invited to my friends' temple, church, and their house of God. My father wanted me to pick my own religion when I got older. Growing up, I loved the Jews, Mormons, Christians and Catholics. My husband's family is Catholic so I was baptized at age 30 as a Catholic. I currently go to a Christian church that I found and loved going because of the pastor's humor and his way of talking about God. I knew of God growing up and do believe in praying for other people and in chatting with him. I never really knew God and am still learning about him now. I always will be. I'm not as educated as the real Sue Thomas about God and Jesus Christ.
I admire how Sue talks openly about God. The creators of F.B.eye talk about God. I didn't grow up in an environment where God was discussed openly in public. It happens only in church or in a home. It was private thing.
RH- Tell us a little about your character, Emma, on Heroes.
DB- Emma shut herself from both worlds (Deaf and Hearing). She had issues with her past and chose to live a simple life. Whenever she becomes emotional, she sees sound waves of colors. Sometimes it happens and sometime it doesn't. When she meets Peter and Hiro, they guide her to embrace her ability and to explore her gift. Eventually she finds out that she can make the sound waves move and cause things to happen. The sound wave can make people fly across the room. Plus when she thinks of someone while playing an instrument, she can lure that person to come to her.
The writers explained to me that if Heroes were to be picked up for 5th season, my character would have been developed more in the show. I didn't know where they were going with Emma and Peter. They left that as a mystery.
RH- Were you a fan of the show before you joined the cast?
DB- I was a huge fan since season one! My wishful thinking of being in the show became true. Hmmm, maybe I really do have an ability!
Parenthood is my favorite now. I love the show and think it's brilliantly written. I would love to be a part of that show...
RH- Did anything interesting happen while filming Heroes?
DB- I learned how to play a cello and piano. The Heroes team learned that I was trying to teach myself how to read music, they hired a musician to teach me and I worked hard in learning the pieces. I also became specific with my character in not holding the bow right at first but eventually as she plays she becomes natural at it but not too good. The first time I played it, post-production changed the music piece on me because of how they edited the scene. I was disappointed at first. But as we went along, the shots and music scores became specific and they matched my fingers with the notes they played in later episodes.
Milo wanted to learn the piano piece on his own and not have someone else's hand to play it and pretend it was Milo. It was fun to rehearse with Milo and that we were able to be prepared to play it together while we shot the scene.
Milo always made sure his mouth was seen for Emma. He made it easy for me to stay true to the character who happens to read lips.
RH- What was your favorite episode? What was your favorite of Sue Thomas, F.B.eye?
DB- My favorite part was when Peter saved Emma from getting hit from the bus. They had a stunt double on set but they used me and Milo. Milo wanted to do his own stunt so it'd be as real as it can get for the scene. Also the episode when Hiro stopped time and let Emma see the colors frozen. He was able to explain to Emma to embrace what she has. When we shot the scene the colors were not there. I had to imagine that it was there and to reach out to it. When I saw the episode put together with special effects, it was what I imagined! How fun was that!
My favorite with F.B.eye was working with Phyllis Frelich as she played the Holocaust survivor. She only did two takes of the monologue she did on the hospital bed. She was so amazing and the crew were amazed with her talent. I was proud that she was on the show with us. Dave Johnson directed that episode as well and his vision/shots were smart. He knew what he was doing.
RH- If you could play any role, from a film or a TV series, who would it be and why?
DB- I am ready to do a movie. I would love to do a Christmas story for Hallmark or something. There was a book I liked and wanted to buy the rights to but someone else beat me to it. I'm keeping an eye on that book since they have not done anything to it yet.
I love doing roles of women who are strong, struggling but with hope and faith, they're what keep them going in life. Or characters who do not think like everyone else, who dare to be different in a good way.
RH- When people meet you, are they surprised to find out that you're deaf?
DB- I don't know... I get different reactions from different people. Sometimes when I speak, and those who know sign language automatically sign to me; I appreciate seeing them sign. When I meet someone who has no idea what Deaf culture is, I always get " What country are you from?" Also, when I don't have my hearing aid on for some reason, I don't use my voice. I write on paper or use gestures to people because I am usually not comfortable with them talking to me while I cannot hear the sounds to match their lips. I don't read lips as well as Sue Thomas. I can if I really focus but I don't have much patience compared to some people. I do speak when I have my hearing aid on and read lips. I get different reactions from different people every day.
RH- When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DB- A teacher.
RH- If you weren't an actress, what would you want to be?
DB- An educator. Or do research that is related to the science field.
RH- Can your fans expect to see you tackle any new roles in the near future? If so, would you like to share with the readers at Teen Ink?
DB- It's hard to say right now. It's all about the right time and being with the right people to make something happen. There are ideas in the air but not sure when it will happen. It will happen. I'm not ready to announce that yet. I will make announcements on my website www.deannebray.com and Facebook.
RH- Have you had a favorite character to portray?
DB- A narrator from "Alice in Wonderland" with Deaf West was one of my favorites. Emma Coolidge and Sue Thomas was fun.
RH- Have you ever had an interesting encounter with a fan?
DB- I have many stories. Here are a few:
When I was in Florida with my husband, a family from Africa approached me explaining how they loved F.B.eye. It was nice to meet their children. I had no idea that the show was popular there.
Another time was while walking to my car going through City Walk at Universal Studio, there were a group of high school girls in their prom dresses following me. I turned and waved at them. I was in hurry to go. They recognized me from Heroes.
And last, one woman went to see a play from Deaf West called "Big River". I was in the cast when we were in San Francisco. After the show, a woman was shaking and asked to have a picture taken with me. She was in tears. I didn't understand what was happening to her. I was thinking to myself, Gee..I am just the same being as her. There isn't anything special about me. I took the picture and hugged her. Thanked her for coming to see the show. I was a little frightened when I saw that reaction.
RH- What is the difference between acting on stage, oppose to working on film?
DB- For stage, you have a little more time to paint your character and more time to explore in depth as the run goes on. For television, you don't have much time to analyze, much but to just be. In terms with working with the writers (for stage or TV), it's pretty much the same. You get to ask questions or give input when they ask or ideas about the scene and the relationship your character has with other characters. It's the same when you are focusing on the craft. On film, you really have to save your energy because there are a lot of waiting going on because of light set ups and stuff. I like to stay focused.
RH- You grew up on film lots while your father was a lighting technician; is that where you learned to love acting?
DB- No, in fact my father encouraged me not to get in this line of business. Acting was not a part of my plan. It's a dream I didn't expect to happen. Little did I know that observing the scenes on the lots where my dad worked were my first "acting" classes to shooting scenes and acting starting from age 5 to 11.
RH- Along with portraying the real-life Sue Thomas, you also once portrayed Helen Keller on stage; tell us a little about that experience.
DB- I loved studying Helen Keller. The director had a black and white video of Helen Keller speaking. I studied her closely analyzing how she spoke. How she breathed and moved her mouth in an exaggerated way. I wanted to find the details and elements of how helen spoke so that I could bring truth in the character I played. The interpreter apologized to the director saying that he didn't understand what I was saying. In my mind, that was good news! Many didn't understand her on the videotape and had an oral interpreter speaking what Helen was saying. It looked like she was saying a sentence while she was only saying one word that had 5 syllables. It was the first time for me to learn to speak as a Deaf person who didn't have the skills to speak fluently. I did that last year with another character and didn't know how far I should go with that. A friend of mine who is an interpreter told me that I sounded like a Deaf friend of hers who spoke the way I chose to speak for my character. It's risky for me to do that as I don't know how the Deaf community would feel but if I can do it truthfully, I am going to do it.
RH- What advice would you give to aspiring actors?
DB- Finish school and go for your dreams!