How “All the Light We Cannot See” brings an authentic blind heroine to television

After its release in 2014, Anthony Doerr’s All the light we can’t see won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and landed on The New York Times Bestseller list for 200 weeks. Given these high expectations, adapting the novel to the screen was never going to be an easy task, especially when it came to casting the lead role of Marie-Laure LeBlanc.

It is set in Nazi-occupied France in 1943. All the light we can’t see examines the unlikely connection between Marie-Laure – a blind French girl hiding in her reclusive uncle’s house – and Werner Pfennig, a young German soldier fascinated by radio technology. Newsweek has an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the four-part Netflix adaptation, which you can watch above.

In order to authentically cast the role of Marie-Laure, 21 Laps Entertainment has published a casting call for blind and visually impaired actors.

Aria Mia Loberti
Aria Mia Loberti in the Netflix adaptation of “All the Light We Cannot See.” The role of Marie-Laure is Loberti’s first acting role.

“I thought it was the right thing to do, but I thought it was the better thing because it would bring an authenticity to this story that a sighted actor pretending couldn’t appreciate,” said director Shawn Levy Newsweek.

In one Newsweek Levy and screenwriter Steven Knight exclusively share how they brought an authentic blind literary heroine to life for the screen.

Who is Aria Mia Loberti?

Aria Mia Loberti, a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, applied for the role of Marie-Laure after a children’s teacher informed her of the search. All the light we can’t see was her first audition, and despite having no acting experience, she beat out thousands for the role.

“It was her fierce intelligence, [but] She also had a luminous quality in front of the camera,” Levy said when he discovered Loberti.

“She was so obviously smart, and even though she didn’t know how to act yet, I knew that with that intelligence and that level of hunger for achievement, she wanted to work hard and learn hard.”

Aria Mia Loberti
Aria Mia Loberti in “All the Light We Can’t See.” Loberti beat out thousands of other actors for the role.

The Rhode Island native is legally blind because he suffers from a severe form of achromatopsia, a condition characterized by partial or complete loss of color vision. However, she doesn’t let her disability hold her back.

In addition to her budding acting career, Loberti holds a BA in Philosophy, Communications and Political Science from the University of Rhode Island – where she graduated summa cum laude – and an MA in Ancient Rhetoric from the University of London, which she graduated on March 17, 2019 completed a Fullbright scholarship.

As a fan of the novel, Loberti said she wanted the character to be “an authentic representation of a young girl growing into a young woman who is blind.”

“It’s important to bring that to the screen,” she explained in the Netflix series All the light we can’t see Featurette.

A passionate advocate for blind and visually impaired people, Loberti gave a TED talk in 2018 about her experiences growing up with a disability and served as a youth delegate to the United Nations Organization for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). .

Who is Nell Sutton?

Mark Ruffalo (left) and Nell Sutton (right)
Mark Ruffalo (left) and Nell Sutton (right) in “All the Light We Cannot See.” Seven-year-old Sutton was the production’s first cast member.

A similar search was launched to find Nell Sutton, who plays the child version of Marie-Laure. The 7-year-old from Gwynedd, Wales, suffers from congenital glaucoma and has previously featured in a national campaign for the charity Guide Dogs.

Sutton was the first actor to take part All the light we can’t seethanks to what Levy calls her “irresistible effervescence.”

“For Nell, this little girl was magical, she was unbearably charming, smart, funny and she just had a sparkle about her that I was immediately taken by,” he said.

Why was it important to find a blind actor to play Marie-Laure LeBlanc?

According to Knight – who adapted the novel for the screen – finding two visually impaired actors to play Marie-Laure was both a moral and creative decision.

“I think the fact that these two actresses were visually impaired removes a barrier between the audience and the character, because as an audience you’re not looking for that little hint that it’s just acting, it’s just a trick, man.” “I know it’s real,” he said Newsweek.

“Not only is it virtuous to do this, it is actually more efficient and better to do so.”

Aria Mia Loberti and Mark Ruffalo
Aria Mia Loberti (left) and Mark Ruffalo (right) in “All the Light We Cannot See.” Mark Ruffalo plays Marie-Laure’s father Daniel LeBlanc in “All the Light We Cannot See.”

Producer and blindness consultant Joe Strechay advised All the light we can’t see and said the production was “aimed at creating an atmosphere of respect for blind people.” [and] Persons with disabilities.”

“When I was working with Aria to figure out what she needed to get to a film set, I was able to have conversations with our production designer, our costume designer and our props department from the beginning as we figured out what we could have on set.” in certain scenes,” he said in the Netflix featurette.

“We’re making sure we do it right, but also in a way that authentically reflects Aria as a blind person.”

The production was as much of a learning curve for Levy as it was for Loberti and Sutton Stranger Things The producer described the actresses as “a daily influence on me and the way I presented and directed this story.”

“I don’t think there was a single day of filming where I didn’t learn something from Nell or Aria,” he said.

“Of course I had to teach them how to behave in front of the camera, but they taught me every day how real it is to navigate the world without sight, and that’s why I cast them.”

Levy felt that Loberti and Sutton added certain complexities to the portrayal of Marie-Laure that sighted actors would not think to include.

“Whether it was the way Aria moves from the doorway to her radio booth or the way Nell uses her cane on the sidewalks of Paris while her father invites her to eat crepes on her birthday, these are nuanced behaviors “that they have earned through years of real life and that they would tell me about,” he said.

“Or sometimes they’d just show it to me and I’d realize, ‘Oh, you know what, the way we imagined it as sighted creatives, that’s not the original – we’re going to use the original instead.'”