An Interview With First Deaf Television Star Deanne Bray-Kotsur

Deanne Bray at an event with another actress

 Rodrigo Vaz / Getty Images

Deanne Bray-Kotsur is an actress who is perhaps most recognized for her lead role in Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye. As the first deaf person to star in a television role, Deanne Bray (as she was then known) paved the way for other non-hearing actors.

Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye originally aired on the Pax Channel from October 2002 to May 2005. In April 2009, Sue Thomas returned to Animal Planet with a two-hour premiere, then aired Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT (8 p.m. CT/MT).

On the show, Bray played a deaf FBI employee based on a real-life person who worked for the FBI, aided by her hearing dog Levi. Bray-Kotsur's husband, Troy Kotsur, is also deaf and appeared on the program. Here, they discuss their experiences on the show.

Deanne Bray-Kotsur and Husband Troy Kotsur Interview

How do you feel about having been the first deaf person to be the star of a TV program?

I didn't know I was the star of F.B.Eye until I looked for my name at the bottom of the call sheet expecting to be actor number 22 or 17...

As my eyes continued to go up to the top of the list, there it was...
1) Deanne Bray - Sue Thomas.

Actor number one??? I was shocked.

I guess that was a habit thinking of mine, "There's no such thing as a deaf character being the lead." Things have changed with that show! Thanks to the real Sue Thomas who encouraged the writers and producers to find a deaf actress to portray her. "A hearing actress will not completely understand my path of silence," the real Sue explained.

Also, I didn't know the show would end up being a TV series. I believed it was a two-hour TV movie. A TV series?! That's even better! I had a fun ride.

What was your favorite episode of Sue Thomas? What was Troy's favorite episode?

My favorite episode of Sue Thomas is the pilot (the first episode) because many of the scenes shot were from the real Sue Thomas's life and really happened:

  • The dog jumping in the bathtub to let Sue know someone is knocking on the door
  • Being lost in class while the teacher teaches and the kids making fun of her
  • Her ice-skating experience [and the death of her friend]
  • Her journey working with the FBI from a tedious fingerprinting job to becoming part of the surveillance team.

Troy: My favorite was "The Signing," episode #6. That was an episode that had lots of signing in the show. "This show was the first time the series introduced my character, Troy Meyer, who was an auto thief. Then Sue Thomas changed Troy by guiding him in the right direction in making a better purpose for his life. I had tons of fun working with my wife on analyzing the scenes, working on ASL translations and just supporting each other 110%. This was a different, and rich experience for me, working on the set with the cast/crew. My role became a recurring role. I loved the F.B.Eye team and have had fantastic experiences in interacting with them and learned so much from them.

What was the most difficult episode to do of Sue Thomas?

In general, the toughest scenes I had to do as an actress in all episodes were the bullpen scenes where we had so much coverage to do with a big cast. The crew had to be careful in shooting shots that were clear for Sue Thomas to grasp information from reading lips. I often wished the writing would have Sue out of the office when we have big meetings like that.

If you wondered why Sue did not have an interpreter at work in the show, it's because the real Sue chose not [to] use interpreters at work. She [was] independent and [wanted] to be on her own. I just tried my best in making it as real as I [could] even though the shots may not be flattering. [For example], such as squinting my eyes which is how I concentrate real hard in obtaining information from reading lips. Not easy!

Sometimes while walking down the hallway, the new actors on the show who sometimes [did] not look at me because they'd rather have their faces shown on camera so I turn[ed] to see their lips but the camera shoots the back of my head! I didn't care if my face was shown or not because I really wanted to make it as real as I [could]. The writers eventually wrote lines where Sue's coworkers signed or fingerspelled a word or two to fill in the gaps of what Sue misses. Or Sue would repeat what they [said] to doublecheck.

Do you and Troy have the same "deaf background," meaning school for the deaf, same college, etc?

Troy went to Phoenix Day School for the Deaf in Arizona all his life except the last two high school years when he mainstreamed because he wanted more challenge in sports. He went to Gallaudet University but did not graduate due to being involved in professional theatre. His hearing parents and two brothers took classes to learn sign language when Troy was a toddler. He had communication at home.

I mainstreamed with a group of deaf and hard of hearing students at the school most of my life. I went to Washington State School for the Deaf in 8th grade and returned to mainstreamed school. I grew up with a single father who signed words but [was] not fluent in ASL. Two blocks down from my home, I spent a lot of time with a deaf family, the Bisharas, who exposed me to ASL and deaf culture. My father worked long hours making TV shows. I considered myself bilingual growing up. I moved in with my mother at age 13 and my mother chose not to learn how to sign.

How did you meet Troy?

We met for the first time in 1993 in Connecticut while I was visiting a friend at the National Theatre of the Deaf. Troy was part of the theatre company for two years. He then moved to Los Angeles in 1994 where I lived and [we] worked together in several productions. We didn't click because I didn't believe in falling for someone while working on stage. Over time, our friendship grew from there. We clicked in 1997 and got married in 2001.

Do you have a hearing dog yourself?

I never had a hearing dog, but the deaf family I grew up with had one named Snoopy back in 1980. Troy would like to have one someday.

Aside from acting, what else are you interested in?

Editing. I enjoy editing short films that my husband and I shoot. Troy and I enjoy spending time with Kyra, our daughter (hearing and bilingual), and witnessing her humor, developing language, and cognitive thinking.

What advice, if any, would you give deaf actors who are about to star in a TV program?

Get an education and finish school. I believe that education leads to freedom and once you have it, you can become anything you want. When you star in a TV program, please make the best of it and enjoy what you have at the moment.

How are you and Troy involved in your local deaf community?

We have been involved with many events in the Deaf community. I joined the Deaf Vagina Monologue group performing at the Phoenix College in 2005 while I was 3 months pregnant. I joined a fundraising event in Toronto while four months pregnant for the Deaf Culture Centre Museum which is in Toronto. I was a speaker for a high school graduation at the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf and for a middle school in California School for the Deaf, Riverside [when] I was six months pregnant. I am on the board of KODAWest (Kids of Deaf Adults) organization that focuses on events, workshops, and camps. KODAWest's motto is: "Where kids can be kids and Deaf parents unite."

Troy and I will be Master of Ceremonies (MCs) for the Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness's annual fundraising event at the House of Blues in mid-May 2009. We were MCs at Norcal (Deaf organization in Northern California) and DCARA (in Berkeley). Troy was just involved with Marlton's (a school in Los Angeles) career day event as an MC and then was just asked to give a speech for their graduation day for June 2009.

While being pregnant with Kyra, Troy and I worked with Signsforintelligence production in making a DVD project called "What to Expect: Your Pregnancy." It's signed in ASL with voice over and contains three DVDs focusing on the three trimesters so women can learn tips on how to have the best possible healthy pregnancy. Producing the DVD took us two years to complete!

Is Troy still acting?

Troy does a one-man show all over the states. He has also directed two children's plays at DeafWest Theatre. Troy was just in the musical play, Pippin, which ended last month. He was a guest star on [CSI: New York and Scrubs. He also works with Jevon Whetter who is now a student at American Film Institute (AFI), a well-known film institute. Troy is working on two projects for a possible stage play, and hopefully, it will happen next year. Can't say much about that right now.

Your website says you are a teacher. What do you teach? Sign language?

I was aiming for a single subject teaching credential for high school—science. I taught science and math but [two months ago I took a job] as a Drama teacher at California School for the Deaf, Riverside.

You're working on a master's in education. Is this a master's in deaf education or education in general?

Masters in Deaf education. Teaching credential for Deaf education and Masters in Deaf Ed.

After Sue Thomas ended, why did you not star in other television roles?

There are several reasons. One is that there just aren't many opportunities for Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing actors. Actors get stereotyped and cast for only what people saw them do before so that limited our opportunities.

Also, F.B.Eye ended in January of 2005, and I was pregnant in January. (The show didn't end because I was pregnant.) I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom for my daughter, Kyra, for at least a good two to three years before returning to work full-time. I did work on a project here and there but it only took two to four days of my time each time which worked out.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hearing Loss Magazine. Deanne Bray a hearing loss 'hero'.

  2. TV IV. Sue Thomas F.B. Eye.

  3. Deanne Bray. ‘Sue Thomas: F.B.EYE,’ premiers on Animal Planet.

  4. Harris Communications. Your pregnancy: what to expect.

  5. IMDb. Troy Kotsur.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.