The Silence: From classroom to film set

Monday 12 July 2010, 12:10

Genevieve Barr Genevieve Barr Actress

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"Miss, where does beef come from?" one pupil asked me.

"Cows," I replied, grateful that I knew the answer and that I wasn't being tested of my knowledge of the latest single by Alicia Keys.

Ten minutes later, when we've settled into the year eight novel, Montmorency, another question pops up.

"Miss, what does 'lascivious' mean?"


A minute later, I was testing out my acting skills by trying to demonstrate lascivious to a bunch of 14-year-olds, with my elbow propped on the filing cabinet and curling a lock of hair around my finger.

"Does it mean flirting, Miss?"

Whoops and calls from the pupils echoed around the classroom.

Genevieve Barr as Amelia in The Silence

As far as my acting skills go, it's reducing the more sophisticated words in the English language to the behaviour rituals of Bermondsey kids.

How I miss my year eights.

Just 15 days after that particularly lively lesson, I walked on to the set of The Silence. It was an epic experience. But I was always conscious of the huge standard expected of me; to step up from being a nobody in the acting industry to playing the lead role.

I was surrounded by not only actors who had been hugely successful in their craft, deservedly so, but younger actors who had been through drama school and been coveting these kind of roles for years. I didn't want to take anything for granted.

It was tough, really tough.

I spent every night wracked with nerves for the next day - going over my lines, thinking about their meaning, learning sign language from the videos the interpreter had made for me.

I couldn't wear my hearing aids on set, and these were 13 hour days. There was no time to slow things down on my behalf. The emotional depth required of me in every scene - witnessing a murder, learning to hear for the first time, being alienated from my family, meant that I had to step up to a very high mark, and deep low (!) every time.

Paul Begley, played by Conor Mullen, interviews Amelia, played by Genevieve Barr

Not only did I have to reach into the darkest parts of myself to convey the depth of emotion required, but I had to fantasise about how I would feel if I witnessed a murder. Tinkerbell would never have got me to think happy thoughts!

I was constantly tempted to pull mock looks of terror and relieve the mood by being comical. But I couldn't. It was intense, gritty reality.

Filming wasn't chronological either. That meant that by the end of every day, I had pretty much circumnavigated through every single emotion in the book. What a rollercoaster. If that isn't good training for an actress, then what is?

But I loved it.

I often get asked about the impact my deafness had on the filming process, as do the other actors who starred in The Silence with me. It's the first question on people's lips!

It's been interesting reading about what their reactions were. They were pretty similar - she wasn't a deaf actress, she was an actress. I am grateful.

Amelia, played by Genevieve Barr, stands by Jim, played by Douglas Henshall

For me that reinforced the fact that they saw me for who I was and my disability didn't act as a veil - narrowing their vision of who I am and what I have to offer.

I hope that people will see the uniqueness of Amelia, my character, and that while she struggles to adapt to a hearing world, her personality is in no way subdued.

If anything, her disability enhances her charisma and makes her stand out even more as a pretty forthcoming and stubborn individual! Amelia Edwards - she's definitely not just a 'deaf girl'.

Many times in my teenage years I exercised the verb 'flirt' quite transparently. That's normal, I think.

When I was 16, the boy I was going out with at the time said to me "stop staring at boys' lips all the time when you go out, it makes you look like you want to kiss them". In other words, he was feeling threatened.

After that, for a few weeks anyway, I tried to look away every other second but not only did I look like I was attempting some very strange dance moves, but I looked distracted, disinterested and missed half of what they were saying. I ended up feeling pretty foolish. Deaf people need to read lips. I'll never apologise for that!

So how did I find the flirting scenes in The Silence? No one's asked me that yet.

Pretty easy.

Thank you, 8J, for teaching me the true definition of 'lascivious'.

Genevieve Barr stars as Amelia Edwards in The Silence.

The Silence starts on Monday, 12 July at 9pm on BBC One and BBC HD. For more information about future episodes, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    This was a great drama:)

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    My Daughter had an Implant at 7months of age in Sydney.

    I thank God everyday for her implant.

    2 years old with the speech and language development of a three year old.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I watched with interest as have bilateral cochlear implants and thought the attempt to show the audience what it is like to be deaf was ambitious and in the main well done. My only comment is that implants do not whistle as they do not experience feedback and whilst I appreciate this was probably done for effect I felt it was a shame as it made the implant seem more like a hearing aid.

    Implants are incredible although hard work is certainly required when learning or re-learning how to hear with them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I think Gen Barr gave a thrilling performance, so good to see a real deaf girl given a great part! Well done BBC the best decent drama you have done for ages! Reminded me of the quality you expect from "Lewis", indeed many of the actors in Lewis were also in this drama I noted!

    It should get heaps of awards!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I watched this last night and was puzzled on how Amelia was "hearing" people when her back was to them. She is supposed to be "learning to hear" and this process takes months if not years from the time of the CI.
    Was the sex scene in the toilet really necessary?


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