Sign (Language) of the TimesBy Deanna Barnert Posted: Jan 9, 2007
When Bryton McClure heard his YOUNG AND RESTLESS character, Devon, would go deaf after a life-threatening bout with meningitis, "I was worried," he admits. "You can't truly grasp an experience like this unless it happened to you. I wanted to do earplugs or something, but nothing re-created that reality, so I had to wing it."
To that end, McClure looked at his character's history. "When I envision that happening in real life, without the possibility of getting it back, I imagine I'd be a mess, but with all the good things that have happened to Devon over the last few years, he had a reason to have hope," McClure says. "From day one he believed there was a way to get his hearing back."
There was always talk of the cochlear implant (click for information about the implant: www.bionicear.com), so he focused on that positive.
"He didn't let himself accept he'd just never hear again," McClure notes. "That's why we didn't see him breaking down a lot." But there's more to playing deaf than the emotional journey: McClure and his on-screen family had to keep up appearances. "It was a challenge, with the sign language and trying to keep from responding or reacting to someone trying to get my attention," says McClure. "It was funny to look back at those scenes. Usually, I have at least a general idea of what everyone is saying, but I'd watch and not remember anything. I tried to ignore [my co-stars] in the scene until they'd get my attention, and I guess it worked!"
While McClure ignored his co-stars, they were tasked with learning sign language at warp speed. "We had a sign language coach on-set and a few days before we'd shoot a scene, they'd get everyone together to go over all the signs. Then the coach would be there during shooting, in case they had any questions," McClure outlines. "Devon could talk, so I didn't have to sign all that much, but we all learned it together. They always gave Michael Graziadei (Daniel) so much to sign, but he picked it up very quickly. Christel (Khalil, Lily) came to [the storyline] late, but she was also quick to learn. Victoria Rowell always played that Dru wasn't very good at signing, even though she picked it up very fast. Kristoff St. John (St. John, Neil) did extremely well. He always had a mouthful to say — a handful to say, that is."
Some have argued that the Winters clan seemed to learn too much sign language too fast, but that won't stop Bionic Ear experts from touting the storyline and McClure's performance. "Bryton's accurate depiction of a cochlear implant (C.I.) recipient has been so well-acted that we continue to receive many comments from actual C.I. recipients inquiring if the actor is a real C.I. patient!" praises Sue Greco, Director, Marketing Communications for the Auditory Division of Advanced Bionics. "We've realized a noticeable increase in inquiries regarding cochlear implants since the storyline unfolded, with people telling us they learned about the Bionic Ear on their favorite soap opera. Most important is that people realize that they do not have to remain deaf if they so choose. Our technology is the connection for them to discover, or rediscover (in the case of Devon), the world around them. Advanced Bionics was proud to work with the producers and cast of Y&R — their genuine interest in raising awareness of hearing-loss intervention and how this state-of-the-art technology can help millions of people deserves recognition and applause."
"It makes me feel good to know I did a decent job," McClure responds, noting that he's gotten his own share of thankful and uplifting notes from fans. "I'm thankful to the writers for giving me stories that are not typical or easy. It's not everyday stuff, and since the end of August, it's been one thing after another, with the murder and Devon losing his hearing. It's been a lot of fun to be worked that much."
And Devon's struggles give his portrayer a bit of perspective. "Even though I didn't fully understand what Devon was going through, focusing on playing deaf every day and trying to understand made me thankful and appreciative," he explains. "Everybody takes the smallest things for granted, from picking up a pencil to listening to the wind blow. It made me not take anything for granted."
Now that Devon's cochlear implant is turned on, McClure's thrilled Devon is back to hearing voices. "It was fun to play not being able to hear. It was challenging and completely different, but it limits you," he admits. "In acting, you play off of other people in your scene. You play off their emotions and how they deliver their lines. I could only respond based on sign language and hand movements. It puts you in a box. It's solitary. To be able to act and respond again is great."
Sounds like Devon's not the only one seeing the benefits of that bionic ear!