It’s been a long road for Paul Raci. A career that started as playing a bartender with one line opposite Burt Reynolds in 1987’s Rent-A-Cop culminated today with an Oscar nomination. A career, as Raci recounts, where he’s lost so many roles he knows he’d have been perfect for but lost out to “bigger names.”
With Sound of Metal, Raci’s knowledge of sign language (his parents are both deaf) sealed the deal for him and, well, it paid off for everyone today. In Sound of Metal, Raci plays Joe, a man who lost his hearing during Vietnam and runs a substance abuse program for deaf people. Riz Ahmed (also nominated today) plays Ruben Stone, a man who plays in a heavy metal band who is rapidly losing his hearing and is a former addict, seeks help from Joe. And now that Raci is an Oscar nominee, he says he’s getting so many offers he’s been turning down roles. (Honestly, this is the kind of story that makes Oscar season worth the grind.)
Paul Raci: Hey, Mike, how are you doing?
I’m okay. But I have a feeling you are doing really well this morning.
Oh, it’s a beautiful morning. It’s raining here in Los Angeles. But I’ve never seen more beautiful rain in my life.
Were you feeling pretty good about this?
Well, it’s such a head trip watching social media. And everybody has an opinion and you’re going up and down. And I didn’t get the Globes. I didn’t get the SAG. So I’m out of the game. Now I’m back in the game! So I was feeling it could go either way. Anything could go either way, but I’m certainly gratified this morning. I can’t believe this has happened! And I’m just more than blessed.
You’ve lived with this movie a while. I remember being at the Toronto Film Festival in 2019 when it premiered. And that, especially now, seems like a very, very long time ago. And it just kept building momentum.
I know. And how long do you have to wait til you’re good, for Christ’s sake? I’m waiting and waiting, and then after 40 years of acting, “Well here, this is a great role. This could really turn into something.” Then you’ve got to wait on that. It’s just incredible. But I think it’s kind of apropos because we’re coming out of this pandemic now, I’ve got my vaccines in my arm now, I’m ready to go, and we see the light at the end of the tunnel. So. hopefully this movie can act as a unifier to us all. We have things more in common than we don’t, and hopefully that this will open some doors up, this movie.
This all does seem to follow your career a bit. This is a long way from Rent-a-Cop.
[Laughs] Oh, you’re hilarious! Yeah, me and Burt Reynolds!
Now on the cover of that DVD or whatever, they can put another Oscar nominee at the top of that one.
Hopefully, they’ll do that! Oh, you’re funny, man. Oh, that is so funny because I remember I had one line in that movie. I was the bartender and I say to Burt Reynolds, I go, “Hey, Burt, phone call.”
I’m actually looking this up. His name in that movie is Tony Church, so I’m assuming you called him Tony, not Burt…
Tony, yeah! “Hey Tony, phone call.” And I remember the makeup people, they made my eyebrows look like I was Groucho Marx. I was so pissed off. They made them really deep. Really deep Brown.
Was this a struggle to get this role? I’m under the impression your background and having knowledge of how to use sign language got you the part?
Yeah, they wanted it to be an authentic portrayal and so that’s why they had to cast all the deaf characters that are culturally deaf with deaf actors. It wouldn’t have worked if they’d cast people just learning sign language. So they did that right. And with my role, this guy’s a late-deafened guy; he speaks and then he gets deafened in a war.
They told my agent they had too many people audition and they were going to go with “a name” eventually, which has been the story of my life. That’s been the story of my life as an actor. “They’re going to go the other way, they’re going to go with a name.” So that was the word on it. And she begged them to look at the tape and they finally did. And so it worked out, but there’s so many great actors in this town. I just wonder how many times that happens to so many very, very well-qualified actors, but yet Hollywood has got to do what it’s got to do. It’s got to go with the name, with the money, and that was the fate of this movie, except Darius [Marder] refused to accept that. He kept on looking for the right person for the right role.
It has to be frustrating when you probably know in your heart of hearts that there have been previous roles that you were the best person.
I can guarantee you that in my 40-year career, 30 years out here, that has happened several times. You know you’re right for the role, you know that you can handle it, but yet, this guy’s been here before, so we got to go with the guy that’s been here before, with the name. And guys like me get relegated to the, “Hey, Tony, phone call.”
Does today feel like a culmination of all the times that happened to you? And now you’re an Oscar nominee forever.
God, I did plays in 99-seat shithole theaters that I just did it because I just wanted to be an actor. And just freezing in these cold theaters during the wintertime in Chicago. Or even ones that I did in Columbus, Ohio just a couple of years ago. God, all that stuff is now part of the work, my body of work, and it culminates with this. This is perfect. I accept!
People were very excited when your name came up this morning.
Yeah. My phone blew up, my computer blew up, my sister called crying hysterically from Chicago. Yeah, there’s been an outpouring of love. On Twitter, I’ve been watching the Twitter, people counting me out and praying for me, all these weird things. And now, the outpouring is crazy. It’s just, God, it’s just added 20 years to my life. I’m going to be here forever now!
Was there a time you almost gave up acting?
Oh, of course. I would tell my agent, “I’m tired of going in for these one-liners,” because that’s all I got. When I moved out here, my hair was short and I was trying to fit into a mold of “I want to be the dad.” I want to get a TV show like a sitcom, anything. And then there was a switch where I said, you know what, screw this. I’m going to let my hair grow. I’m going to get into a rock and roll band again. Which I did.
Yeah, I watched clips of that.
It’s a Black Sabbath tribute band. And so I just started doing things to make me happy. So I started singing again, being in a hard rock band, letting my hair grow, and screw Hollywood. And then all of a sudden they come knocking on my back door. Isn’t that weird?
I have a feeling you’re not going to have as big of a problem with getting roles as you’ve had in the past.
No. As a matter of fact, I’m turning things down! So that’s already been turning. And I was like, yeah, how about that? No more bartender roles! It’s going to be good.
‘Sound of Metal’ is currently streaming via Amazon Prime. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.