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Monday 28 Jul 2014

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The Silence: Genevieve Barr (Amelia)

"I've always been passionate about acting, from my own school days. I grew up in Harrogate in a hearing family with no hereditary record of deafness. I was born deaf and have had hearing aids since I was four, and was happy with them as they have never limited me in any way.

"My parents sent me to mainstream school, where I settled in comfortably to a hearing life. Having graduated from Edinburgh University in 2008, where I studied English and History, I went straight on to the Teach First graduate scheme which aims to put graduates into failing schools.

"After a six-week training course, I started to teach in an inner-city comprehensive in South London, and taught children between 11 and 18 years old. Facing such a challenge made me stronger, which made me able to take on the challenges of The Silence.

"A friend working at a production company was looking for a deaf actress to play a deaf nurse in a couple of scenes in a pilot comedy, The Amazing Dermot – and that's how I found myself starting to act. Afterwards, it was straight back to teaching, but clearly from that I was contacted by Company Pictures to audition for The Silence – and my life completely changed as I knew it!

"I hadn't realised what a huge role Amelia was. Amelia is 18 years old, and recently fitted with cochlear implant six months before the start of series. She is adjusting to the hearing world and under a lot of pressure to do so. At the same time, she's a normal teenager with teenage turmoil: drinking, smoking, drugs, boys are all a very new world for Amelia.

"Her whole life gets thrown into even more chaos when she accidentally witnesses a murder, which is hugely traumatic for her and her life quickly spirals out of control with so many changes in such a short period of time.

"I always wanted to learn more about deafness, but never had the time. I went from school to uni to starting a career, so never had time to learn sign language or make deaf friends.

"The world I grew up in is quite different from Amelia's. She's been used to a world of silence, unlike me. And signing is her first language. She's learning to hear for the first time and to recognise sounds for the first time.

"I was incredibly overwhelmed to be offered the role of Amelia. It still hasn't sunk in. I feel so privileged to get the part and have been enjoying every minute, especially working with the actors I'd seen in movies like Notting Hill when I was a child. They've all been so incredibly supportive and always answered all of my millions of questions.

"I am so grateful to have worked with such an experienced cast, as that has helped me move forward as an actress. I really miss working with them now. It's been the most amazing experience of my life.

"I only had two weeks from finding out I had got the role to starting filming. I didn't get extra support from the cast or crew in terms of my deafness, apart from them all allowing me to ask so many questions on set everyday.

"I think with deafness the more of a deal you make of it, the more others will make of it; and for me it was more about the acting, so deafness didn't affect me. I worked very closely with our director, Dearbhla Walsh who always made sure I had daily one-to-one time with her. She's really an inspiring and formidable personality and always pushed me far beyond anywhere I thought I could go.

"I couldn't wear my hearing aids on set as I had to wear the prop cochlear implant, which is what Amelia has had fitted. So I had to do all my scenes without them and there are always so many people saying things to you on a busy set. But that helped me identify with Amelia, as she is more introvert and quiet. I had to rely on my lipreading.

"I had to learn to sign for the role of Amelia. I didn't have any experience with signing before taking on the role, which was one of the biggest challenges. I have always wanted to learn, but never found the time to do it. Not only did I have to learn to sign, but I had to come across as someone who had been signing all her life and be fluent, which obviously Amelia was. It is such an expressive and beautiful language, I am now continuing to learn sign language, as it will be another skill I'll be learning as an actor.

"One of the most horrifically humiliating moments was when we were filming a clubbing scene, and I had to do a very slow sexy dance, without my hearing aids, so all I could feel were vibrations only. I was squirming with embarrassment. I had to remember I was Amelia who was happy dancing and not Genevieve who was dying of embarrassment and desperate for a gin and tonic!

"A standout day was one major scene when I had to cry, and I was hysterical that I would not be able to make myself cry on camera. I got up at 5am and listened to the most morose music. By the time I went on set I was completely terrified, but then I got completely into character and thought about what she had just gone through, witnessing the murder. It was a special moment when I became one with the character and it all happened naturally – and I cried.

"My own deafness limits me to appreciate all of the sounds that will be used in The Silence. But this is a unique opportunity for a hearing audience to experience from a deaf person's perspective. Deafness is only a small part of them and doesn't dictate them wholly as a person.

"I've been brought up to believe that I can do anything. Any sort of disability should never interfere with anything you want to do in your life. I do the best I can in everything I do. I know how to push myself and that perhaps leads me on to great opportunities. I'm not afraid of being myself.

"I had a career planned out in teaching and now my life has changed completely. I always loved acting but never had the confidence or belief that a deaf person could have a full-time acting career – but that's my plan now and nothing's getting in the way this time.

"I can't wait for The Silence to come out. There are four episodes but I guess I can't plan a party for every episode... or maybe I can!"

Genevieve Barr comes from Harrogate and has appeared in the comedy pilot The Amazing Dermot.

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