PROVIDENCE — A Rhode Island native with no acting experience has burst onto the scene, starring as the blind heroine in the Netflix miniseries “All the Light We Cannot See.”
On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Aria Mia Loberti talks about what prompted her to audition for the role of Marie-Laure LeBlanc when she was pursuing a doctorate in ancient rhetoric, and when thousands of others were trying out for the role.
Loberti said she expected a famous actress to land the part in the adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel.
“I had this speech prepared that was like, ‘OK, maybe you’re going to reject me, but can you still keep looking for a girl who’s blind to play this part? It would mean so much to this community,’” she said. “I got on a Zoom call and I thought I was going into like a meeting or another audition — I didn’t really know what. And they told me I got the part.”
Loberti, who is legally blind, also talked about the childhood experience that spurred her to become an advocate in the blind community for and other people with disabilities.
“Essentially, the Johnston [R.I.] public school system did not want to accommodate my needs as a child,” she said. “Having access to a computer or a tablet, and a seat at the front of the classroom, and access to teachers to show me how to use a white cane and use assistive technology on my computer. And those needs were never provided to me.”
Loberti, who has some vision in certain environments, said her mother fought to get school materials enlarged for her. “And they were like, ‘It doesn’t really matter. Like, she’s blind and she’s a girl. What’s a blind person going to do with their life? And girls aren’t even supposed to be good at math.’”
She said her family ended up filing a lawsuit, and she ended up receiving home schooling from third through 12th grade.
Loberti said that experience prompted her to speak up for others. “It taught me how to use my voice for good,” she said. While she had loving parents to come home to, she realized that “there are so many kids who face that neglect, discrimination, and abuse in school, but then go home to the same thing. And not everyone was as lucky as me. So I want to make sure that the world is a better place for them, too.”
Loberti, 29, graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2020, majoring in philosophy, communication and political science, and while at URI, she did a TEDxURI talk titled “The Power of Solidarity and Silence.” She received a Fulbright scholarship to study at Royal Holloway, University of London, and before auditioning, she was pursuing a doctorate in ancient rhetoric at Pennsylvania State University.
But now Loberti has found her career path. “I sort of feel like I’m meant to be doing this my whole life, and just because of how the world treated me, I never thought it was an option,” she said. “So I’m really happy for the first time.” And she said she has already landed other acting role.
So in the span of just a couple of weeks, she has gone from being an anonymous ancient rhetoric scholar to a Netflix star, completing the transition from Johnston to Hollywood.
Loberti, who now lives in East Greenwich but spoke to the Globe from New York City, said she had always been a person who “wanted to be invisible.” But the other day, she was walking in Times Square, and her face was on a 25-foot-tall billboard that people were photographing. “That was kind of my, like, ‘Oh my God,’ my ‘WTF’ moment of ‘You’ve come a long way,’” she said.
Meanwhile, Loberti is receiving thousands of messages on social media every day from people who share how the series has affected them. “I go through and I read all of the messages, and I take them to heart,” she said. “And that’s why I do this. That’s why I want to make art, because it touches people.”
To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.