Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds has a message for those who are different

“We have a wonderful world,” says the 14-year-old Millicent Simmonds. “I feel very lucky to be in it.” The energy that Millie, as her friends and family call her, gives off in person could be summed up by the title of her very first film: Wonderstruck. Until recently, the Utah native pictured herself growing up to become a police officer or a firefighter—“something that involved a little danger,” she admits. But when Todd Haynes put out a countrywide casting call for a deaf girl to star in his latest project, Simmonds auditioned at the urging of her drama teacher. Barely a teenager, she flew to New York to run lines in front of Haynes, who she’s since described as “the gentlest man on Earth.” She beat out 150 contenders for the part of Rose, a rebellious deaf girl in the year 1927 who’s unable to sign with her family and yearns to run away from home and be heard.

“Rose had nobody,” says Simmonds. “She had to work so hard on her own. She had to get out. She had to search for someone who would understand her.” She empathizes with her character’s frustrations, but says their similarities end there. Unlike Rose, Simmonds is fortunate to have a supportive family, a cochlear implant to help her hear, and, thus far, has worked with people who sign. In fact, both Haynes and the film’s star Julianne Moore learned some ASL to better communicate with Simmonds on set, as did John Krasinski, her director in the just-wrapped horror film A Quiet Place.

Forging her own path, no matter the obstacle, is important to the young actress. “If you’re disabled or different from what general society deems normal, it’s fine,” she says. “There will always be people who won’t accept you, but there are others you can find who will. You’re never alone.”