Apple TV Plus's CODA has been making waves ever since it swept the Sundance Festival's awards in January, and on Aug. 13, 2021, it's finally coming out for everyone to see.
The audience award and grand jury prize-winning film — which broke Sundance's acquisitions record after selling to Apple for $25 million — follows Ruby (Emilia Jones), the only hearing person in her deaf family. The film's title is an acronym of Child of Deaf Adult and refers to a person who was raised by one or more deaf parents or guardians.
Playing Ruby's family are deaf actors Troy Kotsur (as father and fisherman Frank), Daniel Durant (as brother Leo), and the inimitable Marlee Matlin (as mother Jackie). Ruby signs with her family throughout the film, but is the actress herself fluent in ASL?
Is Emilia Jones fluent in ASL?
CODA tells the story of Ruby, the only hearing member of the Rossi family, who, outside of school, both prides herself on and feels responsible for helping her parents and older brother out with their struggling fishing business.
But things change when Ruby joins her school choir, which unlocks both her passion and gift for singing, and her talents offer her the chance to attend Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music.
At first, Ruby's new pastime seems like an act of rebellion to the family. "If I was blind, would you want to paint?" her mother asks at one point. But the family eventually comes to understand that Ruby can't stay as their interpreter forever.
Londoner Emilia Jones — who has been tapped to take on the lead role in the anticipated on-screen adaptation of The New Yorker short story Cat Person — was actually new to ASL and only began studying the language after she got the part.
"I trained for eight months," she told Vogue after being asked how she prepared for CODA. "They found me an amazing deaf coach who taught me ASL but also about deaf culture and the nuances."
Emilia's coach was none other than Anne Tomasetti, CODA's "ASL Master" and "Director of Artistic Sign Language" (DASL, pronounced "dazzle"), who has worked on a number of theater and film productions including The Miracle Worker.
"She really pushed me and I love her for it," Emilia recalls. "Sometimes things would change on the day, as they do on any other project, and she'd never say, 'Keep yours the same.' She'd be like, 'You change too,' and we'd be signing over the craft table."
Emilia became so proficient in ASL during her training that she was eventually able to improvise with her cast members. "As time went on," she shared, "I became more confident." And since she wasn't allowed to have an interpreter on set, she was forced "to sign and keep up with conversation."
She calls working with Marlee, Troy, and Daniel "a masterclass." "I learned so much," she continued, "not just ASL, but how to internalize a range of emotions."
CODA will be in theaters and on Apple TV Plus starting on August 13.