As reported by The Hartford Courant, August 25, 2004.

Deaf Actor Applies Talents to Videos

Sign Language Skills Used in Child Sex Abuse Tapes

By Daniel P. Jones

Anthony Natale, a deaf actor with roles in the hit films "Jerry Maguire" and "Mr. Holland's Opus," put his sign-language talents and good looks to use Tuesday to help raise awareness among deaf children and deaf parents about a troubling subject - child sexual abuse.

Natale was at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington to record the narration for two videos being produced by the Aetna Foundation Children's Center, a child advocacy organization at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.

"I just hope that the film will educate the deaf community about protecting their own children," Natale said during a break in the day's taping.

The video project was in the works before July 9, when a 16-year-old American School for the Deaf student was charged with raping another male student at the school in West Hartford. But the timing is almost certain to mean the videos will get plenty of attention in the deaf community in Connecticut and possibly nationally, experts say.

"It's coincidental, but it will just remind people of the need for education on this topic," said Karen Northrop, coordinator of public programming and development at the children's center, and the films' producer.

"Regarding the whole issue of child sexual abuse, parents are kind of undereducated about" the problem, said Mickey Kramer, the state associate child advocate. She welcomes efforts to raise awareness of the issue, "particularly coming from the children's center; they do a great job."

Northrop said she expects the half-hour videos - one for deaf children and one for deaf parents - to be released next spring. She said Connecticut actors, who have yet to be selected, will be used.

The money for the project, $10,000 so far, was donated by the McPhee Foundation, a family-advocacy organization in Bristol; the National Children's Alliance in Washington, D.C.; the state Department of Children and Families; and the Women's Auxiliary of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Northrop said.

She said she needs at least another $10,000 to pay for the project.

Her group won a $50,000 grant in January from the Children's Alliance for a project to create a model for children's advocacy centers across the country to help them better serve deaf victims of child sexual abuse. A small portion of the grant is being used for the films.

One of Northrop's first tasks was to find a narrator for the films. Early this year she was searching on Amazon.com for materials that would help the children's center staff learn basics of sign language and ways to better understand issues that deaf people face in the hearing world. She came across a video starring Natale, called "Signing Made Easy: How to Talk to a Person Who Can't Hear."

"I saw this thing and fell in love with him, and I was already writing the script, and said to myself he's who I need," she recalled. She sent an e-mail message to Natale, and he wrote back the next day saying he would be honored to do the narration for the two films, Northrup said.

Natale, 35, an actor whose credits include major films, appearances on television shows including "Ellen" and "7th Heaven," commercials and more than a dozen theater productions, needed only a few takes to complete the narration for the first film before a lunch break Tuesday.

He grew up in Toronto and lived in Chester, for three years in the early 1990s while he was with the National Theater of the Deaf. Natale now lives in Los Angeles.

He is perhaps best known to moviegoers as the man in the elevator during a key scene in "Jerry Maguire," starring Tom Cruise, in which Natale's character says to his sweetheart in sign language, "You complete me."