Words | Rich Bellis
The last time you saw Nyle DiMarco might’ve been on Season 2 of Difficult People, grinning wryly as Billy Eichner fumblingly asks DiMarco’s character, Doug, on a date only to realize he’s deaf, like DiMarco himself. The foray into acting might not seem like a leap for DiMarco, who racked up two impressive TV wins in a row: America’s Next Top Model, followed by Dancing with the Stars. Now, DiMarco is busy with several new projects that support his passion of bringing the deaf community and its culture to mainstream America. We caught up with DiMarco to hear about his screenwriting, his work with deaf children, and what feeds his curiosity and stomach.
WHAT FIRST MADE YOU CURIOUS ENOUGH ABOUT MODELING TO GIVE IT A GO?
Growing up, I was frequently encouraged to give modeling a shot, but I wasn’t aware of how the modeling industry operated. I had a passion to teach math to deaf kids, so I went to the only deaf university in the world, Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C. After graduating, I finally gave modeling a shot by taking a few pictures. The only problem was that I didn’t know where to go from there except to post them on social media, but then I was approached by America’s Next Top Model via Instagram.
Naturally, I was shocked, flattered, and inspired. I saw an opportunity to educate the world about the deaf community, but I had never watched ANTM, so I had to watch the season before mine. Our secret!
OKAY, BUT IT’S ONE THING TO MODEL FOR PHOTOGRAPHS AND ANOTHER TO DO TELEVISION, SO WHAT PIQUED YOUR CURIOSITY TO TRY TV?
With ANTM, I took a leap because I felt it was an opportunity to learn more about the modeling industry and expose the world to a community that’s not often (or ever) really in the spotlight.
Dancing with the Stars was a whole other game not only because it’s live, but I never danced professionally in my entire life, just in clubs. I immediately said yes, and then felt a wave of regret, thinking, “What if I flunk the first dance and 18 million viewers think deaf people can’t dance?”
But I said yes because it was another opportunity to educate the world about my community, and to show to the world that deaf people can dance. (I know many deaf dancers!)
THERE AREN’T MANY MAJOR ROLES FOR DEAF CHARACTERS IN MEDIA YET, BUT YOU APPEARED OPPOSITE BILLY EICHNER IN THE SECOND SEASON OF HULU’S DIFFICULT PEOPLE. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE, AND HOW WAS THE EPISODE RECEIVED?
I was nervous and “fan-boyed” hard when I first met Billy, but I loved acting with him. There were many scenes where I tried not to laugh, but he is just hilarious.
Everybody loved my character Doug, though obviously I’m not with an interpreter all day like in the episode, but it made for comedy gold! It’s just one example of how to write a deaf role, and it shows that viewers are ready for them.
DO YOU THINK THINGS ARE STARTING TO CHANGE FOR DEAF ACTORS?
Very slowly. I’ve met with numerous casting directors, directors, and writers, and they always say, “Nyle, I would love to cast you or write you in, but how?” I realize that’s not their fault -- they just don’t know the deaf community, so it’s harder for them to think of possible scenarios.
Another issue that we continually face is networks and studios hiring hearing actors for deaf roles.
YOU SET UP THE NYLE DIMARCO FOUNDATION LAST YEAR TO SUPPORT DEAF CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DO THAT, AND WHAT HAS THE EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE?
Since ANTM, I’ve received thousands of emails from parents asking me how they can help their deaf child. I felt helpless knowing that there are 70 million deaf people worldwide and only 2% have access to sign language education. I wanted to be more than just a celebrity, so I decided to form my own foundation to better deaf lives worldwide. I remember the first day of launch; in fewer than 24 hours we garnered over 40,000 followers on Facebook.
Honestly, I want to break into tears every time I work with deaf children and their families. It can be inspiring, touching, saddening, and depressing.
The most common questions that I’m asked are often about our oppression. Many people don’t realize that the system oppresses our culture, especially our language and us. They’re often fascinated to learn how our community thrived until the 1880s, around the time that eugenics happened. Even today, so many parents are not aware of the deaf community, culture, and language, so my foundation aims to educate and provide resources.
BOXY IS OBSESSED WITH FOOD! ARE YOU?
I love food! Pizza, sushi, lasagna, salmon, fruit, dark chocolate, and burgers.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO COOK?
I cook at home a lot more than I eat out. I’m more of a breakfast man. Eggs, bacon, avocado, and wheat bread make me happy. My favorite wild-caught salmon recipe consists of only four things: salmon, Dijon mustard, sliced almonds, and honey.
SOUNDS LIKE GREAT FOOD TO POWER A WORKOUT. WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL TRAINING REGIMEN LOOK LIKE?
I know what I need to eat and what I need to avoid, and I know how much I need to go to the gym. It’s become my lifestyle, it feels normal to me. If I eat poorly and don’t go to the gym for a few days, my life will be a mess. I lift four to five times a week, each time focusing on different muscles. I also like to run and bike, so I sometimes do that after my lifting session.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? ANY PROJECTS YOU’RE EXCITED ABOUT?
I am writing shows because I feel that given my difference and my culture, I’m able to write deaf characters authentically. I can’t wait to share my work! I hope that this will help directors, writers, and others to better understand deaf people and the deaf community.