LOS ANGELES -- What's It About: Metal drummer Ruben begins to lose his hearing. When a doctor tells him his condition will worsen, he thinks his career and life is over. His girlfriend Lou checks the former addict into a rehab for the deaf hoping it will prevent a relapse and help him adapt to his new life.
Oscar Nominations: Nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Riz Ahmed); Best Supporting Actor (Paul Raci); Writing (Original Screenplay); Film Editing; Best Sound
The movie won two Oscars for best sound and film editing Sunday.
"Sound of Metal" has been praised for its authentic examination of the world of the deaf, and its use of deaf actors in supporting roles. It has also received some deaf-community criticism for casting a hearing actor, Riz Ahmed, in the lead role of a drummer who must reckon with losing his hearing.
Raci, a child of deaf parents, is nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his role as a leader of a sober house for those who are deaf. He said he understands the criticism but said "for the most part, deaf people have accepted this movie with open arms."
"It shows a deaf sober house, deaf people as addicts, which is a totally new idea to show deaf people as people that have the same foibles you and I have, the same challenges, the same journeys," Raci said.
And he believes the larger conversation the movie has helped open will mean even move.
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"You're going to see more inclusion in casting in this town, in Hollywood," he said. "You're going to see a lot more differently abled people, people that use wheelchairs, blind, deaf, there's going to be a lot more of those kind of protagonists. And you're going to watch those journeys unfold on the screen."
"Sound of Metal" became a bit of a Cinderella story this year, but no matter how many positive reviews, Oscar pundits and movie fans seemed resigned to the fact that Raci's breakout performance as a deaf counselor to Riz Ahmed's character would be overlooked come Oscar nominations time. It was not.
Even Ahmed seemed surprised by his own Oscar nomination.
"Wow! I'm honoured to be nominated by my fellow actors alongside such inspiring performances, and am grateful to the Academy for their support and encouragement," he said. "I'm equally thrilled for our visionary writer-director Darius Marder and the brilliant Paul Raci, as well as our editor Mikkel, sound designer Nicolas, and co-writer Abe Marder. These nominations represents the time, generosity and talents of so many - all of our incredible cast, crew, producers, and in particular I'd like to thank my mentors in the drumming, addiction recovery, and D/deaf communities."
"Sound of Metal is about how a health crisis can cut you off from your life and loved ones, and force you to grow in unexpected ways," he continued. "In a challenging year for so many, I hope this story can inspire us to forge new and deeper connections with ourselves and others."
In a Spirit Awards twist, best male lead actor went to Ahmed for his performance - an award that has usually gone this year to the late Chadwick Boseman for his final performance in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."
Paul Raci also won the Spirit Award for best supporting actor.
"I'm 72," said Raci. "There was a point in my life my wife - my agent - would say, 'Don't tell people that! Don't tell people you're 72!'"
Raci is now being celebrated for playing a guy who runs a sober house for the deaf. He had his own demons once upon a time but he is now in the happily-ever-after part of his life.
He credits his wife, Liz, for helping him get the role that's been life-changing.
"She's the one who made the phone call to the casting directors to take a look at my tape, which was at the bottom of the pile there. Because they were inundated with tapes. Everybody and his uncle wanted to play this part," said Raci.
Liz Hanley Raci enjoyed nomination day.
"I can't stop crying," she said. "I just keep crying. That's all I'm doing today. Thank God it's raining. Nobody knows."
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Raci utilized his music and sign language skills for "Sound of Metal."
Raci, the son of deaf parents, is ready to pay it forward with ideas he's got in the works for the deaf and disabled in the business.
"I've got some projects that are happening," he said. "People are interested in them. And we're going to open some doors here."
Acting is actually only one of Raci's jobs. He's often in court for another.
"I've been a legally certified interpreter for 30, 35 years, and that's what I do every day. That's how I bought my house and every once in a while, I'll do some acting," Raci said.
And singing. He's the lead singer and signer for the Black Sabbath tribute band Hands of Doom.
The next thing he'll be rocking, though, is a tuxedo when he attends the Oscars on Sunday.
Raci is intimately familiar with his character Joe, having lived through some similar experiences himself.
"When I got back from Vietnam, I came back with some nasty habits and I've been through a lot with several addictions," he said. "I wrestled those devils and ended up working as a sign language interpreter for deaf addicts. The deaf community in Chicago that raised me, they taught me what unconditional love is."
Raci's parents were both deaf, and signing was his first language.
"I realized later in life what a great man my father was. He was a blue collar worker, a blue collar guy that got up every day, put the Chicago Tribune under his arm and went to that menial job and marched back home to be a father," he said. "Life is beautiful, man, it really is."
When Raci was younger, sign language gave him a skill to pay the bills.
"I'm a sign language interpreter in the court system here in Los Angeles," he explained.
He said he still feels deeply rooted in his hometown.
"It's a heartbreaking thing to leave Chicago, you never forget it," he said. "Nothing rivals what I saw and was instilled with in Chicago."
The rousing Chicago theater scene captivated Raci, but a professor at University of Illinois Chicago had a warning for him about pursuing a career as an actor.
"He said, 'I hate to tell you this, but I don't think you're going to have any success until you're much older, 40 years old.' Nobody wants to hear that," Raci recalled. "When I moved out here, I was already 40 years old, so let me tell you, nobody's looking for a brand new 40 year old out in Hollywood! You know, Chicago is and always will be a theater town. When I came to Los Angeles, I was like, 'Oh my God, you guys call this theater?'"
And there's quite a bit of Chicago in the character of Joe.
"That accent Joe has is my accent, and I'm a Chicago boy. I grew up in Humboldt Park. You listen to my brothers, they talk like Mayor Daley," Raci said. "When the nomination happened, my brothers and sister got together, they sent me some Lou Malnati!"
Raci is a Chicago White Sox fan, and called the team's original stadium, Comiskey Park, his "church" and "sanctuary." He grew up wanting to play baseball.
"I wanted to be an infielder, my first glove was a Nellie Fox Wilson glove," he said. "The people of Chicago know who I am, they know what I've been through. I never thought I'd be a star, I never wanted to be a star. I wanted to do some authentic, true acting."
When she heard about his nomination, Raci's sister Laurel Myers said, "I was unintelligibly screaming and crying and laughing all at the same time, It was wonderful."
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Myers is Raci's kid sister and he's got two younger brothers. All the siblings are certified sign language interpreters.
"What a gift this was and how much I love this deaf community and my deaf heritage," Myers said.
Raci and his brother Al had their own rock group as kids.
"My mom let them come and play in the living room. They pushed all the furniture because the sound didn't bother anybody," Myers said.
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Myers said she "wept with tears of pride" after seeing the movie. When asked about what their parents would think about it, she said, "His success, they wanted that so bad for him. My mother went to any place she could. And when we could get interpreters, we would, but it didn't matter to her if there was an interpreter or not, she wanted to watch Paul."
"The fact that it highlights deaf culture and sign language would put them over the moon with pride," she said.