Sandra Mae Frank

Sandra Mae Frank

Arthur Marroquin
Sandra Mae Frank

Sandra Mae Frank in New Amsterdam

Courtesy of NBC
Sandra Mae Frank

Sandra Mae Frank in New Amsterdam

Courtesy of NBC
Fill 1
Fill 1
September 05, 2022
Online Originals

Sandra Mae Frank's Good Medicine

As Dr. Wilder on NBC's New Amsterdam, the actress illustrates life as a deaf person in medicine.

Sandra Mae Frank was in high school when she figured out a key to success: ask for what you want. It's one of the many qualities she shares with her character on New Amsterdam.

Made a series regular on the NBC drama's fifth and final season returning September 20, Frank plays oncologist Elizabeth Wilder. Like the actress, the doctor is a deaf person who does not use vocalized speech or a hearing aid.

"She is used to breaking boundaries, breaking through," Frank signs during a Zoom video chat, as an American Sign Language interpreter voices her words.
"In so many ways, she's the type of character I would want to be," she continues. "Her boldness, her ability to navigate through the world as a deaf person, a queer person. There are a lot of parallels between me and my character."

Though Wilder's sexuality is implied, Frank's is declared. In a YouTube video she explains it was a wonderful realization that she's pansexual. The character and actress were both mainstreamed in school and attended a college for the deaf.

Frank was always drawn to acting, but growing up, Marlee Matlin, who later became a friend and mentor, was the only famous deaf actress. Frank realized the odds were against her.

Still, she wanted to try. As a high school freshman in Louisville, Kentucky, she auditioned for the school play, Crimes of the Heart, and asked for what she wanted.

"The school wasn't planning to have a deaf person playing that role," Frank says. "But I just said that I wanted to audition, and I said I know that role isn't a deaf person, but I can do it. And I convinced them to add another role, my best friend and interpreter."

At Gallaudet University, Frank planned on becoming a teacher, and enrolled in a theater class for fun. A professor, Monique Holt, recognized her talent and offered her an internship — if she switched majors from education to theater.

She acted through graduation and still picked up a teaching degree "just to be safe," Frank says with a smile and a shrug. "But then Spring Awakening happened," she says.

Frank was in the revival of the Tony-winning musical at the Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles that moved to Broadway and launched her career. Frank played Wendla, a character she shared on stage with Katie Boeck, who voiced the role.

"I don't know where I'd be if it wasn't for that experience," she acknowledges.

Since then, Frank's been on the TV series Switched at Birth, Daybreak and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, and in the films Season of Love, Entangled, Soul to Keep and The Sound of Fear. She also performed "America the Beautiful" and the national anthem at the 2022 Super Bowl. "I don't hear anything," Frank explains. But she feels the vibrations of music, which she loves.

She's also making good on another talent that surfaced early. At the age of five, Frank peered through her dad's camera then told her friends what to do; directing was only a matter of time. She recently co-directed The Music Man at Olney Theatre Center in Maryland and is production manager for Deaf Austin Theatre in Texas.

As it did for most people, the pandemic prompted her to assess her choices.

"Will I continue acting? What should I do? Should I change career paths?" she recalls. "I thought that was a time for me to close that chapter of my life and maybe continue teaching."

"Then the audition [for] New Amsterdam came, and I was like, 'I don't think I'm going to get it, but I'll try,'" Frank adds. "And then I got it! New Amsterdam has changed my life in so many ways. And I'm really grateful for that, and blessed, and it will open the doors for many actors moving forward."

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