HomeStars Making A Social ImpactUnstoppable: Deaf Actress Natasha Ofili Is Inspiring The World About What Can...

Unstoppable: Deaf Actress Natasha Ofili Is Inspiring The World About What Can Be Accomplished With Sheer Determination

Unstoppable: Deaf Actress Natasha Ofili Is Inspiring The World About What Can Be Accomplished With Sheer Determination

I believe writing plays and films are one of the most effective ways to share my cause. I also share my story and personal journey on my social media accounts. Basically any chance I have to share my story on a panel or by myself, I seize it, because I want to start and continue this conversation with as many people who will listen.

I had the pleasure to interview Natasha Ofili. With her breakout role in Ryan Murphy’s new critically acclaimed Netflix series, The Politician, deaf actress Natasha Ofili has now become a recognizable face in the entertainment industry. In September 2019, O The Oprah Magazine announced that Natasha “commands every scene she’s in” playing Payton Hobart’s no-nonsense principal Karen Vaughn, a woman losing her patience with her privileged students. Having lost her hearing when she was 18 months old due to a high fever, Natasha never succumbed to her challenges, only believing they served as a positive driving force. With sheer determination, Natasha is passionate about inclusivity and representation of deaf entertainers in TV, film, and theater, and is truly excited to help break barriers for the deaf community with her newly growing platform. “My goal is to become successful and break down barriers for others and future generations,” Natasha says. “This uncomfortable truth journey has been difficult, especially as a POC Deaf Woman, where very few of us get the recognition we deserve. Regardless, I keep on trucking. I remind myself to appreciate my being, those who support me, and continue being the light for myself and others. I will break down the barriers, no matter how difficult it will be.” Having first began a professional career as a fashion designer, Natasha transitioned to acting when a friend recognized her potential and urged her to try out for a play. In her debut acting job, Natasha performed a monologue, where she faced a sensitive subject that pushed her out of her comfort zone. She then went on to play the lead as an African American gay teenager dealing with life changes in the short film, Words Not Spoken. Around the same time, Natasha landed a national commercial for 7UP, which opened up other opportunities for her including the feature film You and Me, as well as a production of Our Town at Pasadena Playhouse. This past year, however, Natasha has finally broken through to the big leagues with supporting roles in monumental shows like Amazon Prime’s Undone, and of course Netflix’s The Politician. She even co-directed and produced a play in honor of Black History Month called Reflection: What Do You See? In addition to her passion for acting, Natasha is also a talented writer and enjoys nature, hiking, and reading drama/fantasy fiction novels.

Thank you so much for joining us Natasha! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

When I reflected on the answer to this question, I didn’t realize that I was already on the path to become an actor for some time. I look back in my childhood years and wow! I’ve always had it in me! I love stories, I love the journey, the emotions, the feeling of becoming the characters. Books were my toys; I can read from dawn to night and dive into my imaginary world. One of my favorites things to do as a kid was taking a trip to the library. Every time I went to the library, I tried to check out more than five books at a time, although I was never able to because the lady at the checkout desk would always say the same thing to me: “Natasha, you know you can only check out five books at a time, no more.” I was so stubborn, but at least I tried!

All of this unfolded to reveal my true love for acting. In 2014, DJ Kurs, the artistic director for Deaf West, contacted me for an audition for a play called Flower of Algernon. I was not in the acting realm whatsoever as I had been working in the fashion industry as a designer for the last six years. To get him off my back, I went to the audition but I was shaky out of my mind, feeling displaced with the whole idea. I left feeling that I gave a horrible audition and was relieved that it was now behind me. A few days later I received an email stating that the casting directors were deciding between me and another actress. I was in shock!

However, I didn’t get the part.

But Mr. Kurs was not done with me quite yet. He provided me another opportunity and that was when I truly discovered my love for acting. It was my first monologue piece called the Hearing Boyfriend. Although it was the hardest thing I had ever done then, I loved it so very much. The rawness of emotions and showing vulnerability; that was the opening gate toward this career path. I am forever fortunate to be able to tap into my true calling.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

My talent agent is a woman named Gail Williamson at KMR Talent Agency and she has helped me book several acting gigs. I remember toward the end of 2017, I was ready to take a big step and that was to let her know that I wanted to start using my voice for speaking roles. Funny enough at the time, Gail had no clue that I knew how to speak, since I use ASL (American Sign Language) and always brought along an ASL interpreter during our meetings. We set an appointment for me to come into her office and and I felt so nervous because I was stepping out of my comfort zone. At that point, I hadn’t really spoken in years!

There I was using my voice for the first time in front of Gail. Her eyes were in disbelief. I told her I wanted to use my voice as my tool, a tool used by choice for any speaking roles because it is a character I am playing and is not really me. This eventually led to booking the part of Principal Karen Vaughn in The Politician, my breakout role. A vocal coach by the name of Ellen Gerstein helped prep me for the show.

The interesting thing about this is I am a Deaf actress working on set with an ASL interpreter. I am signing because I am ME, but once we roll, I turn into my character and this is when I use my voice. When the Director yells cut, I am back to ME. It was so liberating to do that, to set the representation of myself as a Deaf actress. The cast and crew on set adjusted just fine, and all in all it was such a beautiful process.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

I have several people that have made such an impact on my life, but one person in particular helped me see and understand what I needed to do to survive. Her name? Susie Kirchner.

I believe I was in either 6th or 7th grade at John Muir Middle School in Burbank, CA. Susie was a sub for an interpreter in my class with two other Deaf students. I remember this day clear as crystal and the memory will stay with me until I leave this world. My Deaf friends and I were chatting away in class in front of Susie and our teacher. I think in our mind, we believed we had privilege as Deaf students to do “whatever we wanted.”

Susie was interpreting the class for us and at one point she stopped. She took out her book and started to read. My Deaf friends and I stopped chatting and looked at Susie with confusion, not understanding what was going on. We were missing information that our teacher was giving in the class! Susie looked at us and asked “How does that feel?” It was a slap in the face toward reality. She said, “Just because you are Deaf, you will not get different or special treatment. You need to pay attention!” At that moment I felt ashamed, especially since I knew she was right. I wanted to do better and excel, and from then on, I did.

What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Run with the wind. Only you know your greatest strength(s) and driven passion. With those two on your back, you will go far. Remember, every little mountain you climb, there will always be bigger mountains, so do not be afraid to climb them. Your own accomplishments are the most rewarding feelings that emerge. Those mountains are also barriers you will shatter for yourself and others.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting cause you are working on right now?

As a working actor, at least right now, my goal is to use my name to create a platform that will cater to our Deaf and Hard of Hearing youth in the education system, as well as living in this world. I was proud to use my success earlier this year to direct, produce and act in a monologue play called, Reflection: What Do You See?— a production about Black Deaf Talents who share reflections on their identity, struggles, and quest for acceptance. This was in honor of Black History Month.

My goal for this play was to raise awareness of Deaf Black Talents’ own struggles that they face in society. Most of the time, we do not have a platform to be seen or express ourselves. Along with that, I used this opportunity to donate a portion of the play’s earnings to the Marlton School for the Deaf.

Why the Marlton School for the Deaf you may ask? I believe we have to start somewhere and giving back to the future Deaf and Hard of Hearing youth is a great way to begin. I also want to start (and continue) a conversation on what we can do to improve the education system for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children, as well as educating teachers, principals and other who works with that community.

What methods are you using to most effectively share your cause with the world?

I believe writing plays and films are one of the most effective ways to share my cause. I also share my story and personal journey on my social media accounts. Basically any chance I have to share my story on a panel or by myself, I seize it, because I want to start and continue this conversation with as many people who will listen.

Can you share with us the story behind why you choose to take up this particular cause?

My mother was an immigrant from Sierra Leone, Africa and is one of the strongest and wittiest mothers that I could ever ask for. She believed in making sure I received the best education and taught me to say no to oppression. When my mom found out that I became Deaf at 18-months-old, she actively sought out the best program for Deaf children, TRIPOD, a private program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing youths in Burbank, CA. She moved us from Maryland to live near Burbank, so I can go to this program.

TRIPOD was a mainstream program where Deaf students were integrated in a hearing class setting. The classes had both Deaf and Hearing teachers, both teaching in the same classroom. We had direct access to language and communication with our classmates and teachers.

My mother and TRIPOD have made me who I am today, helping me believe anything is possible. We can be who we are and strive for whatever we want in life. They gave me the push and encouragement to go for it! When there were times I fell, I was able to get back up, start again and keep going. This led me to continue my mission to break down barriers for myself and future Deaf children. I am taking action by writing stories that can be shared to the world. Although it can be bumpy at times, I love this ride and the ways in which it helps me to grow and evolve. I thank all of the people, like my mom, TRIPOD, and many others, who believe in me.

What are your “3 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

I’m not sure exactly, but one thing I do wish to be told is to not lose my spirit when I don’t get a part. Audition after audition, sometimes you second guess yourself and wonder why you aren’t getting the job. I started to doubt myself, doubt my abilities — is acting really for me? Am I even good at it? Am I too dark skinned for this role? Am I too different looking? These doubts do cloud my being at times.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most of good for the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

You will definitely know when I start the movement. Sometimes it’s better to not share your ideas until it can for sure happen. 🙂

Can you give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

water doesn’t simply become the sea,

it has to take on many different forms

before joining with the oceans

just like the raindrop,

the stream,

and the river,

you are meant to become

many different people

on your journey to yourself

– pavana reddy

This poetry beams my being and applies to where I am in life. We are all here in this earth to do many things, we all have hidden talents that are meant to come out. I thought I was going to be working as a fashion designer until retirement age, but the unexpected happened, I was laid off, because that actually was supposed to happen! All my journeys in my life prepared me for this. I am ecstatic to be on this great journey as an actor, writer and inspiration for our youth and people.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this if we tag them.

Daniel Day Lewis. I know you are probably puzzled by this answer but I am a huge fan of his work. He is a phenomenal and epic actor and I was very sad when he retired from the industry. I still have a bit of a hope that he will be back for another film or two.

When I watch his movies, I deeply understand the characters he is portraying. They are raw and the emotions are such a depth to the core. I want to know his story and his journey as a person, as well as an actor. I would love to have a private breakfast with him. I guess I can only hope that this will be reality someday. 🙂