Working on This Close kept Zach Gilford on his toes — and he gladly accepted the challenge.
The actor plays Danny in the Sundance Now dramedy, which centers on the complicated relationship between deaf best friends Kate and Michael (played by deaf actors Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman). Danny — at times the third wheel — often feels disconnected from his fiancée Kate because of their language barrier and her close bond with Michael.
One scene in particular that made an impact on Gilford was when the couple have dinner with Danny’s boss. “Shoshannah is doing her best to understand what’s going on but I’m trying to just impress my boss so I’m not being very courteous to making sure I’m communicating clearly to her,” Gilford, 36, explains to Us Weekly. “And they’re like, ‘Oh, she can hear enough.’ So they’re not making any effort. At the end of the night I find her and say if she’s OK. And she’s like, ‘I’m just exhausted. It’s tiring to read lips all night and just get 50 percent of what people are saying. It’s mentally exhausting to try to piece together.’ So that one kind of struck me.”
Gilford brushed up on his sign language for the role. “I did a play in college where I had to learn a bunch of it but that was so long ago. I don’t know how much it helped but I didn’t feel like I was starting at zero,” he adds. “For me, at least, once I start learning a language if I’m immersed in that culture, I get really excited about picking it up. And all I want to do is communicate and learn words.”
The Friday Night Lights alum was just as eager to take direction on set — something that was important in order to successfully portray the characters. “Because my character is engaged to Kate he definitely should know how to interact with a deaf person so I felt like I had license from the very beginning to just ask questions when in real life I may have been too embarrassed to,” Gilford says. “In scenes I had to literally make sure that I’m right in front of her and not throw my line to the ground or mumble when I talk. She has no idea what I’m saying. A couple of weeks in I guess I was getting lazy and was back to my old tricks and [Shoshannah’s] like, ‘Hey, I know the line you’re saying in the scene but I can’t actually hear you because you’re looking over there.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, thank you so much.’ Because all I want is to make it look real.”
According to Gilford, Stern and Feldman made it a “stimulating” work environment during the shoot, which only lasted a month. “There was always a sign of the day on the call sheet. You were constantly trying to communicate and trying to learn,” he tells Us. “It’s not one of those sets that when they are moving the cameras you’re sitting with your phone. People seemed way more engaged.”
This Close, which also stars Cheryl Hines and Marlee Matlin, is the first-ever show that is written, created and produced by people who are deaf. The six 30-minute episodes is Sundance Now’s first straight-to-series order. It was screened at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in January as part of the Indie Episodic Showcase.