Media Q&A with Constance Marie of ABC Family’s “Switched At Birth” (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles) (2013)
June 4, 2013 by Dennis Amith
Actress Constance Marie is well-known for her role as Angie in the family comedy sitcom “George Lopez” (2002-2007), the television show “American Family” and her role as Marcel Quintanilla in the 1997 film “Selena”.
Having had a career which began as a dancer in films such as “Salsa” and the TV series adaptation of “Dirty Dancing” back in the late ’80s, Constance returned to television as Regina Vasquez in “Switched at Birth”, a one-hour scripted drama that tells the story of two teenage girls who discover they were accidentally switched as newborns in the hospital.
“Switched at Birth” is a series that focuses on Bay Kennish (portrayed by Vanessa Marano), a girl who grew up in a wealthy family with two parents and a brother, while Daphne Vasquez (portrayed by Katie Leclerc), who lost her hearing at an early age due to a case of meningitis, grew up with a single mother, Regina (portrayed by Constance Marie) in a working class neighborhood.
Things come to a dramatic head when both families meet and struggle to learn how to live together for the sake of the girls.
In the series, we have seen the character of Regina Vasquez go through tough times and put in rehab due to alcoholism. But also, a real life situation happened to Constance who was diagnosed with double tendonitis, carpel tunnel and cubital nerve damage from learning American Sign Language (ASL) and having to perform it on the series.
Because of her injury, it was written into the show how Regina is unable to communicate with her daughter, now that she can not use sign language because of the permanent damage.
With the second half of season two about to air on ABC Family on June 10th, Constance Marie talked about the upcoming season, her character and also her injury in a media Q&A.
Here is a transcript from the Q&A.
Moderator Could you talk about how your relationship with Bay will develop in the second half of the season?
C. Marie That’s one of the great things that happens right when the show premieres is Regina comes out rehab and realizes that how things were before are not going to work for somebody who is in rehab. She ends up living — or residing for a short while anyway– at Angelo’s house, and somehow the way that [Executive Producer ]Lizzy Weiss wonderfully works it out, they end up living there also; and so the entire Vasquez/Kennish family, but the Kennish being Bay this time, get to know each other and live together in the Vasquez house.
C. Marie I know, well, actually I guess it’s Vasquez/Sorrento/Kennish house.
Moderator Can you talk about if we’ll be getting to see you sign at all this season now that your hands are a little bit better?
C. Marie Well, the thing about that is they’re still not what they were and every once in a while I try it out and the problem that this kind of injury, it just flares up and you use your arms so much in life just normally besides the sign language, so I think it’s going to be a bit longer. I keep asking with my doctor and the problem is he’ll say we don’t know yet until it goes away because it just has flare-ups; and you can’t stop the flare-ups without stopping the activity that’s making it flare up, and in this case being the sign language, so unfortunately not yet. I’m hopeful. I’m very hopeful. I’m a very strong woman and I just hope that it’ll come back soon.
Moderator I hear that when Regina comes out of rehab, she’s actually coming out a little bit early. Is that really a good idea or will we see her alcoholism continue to play out, or is she good now for a while?
C. Marie I think what happens is Regina realizes how much her rehab stay has sort of added to the disconnect between Daphne and her. She realizes that she’s missed so much time with the girls as it is that her coming out early to honor a tradition that she and Daphne had ends up being a mistake; and she has to remove herself again. That’s why she ends up at the Sorrento house, Angelo’s house, for a while because she just made a mistake and it was too soon. But she is clearly on the path of trying to stay sober, so will do anything including moving in with Angelo if that’s what it takes to stay sober to get space from the Kennishes.
Moderator Does that mean we’ve seen the last of the boyfriend? He kind of gave her the old I’ll call you when I’m back in town kind of thing when he left?
C. Marie Oh my goodness. I swear I’m envious of my character’s life. She has so many beautiful men everywhere. Actually, yes, that storyline as of yet that I know doesn’t pan out. We focus more on Regina’s rehab. One of the things that are great this season is before it was all about Daphne and everybody getting to know Daphne and the struggles that Bay and Daphne had together, but this is really a chance for Bay and Regina to connect and to explore that relationship, which was really not touched on in the first season at all.
The dynamic of that and we include Angelo into that and all of us living together is really and truly an amazing, amazing dynamic that gets to be explored. Also the thing is Ty is back; Blair Redford is back on the show by popular demand. They get to explore those relationships, that relationship and him and his PTSD and coming back from war. It’s really, really amazing how dynamic the show is even still.
Moderator The wardrobe on “Switch at Birth” is fantastic. Do you get any say on what you wear on the show?
C. Marie Thank you so much. I am going to relay that to our wonderful wardrobe department.
It’s sort of a collaborative process because especially since Regina has gone through so many transformations from more earthy … artist, hair stylist forward trashy dressing a little bit too young to her drinking phase and rehab days and now since she has a new job that I’m not sure—I can tease on it, but let’s just say she’s very, very fashionable; and my wardrobe just gets so much better.
Moderator Speaking of Regina and art, she’s a very artistic character and obviously you have artistic abilities within acting, I was wondering do you have any additional artistic talent?
C. Marie I did major in art. I can paint and draw. I was also a dancer, which is also an art form and acting. I can sing, but if I have to. Lea Thompson is an amazing, amazing singer. I can carry a tune and she can also direct, which is she is going to end up directing an episode, which I’m so excited to take direction from her. She was also a dancer, so we’re just really multi-faceted over here at Switch at Birth.
Moderator It comes through in your part in so many ways. I really enjoy watching you.
C. Marie Thank you so much. I love that this show is very empowering for women and women’s struggles, and it focuses on how much women have to hold it all together and particularly the Regina character being a single mom, a working mom with a deaf child. Really that’s one of the things that attracted me to the role was because it was an homage to the single moms of America, who oftentimes are more seen as victims instead of these empowered, well rounded still flawed characters that we can champion and role model. I really love that.
Moderator Could you tell us a little bit about what it’s like working with Katie and Vanessa?
C. Marie It is wonderful. I am so appreciative and it’s so refreshing to see young women as centered and talented and grounded and just hard working, quality individuals. I cannot gush enough because at the age that they’re at to be this together is just inspiring. It’s like when I grow up, I want to be Vanessa Marano, that’s how amazing she is. Katie Leclerc, this being one of her first major vehicles has such a wonderful attitude and such a wealth of talent. I really, really respect my TV daughters and we get along swimmingly. For that many females to work together and have a united front and really respect each other, it’s just so wonderful. I really and truly love it.
Moderator There’s rumor to be what if episode coming up this season.
C. Marie It was amazing because Regina, my character, traditionally throughout the show has carried a lot of the blame and a lot of the residual effect of everybody blaming her that she didn’t tell about the switch, which is interesting as Lizzy Weiss told me that my character knew from the pilot; and at first I was conflicted by that. Then I realized that I, probably, Constance, would not tell either because your child is four years old and you’re not going to give away a child that truly believed that you are the mother.
In this episode, the what if episode that’s airing in July, it’s so exciting because my character does tell. It has a crazy butterfly effect that changes everybody. There are physical changes, emotional changes with the daughters, you won’t even recognize them, and John and Kathryn’s relationship is different. My character’s life is completely, completely different and it’s just riveting.
When I read the script I cried like three times and it was just so moving. I think everybody is going to really be intrigued by this what if episode and just how far it stretches the effect.
Moderator Is your own daughter about the same age?
C. Marie Exactly. I had to shoot some scenes that as an actor I had to go to places that were incredibly, incredibly difficult and I might not even be able to watch them, they’re so moving and well written. Our writers just did such a great job creating this what if reality. It’s so expansive and I was like I never thought about how that would be different and how that would be different and how they would be different; it’s amazing.
Moderator We should all watch this one with a box of tissue, huh?
C. Marie I would say definitely.
Moderator What was your inspiration in creating the Easy Greeny Mommy that you have on your website?
C. Marie The inspiration for me was I struggled with fertility issues for three and a half years. One of the things I did was a tremendous amount of research about what could be impeding my fertility like toxins or BPA in the plastic bottles we drink with water, all that sort of stuff. Once I ended up getting pregnant and having a baby, I realized oh my gosh, I know about the toxicity of the environment so much, why don’t I also translate all that information to my daughter.
One of the things was I’m so proud that I used cloth diapers instead of the petrochemicals they have in disposable diapers. I used glass bottles. I would tell people that I would meet as a mom and they would be like, where do you get this information from? That made me realize somebody needs to come up with some things that can relay the information to a mom in a simple way, not so many details that it’s overwhelming because literally you’re not getting any sleep. You’re breastfeeding. You just need it easy and so I got Easy Greeny Mommy.
Moderator Do you plan on having a book coming out with more details in the future?
C. Marie Yes. I have to say Switched at Birth, to maintain that quality and that character Regina it takes a tremendous amount of time, so I have had to put the book a little bit on the back burner. It’s something that’s always in the works, so when I have an episode that I’m not in so much, which thankfully that hasn’t really happened yet, the book has to take the back burner to Switched because that’s my number one love right now.
One of the best things about Switched is that I hear that moms and their children watch it together, and especially the daughters and the moms. I think it’s a wonderful bonding experience that I’ve heard is a phenomenon and sometimes they even get the dads in there, too, which is wonderful.
Moderator Congrats on Switched at Birth receiving three Teen Choice Award nominations this year.
C. Marie Yay, I’m so excited. I want everybody to vote for our young talent, because they deserve it. They’re actually using their celebrity for good, and I think that needs to be rewarded.
Moderator Is there anyone you’d love to work with some day?
C. Marie Of course, Meryl Streep; that would be number one. I would be willing to play anything in any scene, even a shrub, with Meryl Streep. I mean there’s nobody better, if you ask me. She’s wonderful.
Moderator Are there any other additional struggles for Regina this season?
C. Marie One of the struggles that she has is dealing with the rehab—that’s huge, and when and if she and Angelo ever are to get together. That is a huge one and that is an amazing push me/pull you relationship; and the dynamic between Gilles Marini and myself is truly, truly wonderful.
Plus she also had to deal with the baggage of this new baby that he has and how far involved, is she going to help raise that new baby? Is she going to be insta-mom to an out of relationship situation that Angelo, a one night stand that he had? That is a huge dynamic and also the resentment and the relationship of Bay, that’s something we’ve never really explored and that she has to handle with kid gloves.
It’s now with Daphne, Daphne has always been the one that I championed and I stuck by. Now Daphne is threatened by Bay living with me and me getting to know Bay, and so you get to see a side of Daphne you’re not used to seeing.
Moderator What is your favorite episode from the ones that have aired already?
C. Marie Oh, that’s tough. I would say just because of the cathartic moment that it was the one when I tell Daphne about the suitcase and that I knew about the switch. That moment gives me chills when I even watch it; and the pretend wedding to Angelo was so awesome. I love my reaction at the end, you know like what am I doing here? That was great.
Moderator Could you tell our readers a little bit of a behind the scenes moment or something fun that would give them and idea of what it’s like to be on the set at Switched at Birth?
C. Marie People would be just crazily surprised at how funny D.W. Moffett is, and you see him as this intense dad and how silly he is and how funny he is. I think people would be also surprised to see how silly Lea Thompson is. She is just hilarious. When she gets really tired, she channels her inner Ethel Merman and it’s hilarious.
I think people would be surprised at how long it takes to shoot every single scene. We’re there for hours. Yesterday Gilles Marini and I and Vanessa Marano shot three scenes in Angelo’s apartment and it was just like all day long. We literally just go change our clothes and come back and do a completely different scene. One right—and they’re out of order. People would be startled by the process.
Moderator How does it feel knowing you are part of such a positive impact on the ASL world?
C. Marie Honestly I feel truly, truly blessed. Working on the show has expanded my mind and now I can say that I speak a fourth language; and I’ve just fallen in love with the deaf community. They have been so helpful and so supportive of this show. Now that I’m not signing it doesn’t mean that I still can’t read the signs and communicate with everybody. It just really has been refreshing, but to me the most important thing is that, because I’m very active on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, that’s a major mode of communication for the deaf community.
A lot of hearing students, I’ve heard back from them that they’ve actually petitioned their high schools to start having American Sign Language as a second language in their high school. A lot of people have been motivated to become interpreters because they really didn’t even know that it was a career path and it was a language that they would fall in love with. Then the vast majority who have learned sign language by watching the show because there’s never been anything like it before where you could actually see the words as it’s signed and all you would have to do is freeze frame and watch the language.
They’ve learned and some people have told me stories where they run into somebody with sign language and they can sign nice to meet you and that that deaf person was so appreciative that they tried to make the connection with them. I cannot sing the praises of Lizzy Weiss and ABC Family enough for taking the risk to do a project like this and I’m just really proud.
The biggest compliment I got was when I was in rehab for my arm, and they had never dealt with anybody who had this repetitive motion syndrome and the nerve damage from sign language before.
I’m in the middle of my rehab and my therapist realized that there was one other person who was an interpreter who had a little bit of rehab done on her arm. She tried to introduce us and the interpreter turned to me and she said, “I know who you are and I really love your work. I believe you as a person who has been doing sign language for 12 years.” I was like yes! If an interpreter will tell you that, then that’s the best compliment in the world. I really felt like yes, I’ve done something good.
Moderator How is Regina’s relationship with John and Kathryn?
C. Marie Let’s just say John and Kathryn are not happy with the fact that I’ve been in rehab, and they’re not happy with the fact that I’m actually returning from rehab, because everybody has gone on with their lives. They’ve bonded with Daphne; Daphne has been living with them. Now they haven’t had to deal with the co-parenting issues, which are a major part of the drama. The Kennishes are wonderful parents. Regina is a wonderful parent. We just do it differently. Let’s just say Regina doesn’t get a warm welcome when she comes home.
Moderator We see Regina and Angelo living in the same house. How does that pan out? Do they see sides of each other that they didn’t expect to see, or learn more about each other?
C. Marie Yes. Let’s just say Angelo knows nothing about being a parent, so he thinks like this easy breezy and that doesn’t necessarily happen. Also you get to learn a lot of the cultural things, how Bay’s life would be different with different kinds of food and different artistic outlets. It’s not quite a what if episode, but it’s just a different view on parenting. To say that that threatens the Kennishes would be an understatement.
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