‘The Last Of Us’ Guest Star Keivonn Woodard On “Humbling” Historical Emmy Nomination: “I Was In Shock” And Making A Familial Connection With His Fellow Nominees

For 10-year-old actor Keivonn Woodard, life is nothing but net. Literally. As the Emmy nominations were read on Wednesday morning, Woodard was at a basketball summer camp program while his mother, April Jackson, was at home watching her son make television history.

In garnering an Emmy nomination for Guest Actor in a Drama Series, for his role as Sam in HBO’s hit drama The Last of Us, Woodard becomes the youngest actor ever to be recognized in the category and the first Black Deaf actor in the Television Academy’s history to secure a nomination.

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Still clad in his basketball clothing, alongside his mother, Woodard told Deadline that he was “shocked” when he first found out about the news and that he was mindful about the “importance and huge impact” as a young Deaf Black boy to be honored by the nomination. Regarding setting an example for other actors from similar communities like himself, Woodard had some encouraging words: “I think that everybody should just do their best when they’re trying to act and just go for the auditions. Don’t worry about it, and just go ahead and try to act your best. Yes, it was hard with the facial expressions and learning how to [interpret the script for American Sign Language], but I think it’s really important to also learn to listen to your production team and to collaborate with them. I got in, and so can you.”

For Jackson, the importance and the weight of her son’s nomination didn’t really hit her until the flood of text messages rolled in, first by fellow first-time Emmy nominated actress Bella Ramsey, who plays Ellie in the series, and then by showrunner and writer Craig Mazin who jokingly asked if Woodard owned a tuxedo. “People kept sending messages, and I cried immediately because I never thought or dreamed it would happen to my son. You know, I never even considered it.” Jackson said. “After Keivonn got the role, I asked myself, ‘How do I even prepare my life?’ It wasn’t easy, especially as a Black Deaf mother and also being a widow. I was trying to take care of everything on my own, but he would say, ‘Mom, I got this.’ And he did. He’s the first young Black Deaf actor to be nominated in Emmys history, on top of this being his first TV show [and major audition process]. We are completely humbled and honored.”

In taking on the role of Sam in the TV series, a slightly reimagined and more inclusive take on the series’ video game counterpart who was not deaf, Woodard reminisced about his early days on set working with his fellow Emmy-nominated costars and how the beauty of their communication went beyond the auditory. “Bella really became like a big sister, she knew [a bit of] British Sign Language, so she also picked up some American Sign Language as well, without the interpreter. Pedro, he was able to [receptively] understand and give hugs and [friendly] gestures,” Woodard explained. “But Lamar [Johnson, who plays his older brother in the show], we were almost like brothers. We would play video games and chat using technology. A lot of [the cast] learned sign language, even though we didn’t ask anybody to do anything. It was an amazing experience. A good representation of what the world should be, everybody, interacting and communicating regardless of anything.”

As for where we can see Woodard next? The actor will star in Anslem Richardson’s short film Fractal, which is told through the eyes of an orphaned Deaf little boy who uses his unique Black Sign Language to communicate with mysterious creatures and find solace from police violence.

Woodard is repped by Elle Potruch at Whalar Talent Managment.

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