In Your Ear: Oscar-Winning Actress Marlee Matlin

As a look ahead to Sunday's 83 Annual Academy Awards, Tell Me More asks previous Oscar winners to open their music files and share what's playing in their ear. Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin opens up about the tunes that inspire her. Matlin, who is deaf, won a 1986 Oscar for the film, "Children of a Lesser God." (She shares her music favorites with assistance from a sign language interpreter.)

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now the latest in our special Oscar week In Your Ears. The Academy Awards are this Sunday. So this week we've been hearing what's on the playlist of some of our Oscar-winning guests. Today, a very unique selection from actress Marlee Matlin. She won her Oscar for her performance in the film "Children of a Lesser God." And Marlee Matlin is of course a talented actress, activist and author. She's also deaf. And she told us about her favorite songs with a little help from a friend.

Ms. MARLEE MATLIN (Actress): (Through interpreter) Hi, I'm Marlee Matlin, speaking through my sign language interpreter Jack Jason. Though I may be deaf, I do listen to music. When I grew up, my brothers would play music all the time and then I would press this little cassette tape and then I would learn to hear the words along with what little vibrations came into my ear. And I would do it over and over and over again and drove my brothers crazy, to eventually, they couldn't take it anymore.

But I was so thirsty for music that they kept giving it to me and giving it to me. And that was a gift to me that I will never ever forget. And what rocks my world is "My Life" by Billy Joel.

(Soundbite of song, "My Life")

Mr. BILLY JOEL (Singer/songwriter): (Singing) Got a call from an old friend, we used to real close. Said he couldn't go on the American way. Closed the shop, sold the house, bought a ticket to the West Coast. Now he gives them a stand-up routine in L.A.

Ms. MATLIN: (Through interpreter) And with my life, it's because of my dad. The independence that he gave me was so, right on the nose, expressed in that song, "My Life."

(Soundbite of song, "My Life")

Mr. JOEL: (Singing) I don't need you to worry for me 'cause I'm all right. I don't want you to tell me it's time to come home. I don't care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.

(Soundbite of song, "Just the Way You Are")

Ms. MATLIN: (Through interpreter) What else is going in my head is "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel.

(Soundbite of song, "Just the Way You Are")

Mr. JOEL: (Singing) Don't go changing to try and please me. You never let me down before.

Ms. MATLIN: (Through interpreter) Here's a song that I connect with my husband, that I connect with the people that I love in my life, about being completely free, not wanting anyone to change for whatever you would expect them to be.

(Soundbite of song, "Just the Way You Are")

Mr. JOEL: (Singing) I would not leave you in times of trouble. We never could have come this far. Mm mm. I took the good times, I'll take the bad times, I take you just the way you are.

(Soundbite of song, "The Stranger")

Ms. MATLIN: (Through interpreter) The last song by Billy Joel that really, really rocks my world is "The Stranger." "The Stranger" is a great way to express how I feel when I meet people, people that I become friends with, and then who might just for some reason disappear out of your life. And I guess when I hear that song, when I read the words to that song, I feel that feeling and I understand it so very well. And Billy Joel is just somebody who just comes right to my heart. We're very good friends and I just love, love listening to his music.

(Soundbite of song, "The Stranger")

MARTIN: The music of Billy Joel, that's what's playing in the ears of Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin. And, yes, we do understand the irony of that sentence as to the delightful Ms. Matlin when she spoke with us. To hear our original conversation with her where we also had the benefit of sign language interpreter Jack Jason's services. Please check out our website, go to the Program page of NPR.org and select TELL ME MORE.

(Soundbite of song, "The Stranger")

Mr. JOEL: (Singing) They're the faces of the stranger, but we love to try them on.

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