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"Once I won an Oscar, at age 21, I could focus on what I wanted to do instead of what I had to do,” says Marlee Matlin, 55 and still wowing Hollywood — most recently in CODA (Apple TV+, Aug. 13), the prizewinning smash about a girl singer (Emilia Jones) who's the only non-hearing-impaired member of a family whose matriarch Matlin plays. The film fetched the highest price in the history of the Sundance Film Festival. As CODA hits screens this summer, Matlin shared with AARP her top 10 things to do with your life.
1. Laugh at yourself
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Family Guy had a bit about me being deaf and the fact that I can't hear farts but can smell them. Which is true! So I called Seth MacFarlane and said, “If you're going to make fun of me, use me.” That led to us working together. [There's a similar gag in CODA.]
2. Don't stagnate
Learn how to hustle, then keep at it. As I get older, I keep cruising along until I get what I want. If I don't get what I want, I just move on to something else.
3. Trust your instincts
My first act of hustling was getting sober, against the wishes of everybody in my life. I was 21. I wasn't living at home. I had to start taking responsibility for myself. It's the best decision I ever made.
4. Avoid the blurt
I learned from my friend Henry Winkler to think before you speak, so you don't say things you can't take back.
5. Don't be afraid of tech
I'm very curious, but I struggle with technology. I just learned the shortcut to cut and paste. It changed my life! [Laughs.]
6. Get good sleep
I used to go to bed at 2 or 3 a.m. and sleep till noon. Now I like going to bed at 9:30. I need my energy to do the things I have to do during the day.
7. Be open to change
I never thought I'd have four children. I'm a fiercely independent person, but my priorities completely changed.
8. Listen to your kids
When I was asked to do Dancing With the Stars, the kids were, like, “Yes, Mom!” It was the hardest work I'd ever done, and I was out of my element. But to be able to show people that deaf people can dance was really fun.
It's been a struggle with masks during the pandemic because I lip-read. Still, I'm more than happy to assist people — they just have to work with me, maybe by texting or writing or whatever it takes. I can't just walk away from life.
10. Smile more
You should smile at people. Even if you don't know them. Why not? It really is helpful.
—As told to Joel Stein