Get to Know Actress Rachel ShentonJames Herriot may have fallen for Helen Alderson in All Creatures Great and Small, but we’ve fallen for series star Rachel Shenton! Learn some interesting facts about the award-winning actress, like the inspiration behind her Academy Award winning film, the languages she knows that just might surprise you, and how she and her character Helen are similar.
She's Bonafide Oscar Winner!
Before she stole our hearts as the independent Helen Alderson, actress Rachel Shenton won an Academy Award in 2018 for The Silent Child, in the Best Live Action Short Film category. Shenton wrote and co-starred in the film, and portrayed a social worker who helps a young deaf girl learn sign language. Shenton’s husband, Chris Overton (The Phantom of the Opera), directed the film.
When accepting the Oscar alongside Overton, Shenton not only spoke, but signed her remarks as well. “I made a promise to our six-year-old lead actress that I would sign this speech,” she said, referring to young actress Maisie Sly, who is deaf. “The film is about a deaf child being born into a world of silence. It’s not exaggerated or sensationalized for the movie, this is happening. Millions of children all over the world live in silence and face communication barriers and particularly access to education.”
Sly — whose role in The Silent Child was her first ever — was not the only deaf member of the film’s team. There was an interpreter on set, as well as some deaf crew members, Shenton explained in an interview with Spotlight, which helped make Maisie felt “comfortable and at home.”
Shenton explained the very personal inspiration behind the short film .“I wrote the film because I was passionate about the subject. …My dad lost his hearing when I was 12. That had a big effect on me because my dad was a superhero, and this was the first time I saw him as human and vulnerable. That was the impetus for getting involved in the deaf community, and that’s why I wanted to write something around that.”
Watch her full Academy Award acceptance speech:
She Really is Fluent in Sign Language
Shenton didn’t learn how to sign for The Silent Child — she was already fluent in British Sign Language (BSL). After her father lost his hearing as a result of chemotherapy for throat cancer when Shenton was young, Shenton learned to sign so that she could communicate with him. Though he passed away when Shenton was 14, she was determined to continue studying the language.
Not only does she know BSL, she also knows American Sign Language (ASL). In 2012, Rachel starred in the ABC series Switched at Birth as a teacher who also knows both BSL and ASL. And just like her Switched at Birth character, Rachel has tried her hand at teaching some BSL with her The Silent Child co-star Maisie Sly.
Explore Shenton’s personal Instagram account (and learn a few signs while you’re at it!).
She Sees Herself in Helen
Helen Alderson is a strong-willed woman who works hard to care for her family and their farm, with nary a complaint. So, does Shenton see anything of herself in the character she brings to life on screen?
“Yeah, because I’ve only got me to work with, so I guess I have to bring me to it,” she told MASTERPIECE. “I’d like to think I’m principled, and I’d like to think that I do the right thing as much as I can, things like that. She [Helen] likes simplicity I guess, and there’s similarities there. I like to keep things quite simple in my life or in my wants. So, I guess that we’re similar in that way. And we both love animals as well, and we’ve both got great wardrobes, although hers is better than mine.”
And, of course, she loves animals, just like her character, and has her own dog. “She’s sitting on my lap right now,” Shenton said at the time of the interview. “I have a little Maltese dog, Rosie. She was a regular in the makeup trailer while we were filming.”
Los Angeles is Fine, But She Won't Call it Home
Shenton may be an award-winning writer and actress, and Los Angeles might be nice, but she and husband Chris Overton don’t see themselves making a home there. Their hearts lie in Britain, where both were born: Shenton from Stoke-On-Trent, and Overton also from the midlands of England.
“We’re quite boring and we’re quite normal,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in an interview. “We’re both from the midlands, we’re both from working class backgrounds. I love my time in L.A. when we’re out there — [but] I love Britain, I love our comedy, and I even quite like the weather!”