Why Millicent Simmonds is the key to ‘A Quiet Place Part II’

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Millicent Simmonds is a star on the rise — and a newly minted high school graduate.

The 18-year-old actress just so happened to finish school the same week that press resumed for “A Quiet Place Part II” after more than a yearlong delay. The movie was scheduled to be released in March 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic upended theatrical release schedules and forced the entertainment industry to a standstill.

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“It’s been really difficult waiting for the film to be released,” Simmonds says through a sign-language interpreter over Zoom. “It almost feels like my baby and I just want to share it with the world.”

The highly anticipated follow-up to John Krasinski’s 2018 sci-fi thriller stars Simmonds, Emily Blunt and Noah Jupe as the surviving members of the Abbott family who are forced to seek community after the death of patriarch Lee, played by Krasinski, all while living in a post-apocalyptic world plagued by monsters who hunt by sound. Simmonds’ character, Regan, takes over spiritually for her father, embodying his courageous spirit by forcing the family out of survival mode and into the wider world.

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“With the loss of Lee, Millie’s character really steps into a perfect reflection of all the things that she may or may not have known that she learned from him,” says Krasinski, who wrote and directed the film. “ So she becomes kind of a … I wouldn’t say projection because she’s almost bigger and stronger than he could ever be.”

Although he’d briefly considered stepping away from the budding franchise, the opportunity to have Simmonds lead the sequel was why Krasinski ultimately decided to continue the story. “It was really moving for me to tell a coming-of-age story with her because she’s just brilliant,” he says. “I wasn’t going to do a sequel at all and then the one little idea I kept having was, ‘What if Millie can be the lead of the movie?’ And when I figured out how to do that, it not only broke open the movie but actually brought my character into the second movie in a huge way through her.”

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“This is Millie’s movie,” Blunt agrees. “Not only is she such a powerhouse that she can carry and shoulder a film like this, but John very much felt that this needed to be her film. It seemed the absolute way to go: You’ve got a character who considers herself someone with a weakness and a disability and that ‘disability’ becomes the weapon and the answer. She’s got the wings of confidence behind her that she can do something and she sees it as a way of commemorating her dad.”

“I always said that the first movie was so personal to me that I didn’t think I could find anything [like that again],” Krasinski adds. “But then I realized that the second movie is all about growing up: The first one was about the promise you make to your kids that you’ll always be there for them and the second movie is about when that promise is inevitably broken.”

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“Before ‘Wonderstruck,’ I didn’t really have a vision of what my life could look like”: Millicent Simmonds, star of “A Quiet Place Part II.”

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(Jeff Swensen / For The Times)

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With themes of isolation and community, the film seems particularly primed for its post-pandemic release. “The first movie is about a family in isolation, and then this movie is about a little girl who realizes that if you stay in isolation and stay stagnant, nothing good can happen,” Krasinski says. “It’s protection rather than growth. And I think that was really what I learned throughout the whole pandemic. You have to just start moving forward, as scary as that is. You have to trust in yourself, your family and your loved ones that we’re all going to get through this together.”

“I feel like this movie is almost like a love letter from the kids to John,” Simmonds says. “Seeing my character evolve into this powerful, brave and bold person helped me see myself in a similar way. In the first film, she was highly critical of herself and blamed herself for everything, and I kind of resonated with that. As a deaf person it’s challenging, but how Regan took advantage of the fact that she was deaf was really empowering.”

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The opportunity to reprise her character “almost didn’t feel real,” she says. “In Hollywood there just aren’t very many opportunities for actors to work together [repeatedly], and so coming together again and reuniting with them was wonderful because I truly did miss them like family.”

The recent grad has been considering colleges and is planning the next steps in her career, which may soon take her behind the camera. “I hope to continue acting, I love it so much,” she says. “But I would love to incorporate more writing and potentially more producing or directing.”

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Although she doesn’t yet have any writing or directing experience, Simmonds hopes to take film courses soon. But getting to observe Krasinski firsthand provided a crucial foundation, she says. “It’s so helpful because he comes from an acting background and it helps him in the way that he directs. He’s very particular, and that helps me because then I can kind of put myself in his mind and understand what he’s hoping for. It’s pretty incredible to see everything through his vantage point.”

Sharing scenes with Blunt, she added, was like a master class in acting. “By watching Emily act, I was able to really dissect and analyze her work and take note of the control she has of her emotions,” Simmonds says. “When she enters a set, she knows exactly how to prepare herself to be fully in the scene. It’s almost as if she knows that any subtle movement could affect the scene significantly, and that really moved me. She sits by herself and immerses herself into the world while Noah and I are off to the side probably goofing off. I can feel her energy when I’m working with her, and just through that I’ve learned so much.”

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Millicent Simmonds amid boughs of flowers at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh.

Millicent Simmonds: “We’ve broken through the glass ceiling and it’s not just for people who are deaf.”

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(Jeff Swensen / For The Times)

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Despite being involved in theater and drama classes since elementary school, Simmonds never imagined she could find success as an actress. That all changed after she landed a role in 2017’s “Wonderstruck,” an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel, which her drama teacher encouraged her to audition for.

“I was kind of a favorite of hers,” Simmonds says. “When the call went out to audition, she begged me to do it, so I went ahead and auditioned for her. I had no expectations; I didn’t think I would be cast in that role, but it was wonderful. It almost felt like fate because I had already read the book years before.”

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The role, which earned her accolades, helped her to realize that there might be a place for deaf actresses in Hollywood.

“Before ‘Wonderstruck,’ I didn’t really have a vision of what my life could look like. But after seeing myself onscreen, it truly changed my life.”

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Today, joined by fellow actresses like Lauren Ridloff (“Sound of Metal”) and Kaylee Hottle (“Godzilla Vs. Kong”), Simmonds just wants to continue offering representation for the deaf community.

“It’s exciting to see these incredible actresses [offer] deaf representation in film,” she says. “At this point it feels like there’s no limit to what we can do. We’ve broken through the glass ceiling, and it’s not just for people who are deaf but those who have disabilities, people of color. We’re seeing everybody getting involved in Hollywood and there are so many wonderful stories being shared right now.”

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“It’s truly incredible,” she adds. “It’s crazy, I never had that feeling growing up. I never got to see myself represented and it’s truly an honor. I want to do everything I can to right all the wrongs and make sure that everyone is included.”

Millicent Simmonds grabs hold of a tree branch.

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“It almost feels like my baby and I just want to share it with the world,” Millicent Simmonds says of “A Quiet Place Part II.”

(Jeff Swensen / For The Times)

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