Daniel Durant and Britt Stewart will be taking on the ’90s during the November 7 episode of Dancing With the Stars. Ahead of ’90s Night, Daniel traveled to New York City to receive the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from the Center for Hearing and Communication. HollywoodLife spoke EXCLUSIVELY with Daniel via his interpreter about being recognized and also training in the midst of a busy schedule.
“They recognized me for deaf representation. It’s a big honor to get an award from them. I’m really proud of representing my community,” Daniel said. “Just growing up, I had no deaf role model or anyone to look up to, especially close to me. I knew Marlee Matlin and her success in Hollywood and seeing that I always kept that in the back of my mind knowing I could do this. Now that I’m at this level, just like I’ve always thought about this, it’s my turn. I look at deaf children, and I get to be there for them. I see their perspective, I understand where they were at.
He continued, “I get to take advantage of my experience and my platform and give them the best experience I can give them. I want them to know that they can do whatever they want to do, and I want to encourage parents who have deaf children to give them access to ASL. They have to learn ASL. I’m so thankful to my adoptive mothers, both my moms adopted me and learned sign language, and that led me to success. Because if there was no ASL in my life as a kid, I wouldn’t be here. I’m trying my best to expose that and let everybody know that’s what we have to do.”
Britt traveled with Daniel and his interpreter, Gabe Gomez, so they could get rehearsal time in. “After all these interviews and talk shows, I went to do my dance rehearsal with Britt, and then I went to the gala,” he explained. They’ll be dancing a jazz routine for their paired dance and then the cha-cha for their relay dance.
Daniel marks the third deaf contestant to compete on Dancing With the Stars. Daniel’s co-star, Marlee Matlin, and ANTM winner Nyle DiMarco are DWTS alums. Daniel opened up about continuing to represent the Deaf community on the show.
“I’m so happy and I’m proud because Marlee and Nyle they’re both very different, and I feel like I’m a third different deaf perspective,” Daniel told HollywoodLife. “I’m so happy to show up and keep showing the world that there are different types of deaf people and that we can dance. It doesn’t matter if we can hear or not. There are so many other things we can do, and we can figure it out and dance smoothly. I’m so thankful to my partner Britt because she didn’t know ASL when she met me, and she didn’t know anything about Deaf culture. And then we met and now she’s picking it up so quick. My Deaf community is so happy with Britt, and they’re so proud of her because she’s showing the world that there’s nothing to be afraid of. ASL is not weird. Britt was so enthusiastic, and we made an instant connection. She’s a great teammate.”
Daniel admitted that he’s “so proud” of Britt for learning ASL so quickly. “When we were at the CHC Gala, there were a bunch of deaf people there. They were coming up to Britt, and Britt could talk with them. She’s sitting there talking with them. Britt has a deaf heart now, so she understands our culture, she understands our community, what it looks like, and she supports us. It means a lot,” he said.
Despite not being able to hear the music, Daniel can feel the vibrations of the music. He revealed that Britt “wanted to add cues sometimes where she wants to count for me or tap on me” when learning the routines.
“We realized that I don’t like it. It’s a distraction for me. I can feel the vibration easily, and I enjoy feeling the vibration and dancing to music. It’s fun. And feeling that beat. I love feeling it,” Daniel admitted. “But that’s for pleasure, like in the car, or at a bar or a club or something like that. I enjoy bouncing around to that. But for performing, especially in the dance room or the dance floor, I can’t do that. I train with the music on, and I have to have it in my muscles. I have to have it as muscle memory. So I have to remember what parts I have to speed up, what parts have to slow down.”
In addition to Britt, Daniel’s interpreter, Gabe, is a part of Daniel’s DWTS team. Gabe has been in the ballroom every week interpreting for Daniel. “Gabe and I met about two years ago right after CODA. He was my interpreter for the first time, and after that, we were like best friends,” Daniel told HollywoodLife. “We’re the same age. We’re both interested in the same stuff, and now he’s my interpreter. We’re going to travel the world. He always interprets for me, and Gabe is part of our team too with Dancing With the Stars.”
Daniel is currently busy with Dancing With the Stars, but he has big plans for his post-CODA acting career. “I’m always going to continue acting. And really, my goal is I want to see producers and casting directors… I don’t want them to think you have to find a deaf character. You have to have a deaf character written. My goal is to audition for anything,” Daniel explained. “I want people to see that I can be any character — a lover and evil guy. I can make the audience hate me. I want to act and do fight scenes. I’m inspired by Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s a method actor, and he dives into his roles. He becomes a different person. I’m the same. I want to become a different person and dive into somebody that’s not Daniel. So I’m looking forward to seeing more opportunities pop up for me. Right now my team is growing, my personal team, so we’re ready for the next new thing. We’re excited.”
CODA made a massive impact on Hollywood and took home 3 Oscars, including Best Motion Picture of the Year. Daniel noted that there was a “big change” in Hollywood after CODA. “I’ve met a lot more deaf actors and deaf people who say, wow, I’m thrilled that CODA succeeded because it’s showing Hollywood. It made it all the way to the Oscars. Troy [Kotsur] has become the second deaf person to win an Oscar. So it’s like, finally, the Deaf community is super inspired,” Daniel said. “I’ve noticed that, yes, there are more opportunities popping up for deaf people. There are new deaf characters being written into shows, and there’s a deaf superhero. That’s happening. But there’s always the big question in my heart: will it continue? It can be a fad. CODA is just hot right now. Because we’re deaf, will that maybe fade away? That’s the question I always put out there. I hope that the doors open and they stay open.”
Daniel hopes to step behind the camera more as well in the future. He wants to help give deaf actors and anyone in the community the opportunities he’s been given.
“I would love to become a director in the future. But first, I want to act more. I need to learn the craft more. I’d like to be a director’s assistant first, so not just diving into directing,” Daniel told HollywoodLife. “But also, I would love, love, love to be a producer. I can find many good stories out there that deaf people need to tell. My goal is not just for deaf people, but I want everyone to have their authentic stories. We need to see more stories in Hollywood that are different. I wouldn’t mind being a producer and acting in it myself and making a character for myself. It would be so much fun to pitch my own project. I am producing one project for a TV role, and it’s my first time doing that. I would be the lead actor, so that’s a good experience. I want to do that more. It’s fun pitching stuff. Also, if I’m a producer, it gives me the opportunity to give other deaf actors a chance and let them grow their reputations, too.”