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'All the Light We Cannot See' creators on Aria Mia Loberti and 'authentic' casting

Loberti was pursuing a Ph.D when she was cast as the lead in the four-part miniseries. Like her character, she is blind.

The adaptation of "All The Light We Cannot See" opens on Marie-Laure LeBlanc (Aria Mia Loberti), reading a book onto a broadcast radio, fingers trailing braille pages.

Above her, German bombs fly above Saint-Malo, the island in Nazi-occupied France where she lives. Elsewhere, in parts unknown, are her father and uncle. She is alone in a dark world, yes — but guided by an inner light the rest of the story explores.

The four-part show, which was based on the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name by Anthony Doerr, was adapted for the screen by director Shawn Levy and writer Stephen Knight.

Levy says the "defining choice of the project" was to cast Aria Mia Loberti and Nell Sutton to play Marie-Laure in two life stages. Both Loberti and Sutton, who plays young Marie-Laure, are blind, like their character.

Casting Aria Mia Loberti and Nell Sutton was the "defining choice" of the project.
Casting Aria Mia Loberti and Nell Sutton was the "defining choice" of the project.ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA/NETFLIX

"Steven had written these beautiful scripts and adapting a book that we both love. But it just felt like the only way to do this story would be if we could find authenticity in this protagonist and how she's portrayed," he says.

In the book and show, Marie-Laure goes blind when she is six years old. After, her father Daniel, played by Mark Ruffalo in the movie, helps her adjust to her new normal by creating a model of Paris in their apartment, and later Saint-Malo.

Filmmakers were inspired by the "CODA," which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2022. The actors portraying deaf character were deaf, including best supporting actor winner Troy Kotsur.

“I think that planted the seed of, Oh, I gotta try and do this,” he says.

Nell Sutton and Mark Ruffalo.
Nell Sutton and Mark Ruffalo.ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA/NETFLIX

Loberti, 29, answered the producers' open casting call. The Rhode Island native, who uses a British accent in the movie, was a Fulbright scholar pursuing a Ph.D in rhetoric at the time and had no acting experience.

Loberti told the University of Rhode Island's newspaper she felt "pure shock" when she was cast: "It was such a fun audition process and it was very empowering. That’s all I was seeking — a new experience, a challenge. I didn’t expect anything more to come of it."

Per the article, Loberti was born with the genetic eye condition achromatopsia, a condition characterized by a partial or complete loss of color vision. She is blind in some environments and has reduced vision in others, per the article.

In an interview with Vanity Fair conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike, Loberti said she "hates" the phrase "blind actor."

"I’m an actor, and I want everyone who comes after me to be accepted as an actor, or whatever profession it is that they have. I wasn’t a blind PhD student or a blind author, a blind whatever. I do those things. I am myself. Blindness, to me, is the equivalent obstacle of having anxiety and being clumsy and awkward and nerdy. It’s not something that I should put in front of my occupation," she said.

What Loberti was lacking in an IMdB page, Levy says, she made up in "devotion" to the part of Marie-Laure.

"She just devoted herself to learning the job while she did the job in front of hundreds of people," says Levy. "And that's not easy, right? That takes major courage. She has that. And that also is what made her right to play Marie, who is such a courageous character."

Loberti told Town & Country in an interview before the SAG-AFTRA strike that she "spreadsheets and notebooks" about the character, and even wrote "Marie-Laure fan fiction" to learn more about the character.

The result, Knight says, was a complicated and natural performance. He highlights Loberti's scenes with Ruffalo, who plays her father, as an example.

"In that father-daughter relationship, it's not going to be a relationship of endless empathy, pity and sympathy, it's a relationship, it's going to be good and bad, it's going to be ordinary, it's going to be domestic. And that immediately is what came across."

While the story is set more than 60 years in the past, the creators believe the show's themes are relevant.

"The novel teaches us there is hope there is light." says Knight. "And I think that that's what we have tried to do in making this."

CORRECTION (Nov. 9, 2023, 1:19 p.m.): An earlier version of this story misspelled Aria Mia Loberti's name. It is Mia not Maria.