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Sign Language Interpreter Jack Jason

By

Updated June 05, 2011

Jack Jason and Marlee Matlin

Jack Jason and Marlee Matlin - Friends

Photo © Jack Jason
Wherever Marlee Matlin, an award-winning deaf actress, goes, her sign language interpreter Jack Jason is at her side. Jason and Matlin have been a team since the beginning of Matlin's career. He talked with About.com about interpreting and being Matlin's business partner.

About.com: Are you a child of deaf adults (CODA)?

Jason: I am a proud CODA. My parents attended the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley, California. My mom grew up in California and my dad grew up in New York, and they met at Berkeley without much interest in each other. A few years later, they met again in Idaho at a deaf basketball tournament, [and] fell in love.

About.com: How did you become an interpreter?

Jason: My first day at college (California State University, Hayward, 1974 to 1978), I was told I could take a sign language class as my foreign language requirement. Someone needed an interpreter for an English vocabulary class and I was thrown in without knowing the first thing about interpreting. [About.com comment: Today that college student would be entitled to a certified interpreter.]

It was trial by fire. Eventually, I studied under Lou Fant, Virginia Hughes and Barbie Reade who came [were] part of an exchange program between my college and CSUN. It wasn't until later [after college] that I found that I had a knack for interpreting in the performing arts, working first with D.E.A.F. Media in the Bay Area and then as an on screen interpreter for TV news. My first big "celebrity" assignment was interpreting for Linda Bove on a series of local talk shows during the National Tour of Children Of A Lesser God.

About.com: What did you do before you became Marlee's personal interpreter and business partner?

Jason: My first real job was just after I became certified [as an interpreter], coordinating interpreter services at DCARA in Fremont, California. From there, I moved on to University of California Berkeley, where I coordinated interpreting services, and was an academic adviser for deaf students. At Berkeley, I produced an arts festival called "Celebration: Deaf Artists and Performers." Not long after "Celebration," I decided to get my MA in TV and Film at New York University (NYU). I interpreted on the side for theater, both on and off Broadway.

About.com: How did become Marlee's interpreter?

Jason: [Actor] William Hurt's assistant called around New York looking for someone to interpret for Marlee after the film Children Of A Lesser God was completed. [He called] NYU because he heard there were a large number of deaf students and interpreters. The secretary in the Deafness Rehabilitation Studies Department gave the phone to me and I offered up myself!

Unfortunately, I was told that Mr. Hurt was looking for a woman to interpret for Marlee. Eventually, he called me back and offered me a one-day job. Little did I know that my assignment for Marlee wouldn't be as her interpreter, but to accompany her shopping. She was 19 and was brand new to New York and I was her guide. We hit it off immediately, and I offered to interpret for her whenever she needed one and offered myself as a sign language tutor for William Hurt.

About.com: How did you become Marlee's business partner?

Jason: After Marlee won the Oscar, I decided to drop out of my Ph.D. studies and followed her. I noticed a lot of actors had their own production companies that allowed them to produce and tailor scripts. As I began pitching ideas and suggesting Marlee for scripts, we realized it was time for Marlee to start her own company so she wouldn't have to sit around and wait for work. [Because of] my film and TV studies background, I offered to run the company, and [she] loved the idea. She named it Solo One in honor of her childhood dog Solo.

About.com: What do you do for Solo One?

Jason: Everyday starts with checking out the news, and looking over casting notices to see what scripts Marlee would be right for. I develop story ideas and talk with agents, casting directors and producers, exploring various ways to incorporate Marlee into stories that aren't necessarily written for a deaf actor. I've been successful on a variety of occasions, including the film "What the Bleep Do We Know," and have produced a couple of films starring Marlee as well as films [in]which she did not star. Right now, I am in various stages of pre-production on a variety of projects for Marlee to either star [in], produce or both.

About.com: Do you also act? I found this IMDB page for Jack Jason. The page mentions a role as a sign language instructor, and another role as an interpreter.

Jason: It is me. I've done some acting and have done a lot of voice over work. My first role was as a ring announcer in a film Marlee did called The Man in the Golden Mask. Since then, I've played myself on "The Larry Sanders" show, and have been with Marlee on talk shows and award shows. If you look hard you can also see me doing a line here and there on shows like Arrested Development. And I've had the pleasure of being a sign language dialogue coach on several films like The Family Stone.

About.com: Do you have any memorable interpreting experiences to share?

Jason: It was an honor to [interpret] for Marlee when she won the Academy Award. [When] I spoke on her behalf, I flashed back to when I was eight years old [and] wrote in a school journal that it was my aspiration to have my voice be heard by millions of people as a DJ or a TV announcer. There I was doing just that. The moment was even sweeter as Marlee thanked her parents and I spoke those words, knowing my parents were in the audience too. It was a moment I'll never forget.

One of the funniest moments interpreting for Marlee came when she had just given birth to her second child, and [made an] appearance at a National Girl Scout gathering. Marlee announced to a group of girls that she had to excuse herself to "pump" her breasts. I voiced that, and immediately the girls turned to me and sighed as if I was the one who had to pump. "Marlee, not me!" I exclaimed. It was hilarious!

About.com: Anything else you would like to add about interpreting for Marlee Matlin?

Jason: All I have to say is that I have the coolest job I could ever imagine.

Also on About.com:
Interpreting
Hearing Loss
Marlee Matlin

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