In one of the more heart-tugging series to debut this summer, SWITCHED AT BIRTH is the latest ABC Family Channel series to challenge our perceptions about what makes a family. Taking a modern day horror story about two children switched at birth and turning it into a chance to explore how their families embraced the opportunity to get to know one another, SWITCHED AT BIRTH invites viewers in a loving family drama showcasing two extraordinary families.
Constance Marie and Katie Leclerc
In the series SWITCHED AT BIRTH, Constance Marie and Katie Leclerc play mother and daughter Regina and Daphne Vasquez, who find out that they are not biological mother and daughter.
What can you share about the show?
Constance: The two lead characters were switched at birth, raised by different mothers, and when they are 15 years old, they find out through a high school experiment that they are not the biological children of the parents they grew up with.
Katie: Then two families move in together. We move into [the Kennish’s] guesthouse so they can all get to know each other. The families just kind of have to see how they adjust and see how everyone can cohesively get along — to become one family.
Constance: The best part, I think, is that the show is anchored in the familial relationships. How would somebody act and relate when they realize that the child that they have loved and nurtured all these years is not theirs? Instead of doing the whole legal drama, they have to get to know the child that they don’t know, but that is biologically theirs — and really discovery how much love there is from the mothers to the daughters. This will be so relatable to everyone because it is about family and how important family is to you. What it is like to discover you have a brother that you never knew — and the child that you have loved and nurtured is technically not your own.
Katie: But you are still that person’s mother. Love does not go away.
Constance: We also get to deal with ethnic issues. We get to deal with sociological issues; like one family is affluent and one is working-class. We have single parent vs. dual parent relationships. It really has so much heart and love. It’s a beautiful, beautiful show. I read the script and cried. The stories that they tell are so strong and beautiful and it’s something you can watch as a family.
Do you think the show is representative of society today?
Constance: Totally. There is no one type of family. It deals with many kinds of family; no matter what kind of color you are or how much money you have. Family is so important and we also have the aspect of the deafness and that, to me — seeing the characters from both the hearing community and the deaf community — it’s unbelievably educational. [ASL] is a beautiful language. I mean it is such an amazing language. It’s beautiful and it’s emotional.
Katie: The show also makes sense. My character Daphne is never a victim. She’s just a product of her environment and that’s in great part to her wonderful upbringing.
Did you already know sign language?
Katie: I did. I took sign language in high school. Then, when I was 20, I found out I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease; and so I’m very fortunate in that I will be able to communicate for the rest of my life.
Constance: The best part is that I had to play a woman who has been signing for 12 years of her life — and I didn’t know anything. So I went to sign language bootcamp and worked with a tutor. I was heating my arm and icing my arm — it felt like DANCING WITH THE STARS for your arm. It’s amazing because I was a dancer and it was sort of easy for me — well, not easy — but I had a way to go there and be able to bride the hearing world with the deaf world. I did a scene with Marlee Matlin and another fabulous young actor, Sean Berdy who plays Emmett, who is at the same time likeable, lovable and handsome, and cool.
Katie: He’s great!
Constance: So I’m with Marlee, Sean and Katie and I’m the only person who’d been signing for about 2 months — and it’s so beautiful. It’s like a ballet.
Katie: The way it breaks down in the United States: English is the most common language, Spanish is second, and sign language is third. Unbelievable, right? So now we have a show that not only deals with family and economics and race and culture — the deaf community has a show that has characters representing them. It’s a great representation of the deaf community and I think it will be very strong for the deaf world to have this show.
What is it like working with D.W. Moffett [who portrays Kathryn Kennish’s husband]?
Constance: The charming D.W. Moffett? Well, we just watched an episode where — and I don’t know how he does it — he is so grounded. With no effort at all, he is hilariously funny. He is so good. It’s funny ’cause this is an estrogen show, and I’ve never been on a show where women are so important that we don’t need a tall man to rescue us. We’re the heroes of the show. So D.W. is just our “man candy.”
How would you feel if you found out your child was not your own child biologically?
Constance: I struggled with fertility. My daughter was an IVF baby. She was frozen for 2 months. It’s not that far of a leap to go: ‘What if they gave me the wrong tube? And what if she was not mine?’ I could start crying right now. But, even if she was not biologically mine, she’s mine. But what would you do if you found out after 15 years that your daughter was not yours? It would be hard. It would be a struggle. It would be so much drama to work through.
Katie: It changes nothing. Your mom is always your mom. She’ll always be there — whether she’s adopted, biological, whatever. I think that’s why the show is so important.
What can we expect to see on the show?
Constance: It is ABC Family. They like to have many different things going on. I’m not allowed to give away any secrets. But viewers will not be disappointed. There will always be something going on. There’s all this drama, all these twists and turns. Yet it is still done with a level of integrity to the show that is just beautiful and funny and dramatic all at the same time.
Also appearing in the series, Marlee Matlin portrays a family friend to Regina Vasquez and school counselor to her daughter Daphne, and as the mother of Daphne’s fellow deaf student Emmett.
Did you want to be a series regular again?
Marlee: I’m always happy to be a part of any television series — this one in particular because it’s such a new way of looking at a teenage character. Having four kids, they are finally able to watch me on a television show. It’s as nice and perfect as it could be. I’m always up for trying anything new, as you’ve seen my career go. You never know how your career is going to go. This show I think has a great message for everybody because it involves both hearing and deaf characters together. In terms of integrating the cultures together, to have this culture together as a part of the team landscape and bring it out there to ABC Family, I think is a great message.
Can you talk about your character and what we will see her do this season?
Marlee: My character is Melody. She does a lot of things. She’s the guidance counselor at the high school where the kids go. She’s also a substitute basketball coach and that makes my son very happy. He’s a sports fan. When I said that I was playing a basketball coach, he said, ‘What’s the name of your team? What are your stats?’ I said, ‘No, no. Honey, it’s a television show.’ But I’m happy that he’s excited about something that I’m doing. I also happen to be Regina’s, Constance’s [Marie] character’s best friend on the show. I’m there for her — to give her support with all the changes that are happening in her life as a result of the switched at birth news. I’m Emmett’s (Daphne’s best friend’s) mother. But the storyline in terms of what I play, we haven’t really gotten much into that.
Is it a recurring role?
Marlee: Well, so far I’ve done three episodes. I think they’re doing ten episodes and so if the show does well they’ll probably bring me back for more, I’m sure.
Is there a storyline that you hope your character will get in the future?
Marlee: I think what the character is there to do is create a support network for Constance’s character. She lends credence to the deaf story that they put into the show. Daphne has had the right education, the right upbringing and now she’s been put into this situation where her life has been altered. I think by having my character there it lends credence to what’s going on in the show. We don’t necessarily want them to take advantage of deaf storylines and just turn them into simple soap operas. It really is trying to flesh out a real character.
Is it a challenge working with a deaf teenager?
Marlee: They’re not really teenagers in real life. They’re like 24 years old. The one who plays my son is a teenager. He’s seventeen and I laugh to myself because I know how it is to deal with a teenager because I have a 15-year-old daughter and I know exactly how that goes. I guess it’s probably payback for the childhood hell that I gave my mother, but speaking of that, it’s great. It’s a nice change to be working with a younger crowd than I’m used as my costars because I’m not used to that. It’s a great group of people. Lea [Thompson] is great. D. W. Moffett is great. They’re just a great and wonderful group of people to work with on the show. And I don’t have to baby sit anybody.
Apart from Katie Leclerc, is every actor portraying a deaf character on the show actually deaf?
Marlee: Yeah. The one who plays my son is profoundly deaf and ASL (American Sign Language) is his first language. In terms of the character, we have that in common. On the other hand, Katie grew up in the hearing world and was not profoundly deaf like Sean [Berdy] or I were. But she signs well and she comes to deafness from a different perspective. I know that sign language is not her first language, but she’s been nothing but great. As we said, there are different types of deaf people and I just think that she’s a sweetheart and she’s a great actress.
What’s the biggest challenge of being on the show?
Marlee: The biggest challenge for me on the show, I don’t know . . . in terms of specific challenges, I like to look at how lines should be read, how we show-off deaf culture, but I think they’ve done a great job. My character has been nothing but great in terms of how they’ve written me. I’m lucky in that this is a show that I can actually enjoy doing.
As a mom of four have you thought about how you would react if you found out one of your kids wasn’t biologically yours?
Marlee: I would probably react very quickly. I would probably first ask: ‘Who’s the nurse that did this because I’m going to ring her neck.’ That would be the first question. People jump to conclusions about what they would do. I can’t even imagine something like this happening to my husband and I. It would be too hard to tell you what the feelings would be because it would be so beyond anything that you could envision that could happen to any family.
Would you rather not know?
Marlee: I might probably not want to know unless I would feel by looking at my child and saying, ‘There’s something not right here.’ But I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s just so beyond my scope. It’s probably like the worst-case scenario that you could imagine for anyone.
Lea Thompson and Vanessa Marano
Then on the flip-side, Lea Thomson portrays Kathryn Kennish and Vanessa Marano plays her daughter, Bay — the other mother-daughter who find out that Bay was switched at birth with Daphne.
Did you have to learn sign language for the show?
Lea: We are learning.
Vanessa: Yeah, we are in the process of learning. Our characters don’t sign at first, but eventually we’re going to have to in order to make things easier for Daphne’s character and other characters on the show. Plus, between the other cast and crew, it’s around us so much, we might as well try to pick it up. It not the easiest thing in the world, but we are trying.
Can you talk about what’s coming up for your characters?
Lea: I play Kathryn Kennish. She’s got this kind of perfectly ordered life. I’m wealthy. My husband is a baseball player. I have the 2.5 kids, a son and a daughter. I’ve made this kind of perfect life for myself, and then all of a sudden, I find out that I have this other daughter and then she has to move into our house. There is this whole other family, so a lot of what’s happening with my character is that she’s growing. She’s got a lot of growing and she’s having to open up her mind. Her mind was a little closed and sheltered — and also, just practically, living with another woman who is the mother of my biological daughter, who is a completely different person and she comes from a completely different background — we see things completely differently. But we’re trying to protect our children and kind of co-parent. So I’m trying to figure out the boundaries. So we have a lot of conflict. And then I’m trying to deal with how it affects my son who is kind of having a lot of problems and my daughter’s having trouble dealing with it.
Vanessa: Yeah, a lot of the conflict for my character is really the search for finding herself through different relationships with different boys, and also she’s got a search for her father. She’s now found that not only is she not who she thought she was, there’s also this half of her that she has no idea about. She grew up knowing that she had a mother and a father — she was whole — and now that’s been ripped away from her and she’s just a half.
Have you thought about how you would feel if you found yourself in this situation?
Vanessa: That’s a question we’ve all been getting. Kind of the consensus has been from a parent point of view — from a kid’s point of view, it is a very interesting question to ask — but from a parent point of view, I still would not feel any differently about the child that I raised. Which is a great part of our show is that the genetic bond between you does not necessarily mean more than the bond than the person you’ve grown up with.
Lea: I think it enriches the understanding between our characters because I think that it has probably always been like: Why doesn’t this quite feel right? Why do we feel foreign to each other in a weird way — like a primal way? And now we know why. It’s like living with a lie your whole life and then all of a sudden finding out the truth.
Vanessa: So like, ‘oh, we’re not connecting. That’s normal between a teenager and a mother — it’s fine, it’s all cool.’ But then, ‘oh, we’re not connecting ’cause we’re not related.’
Lea: Yeah, so in a way, whenever a lie gets answered, it makes the relationship deeper.
Is the show more of a comedy or a drama?
Vanessa: Well, they hired very comedic actors. Like Constance and Lea have done sitcoms, and D.W. is the funniest guy on Earth, just hilarious. I trained in comedy. Lucas is hysterical and Katie is hilarious. So we have a group of really funny actors and I think there is so much drama that happens. It’s organic drama. It never feels pushed. It’s just part of the story. But another flipside of that, there are very different personalities and comedic actors playing them. So organically humor just happens to come out. You can’t solve every situation sobbing and yelling at each other. There is a lot of humor that needs to be in that too to make it more interesting to watch.
What is the storyline you are most excited to see play out?
Lea: Right now, it is trying to figure out why the switched at birth happened. My husband and I are suing the hospital. So that’s a big part of the story — to figure out how it happened, why it happened.
Vanessa: Because the hospital won’t admit they made a mistake. Their focus is mainly trying to get that apology and acknowledgement that the hospital made a mistake so that they cannot feel guilty that they didn’t know and it was not something they did.
Lea: All my rich friends — the normal reaction would be: how did I not know? I gave birth to this baby and then a few hours later someone gives me a different one. How did I not know that was not my baby? So all my friends are looking down at me and I’m feeling like a terrible mom. There’s all that going on.
Can you describe what you were initially drawn to in your characters?
Vanessa: What I really enjoy about Bay is that she is very different than myself. She’s not the easiest character to play. She’s very difficult. She’s very spirited. She doesn’t get along with people well. So it’s been very interesting finding pieces of myself to put into her and find likeable points to her. I think she’s been handling the switch worse than anybody else.
Lea: My character, when you read the pilot, my character is the rich, white, perfect housewife; and then the other mother is the single, Hispanic mom raising a deaf child. It felt very stacked against me ’cause those two stereotypes — there’s not much to like.
Vanessa: With both our characters, it is like: are we playing the antagonists or the protagonists of the show? They’re very judgmental. They don’t get along with people well. So are we the bad guys? And the creator kept saying: ‘I love that girl. I love Kathryn.’ And we’re like, ‘Okay.’
Lea: But that was definitely the challenge: we both had to take characters that are the problem people and struggle to make them likable and relatable. But the writer has done such a beautiful job. The emotions feel earned. The situations are interesting and the writer takes both sides of the argument and makes you wonder: who is right? Who is the bad guy/good guy? It switches back and forth a lot. That’s really wonderful for us as actors.
You can catch the series premiere of SWITCHED AT BIRTH premieres on Monday, June 6 at 9PM on ABC Family Channel.
Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower). Tiffany also writes as a columnist for NiceGirlsTV.