Taking On Hollywood With My Cochlear Implant

J.P. Giuliotti, Thu, 4 Jun 2020

J.P. Giuliotti is an accomplished American actor who also happens to be a cochlear implant recipient. His most recent role was on HBO’s hit show Room 104, where his CI was prominently visible, making him one of the first representatives of CI recipients on popular television. He shares with us how hard work and persistence lead him to success, despite this perceived disability.

"Some People Call Me Maurice", © Passionate Apathy Entertainment

J.P. Giuliotti is an accomplished American actor who also happens to be a cochlear implant recipient. His most recent role was on HBO’s hit show Room 104, where his CI was prominently visible, making him one of the first representatives of CI recipients on popular television. He shares with us how hard work and persistence lead him to success, despite this perceived disability.

Please describe your role on HBO's Room 104.

J.P.: I had what is known as a "co-star" role. I played the motel manager in the episode “The Specimen Collector.” My character's scene helped move the story along by providing what is called "exposition" to give the audience more information on what is happening in the episode. This was accomplished by my encounter with that episode's guest star character, who was played by the remarkable Cobie Smulders.

I got the role by attending an open casting call in Hollywood that was exclusively for disabled actors. The event, co-sponsored by Casting Society of America and SAG-AFTRA, was held at Paramount Studios, and was attended by dozens of TV and film casting directors. I did a prepared comedy read and caught the eye of Nicole Arbusto, the casting director of Room 104. She had me come in for an actual audition the following week, and I got the part!
 

What does it mean, and how does it feel to be on such a large platform while having a cochlear implant?

J.P.: When I lost my hearing due to an undiagnosed sudden sensorineural hearing loss, I was in the abyss and crushed! I had known CIs existed and had hoped to God that I never would have to get one as my hearing declined rapidly over the course of a few years. Unfortunately, my right ear went completely deaf and my left ear got bad enough that I had to get one.

I thought my acting career was over, but guess what? Two weeks after my implant got activated in 2015, I was cast in my first TV role on the popular show Criminal Minds! Before I got my CI, I had twelve separate, very good auditions for other episodes on that show over a four-year span and didn't get cast. It was on lucky #13 that I got hired. 

Right before that audition, I wrestled with the idea of taking off my CI before I went in. But instead, I decided to "own" my deafness and my CI and wore it. The rest is history.

Special call-out to the producers of Room 104 and to the director, Mel Eslyn, who not only hired me, but also chose to not shoot around or avoid my Naída Q70 CI in my scene. When I saw that on TV, I wept softly with gratitude and joy, because it proved that I CAN be cast with a cochlear implant. 

What’s more, the feedback from parents of kids with CIs that I got on Facebook and Twitter after that episode aired was even more gratifying. They were thrilled that their children could see "someone like them" on TV without special comment. In other words, having a CI was shown as "everyday normal.” I LOVE THAT!
 

How has your hearing, and your cochlear implant, impacted your career as an actor?

J.P.: My hearing loss started just as I got to Hollywood to pursue acting professionally in 2010. Since hearing is so important to good acting, it was tough from the start. Hearing loss adds a huge obstacle when competing with the best actors in the country for very few roles – even a small role like the one I had on Room 104

To illustrate the difficulty, I use the analogy of being an excellent college swimmer trying out for the Olympics. But before you jump in the pool, you have to wear a 15-pound weight around your waist.

When I first got my CI, I thought that even though I could hear better, I had this "thing on my head" and getting cast with it would be impossible. Well, I have proven it's NOT impossible! I believe Hollywood's push for inclusion has a lot to do with that, but I KNOW my decision to not let hearing loss keep me from my dream gets most of the credit. My CI has given me so much strength and gratitude that I felt it would be a tragic crime to quit without giving it a shot.

Don't get me wrong. Acting is still very difficult even with the CI, because acoustically-challenging environments like theater stages are very hard to work on. I used to lament how hard it was and how I wished they could see my talent before my hearing loss. But I now feel empowered, and I look forward to going after it harder with this additional challenge.
 

What advice do you have for other actors and aspiring actors who have hearing loss or other perceived disabilities?

J.P.: If acting is what you really want to do, then find a way to make it work. The bottom line is to own your hearing loss and do whatever you can to work with it until you decide whether you want to continue with acting or not. Really search inside and decide in your heart if you want to continue or react to potential early discouragement. This is especially the case if you are like me and were at one time, a hearing actor. 

Also, I have found in my experience that it’s better to be up front about my hearing loss to others in the industry. Before I went deaf, I tried to hide my hearing loss, and it caused a lot of angst, and at times, misunderstandings. Sure, you don't want to give casting directors any reason beyond your ability to play the role to not cast you. But having done it both ways, being up front with hearing challenges has been far better for me.

Also, for those who know ASL, there are theatre groups that are exclusively for ASL actors, and they put on great shows.

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Written by:

J.P. Giuliotti 

J.P. is a professional actor who also works in the field of information technology. He went deaf from progressive sudden sensorineural hearing loss in 2015 and has managed to push through that challenge with the support of Keck Medical  Center & Advanced Bionics, good friends and family, and his strong, loving wife, Jade. He also coaches the Special Needs Ice Hockey Team the California Condors. He is currently living in his home town of Boston to help out with family matters. For more information on his latest acting projects, check out: www.imdb.me/jpgiuliotti.

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