Media Q&A with Katie Leclerc of ABC Family’s “Switched At Birth” (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles) (2013)
August 23, 2013 by Dennis Amith
Actress Katie Leclerc has come a long way since her debut on “Veronica Mars” back in 2005.
Having appeared on shows such as “Fashion House”, “The Riches” and “The Big Bang Theory”, Katie now has one of the lead roles in ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth”.
“Switched at Birth” is a series that focuses on Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano), a girl who grew up in a wealthy family with two parents and a brother, while Daphne Vasquez (played by Katie Leclerc), who lost her hearing at an early age due to a case of bacterial meningitis, grew up with a single mother, Regina (played by Constance Marie) in a working class neighborhood.
Both have wondered why they don’t look like their normal parents and Bay wanted to get a blood test to find out if she is their daughter.
The hospital then finds out that there was mistake when the babies were born and were switched at birth. 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 real life, Katie Leclerc started learning American Sign Language at the age of 17 when she started to have hearing loss. At the age of 20, Katie learned that she had Meniere’s disease which led to degenerative inner ear disorder with symptoms which include fluctuating hearing loss and vertigo.
While in real life, she is able to use speech like a hearing person, on the show, Daphne uses an accent to emphasize her character’s hearing loss.
Currently in the series, Daphne and Travis, a deaf student and good friend, are wanting to start a food truck business. Meanwhile, she has gotten close to her real parents, the Kennish family, while her mother Regina is attending AA.
With the second half of season two airing on ABC Family, Katie Leclerc talked about the upcoming season with media during a Q&A.
Moderator: How does it feel to be a part of a show that’s doing so well and is such a hit with the fans?
Katie It’s amazing. It’s crazy, because I had been an actor for about ten years before I got Switched at Birth. You know, you grow up, and you’re in seventh grade – and after my seventh grade production of Annie I told my mom I wanted to be a star. And she looks at me with these hopeful, doubtful eyes and says anything you want can come true.
The moment that it does come true is the moment that you realize you have the power to make it happen. I first had to believe in myself before Switched at Birth could happen. ABC Family had to believe in Switched at Birth before it could happen. It’s really just a combination of a lot of good people making a lot of good choices. I’m really happy to be a part of it.
Moderator: Can viewers expect some sort of retaliation or consequences for the girls in the season finale?
Katie Oh my gosh. You know, the thing about Chip Coto is that he is scary. I think he’s not afraid to retaliate. He definitely is aware that Daphne’s a minor, and I think that complicates things a little bit for him, potentially. But really it’s Coto against Kennish, and now that there’s two Kennishes, I think Coto’s barriers have gone up even more than they were before.
Moderator: What is it like for the cast to film a season finale episode?
Katie It’s sort of bittersweet. We get along so, so incredibly well. Also, by the end of the season, we’re all a little bit fried and a little bit ready for some hiatus and family time. Just to get a little bit of a break. But it’s weird, because they’re our family, too.
I think going into it, everybody’s very excited. The first day of the last episode, everybody’s like, yes, it’s the last episode, finally. Then when it’s finally the last day of the last episode, it’s sad. It’s really sad.
Usually, whoever’s in the first scenes of the day always stays until the very end of the day. This time Vanessa and I had the second scene of the day and we ended up staying until 10 p.m. that day. We just goof around and we laugh at each other’s scenes. It’s sort of like the last day of school. We’re all cracking each other up and trying to make each other laugh during their close-ups.
Of course, everyone’s so professional. I tried to get D.W. to laugh so hard on the last day and I could not get it. It was the saddest day of my life. Now my goal for next season is to make D.W. crack on a close-up.
Moderator: Did the cast and crew do anything special commemorating the final episode of the season?
Katie Yes, actually. The Kennish kitchen set, everybody kind of hangs out after they call “cut” the last time. There was some champagne that got popped and we sort of just all hung out for hours and chatted with each other. It was just very mellow, very low key. Nobody’s going to break the set decorations.
It was just very sweet to say “Okay, this is it for a little while and we’ll see you in a few months.” At that time, we didn’t know that we had Season 3, so it was a little bit like “Okay, will we see each other?” And we’re all good, but it’s bittersweet. We really, really love each other.
Moderator: What was it like for you to film the “What If” episode and do a completely different take on Daphne?
Katie It was amazing. I feel like it started with the fact that we had David Paymer as our director for that episode. He’s such a special director. He’s directed us about four or five times now.
Being that he’s an actor, I think that he had a definite perspective on where this is going. We trust him. It was great to have such a 180º on a character that I’ve been playing for almost 3 years now, and to sort of reimagine her and put her in totally different shoes, some Louis Vuitton shoes.
It was really fun; it was really amazing. Also, the fact that the fans got to hear my real speaking voice, I think, was incredibly valuable for me as an actor. And to see some of the fan feedback was just overwhelming.
I’m so grateful for our fans. I think we have really loyal people watching our show and I think it makes the cast members aware of that – it kind of makes us work harder. We don’t want to let anybody down, and I think our writers definitely spearhead that for us.
We all work very hard. The “What If” episode was my favorite episode of this season, so thank you.
Moderator: Do you like doing comedy?
Katie I love comedy, yes, absolutely. I was on an episode of The Big Bang Theory as Raj’s love interest, and it turned out that my character was this big gold digger. That was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever done. I would love to do more sitcom, more comedy.
We always try to find the comedy with Switched at Birth. Maybe ABC Family, maybe the directors and producers just want it to be a little bit more serious in tone. But especially when Lea Thompson was directing, she loves the comedy and she looks for the comedy and she asks us to do even more comedy.
Yes, I think that we have a really humorous cast. So I love it when we get to play.
Moderator: How has your relationship between Daphne and Bay evolved from previous seasons?
Katie Well, they’re definitely sisters. I know with my sister there are moments where you love each other; there are moments where you just want to punch each other. That sibling rivalry thing, I think it just runs deep.
I think when they started off—Bay was a little bit hesitant, like “Who is this girl?” She never really felt like she belonged in the Kennish family, so now there’s this other person who really does. I think she was totally thrown off of her balance and didn’t really know where she fit in.
So they were sort of at odds with each other. As we’ve evolved, we’ve gotten to know each other as a family unit and sort of started to figure that out – especially with Bay spending more time with the Sorrento family. I think she sort of found her footing.
I think Daphne might have taken a step back after Regina left. I think that Regina was very, very, very involved in Daphne’s life. Honestly, I think that if Regina hadn’t moved in with Angelo, I’m not sure that all of the Chip Coto business would have happened. I think that Regina just had a stronger hold on Daphne, and now that she’s getting to do that with Bay I think that it’s wonderful for Bay.
But Daphne and Bay sort of love each other and hate each other. I think right now they love each other. I’m much happier when we love each other because I, personally, love Vanessa Marano and I love when we get to smile at each other in scenes.
Moderator: Why do you think that this show is such a big hit with fans?
Katie I think that the interesting thing is the deaf hook. It’s a window into a world that many people have been curious about. It’s fascinating because ASL is the third most common language in the United States, but if you don’t know a deaf person, you may never have been exposed to that world.
It’s something that is very curious and very accessible, but it’s a little bit frightening if you’re not comfortable with it to begin with. This show gives people the opportunity to really jump in with both feet.
For example, we did a silent episode last season, in Season Two. I think that that made huge strides for the deaf community, and for the hearing community. Even my mom, who said the moment where the Switched at Birth titles did their normal thing and they flipped – the Switched and the Birth flip top and bottom – she said that was the moment where she went “Oh, I get it.” So she’d been watching 40 episodes and really didn’t get it until that moment where it was the silent episode and she got to put herself in that world.
I think that’s why people are really interested. I think that we also take risks; for example, the deaf episode and also the “What If” episode, which I keep calling our Fringe episode, because I’m also a science fiction nerd. We kind of get to explore and we get to take these challenges and take risks. I think that as long as you’re pushing yourself, your audience is going to follow. So far we’ve been very successful with that.
Moderator: What do you think has been the biggest change for Daphne?
Katie In the silent episode, and leading up to the silent episode, Daphne was a girl. She was a teenager; she had regular problems just like every teenager. In the silent episode where she felt injustice and accompanied with that felt in herself the ability to make a change and make a difference, she really took it upon herself to say “Look, I feel like this is unfair and I feel like I can change it” and she went after it.
She achieved that goal. She made Carlton the school that she wanted it to be. It was kind of bittersweet. It wasn’t exactly what she was looking for. But I think those moments, for her, gave her power and told her that you don’t have to stand by and just take what people give you. You can make things happen for yourself.
So I think that she’s sort of become a woman. She’s learned that she has a very strong voice and that she can be very loud with that. I really think that’s a wonderful message to send to every teenager – boy, girl, deaf, hearing, doesn’t matter. It’s all about empowerment. The youth have such a strong voice that they can really utilize and, I think, sometimes don’t get that opportunity. So they have to take charge of that opportunity.
Moderator: If you could see Daphne five years into the future, what do you think she’d be doing?
Katie Daphne has a lot of talent. She has a lot of skills and she has a lot of drive. I think she’d like to be, maybe, in a restaurant. But maybe the chef situation kind of ruined that, I’m not sure. She loves her family, so I would say in five years she’s probably going to be graduating school and making a family of her own.
Moderator: How hard is it for you to imitate someone hard of hearing?
Katie I have to say, when I first started it was the scariest thing that I had ever done in my whole life. I went in for the first audition with just my regular speaking voice and using American Sign Language. I just wanted the producers to say “Okay, this girl has chops beyond putting on the gimmick”. I didn’t want it to seem like a gimmick.
They asked me if I could try on the deaf accent. I sat down with my sister, who’s an ASL teacher, we mapped out Daphne’s specific hearing loss with her specific audiogram and then, based on that, figured out what sounds she could say and what sounds she couldn’t say.
So it’s a very unique accent to Daphne. I worked tirelessly; I made my family absolutely crazy for months on end. When we started filming and the pilot was picked up and the momentum started going, it sort of became second nature.
Now I can say, with confidence, almost three years later, it’s a switch. I flip it on, I flip it off. It’s sort of the back of my brain. And I’m really proud of that. Thinking that it took me so long to get there and it was a lot of work to get there. I am really proud of the work that I get to do on Switched at Birth, and the accent is part of that.
Moderator Do you find that the fans are shocked when they actually hear you speaking in your normal voice?
Katie Absolutely. When I find fans on the streets, the first thing they go is “Huh? You’re not – wait – that’s not your voice?” It’s such a gratifying experience. I think that means that I’m doing my job incredibly well.
I look forward to opportunities where I get to use my normal speaking voice in more film and television. It’s really funny; it seems like the projects that I’ve booked are always like I had a German accent or I had some sort of different speaking situation.
The “What If” episode was really an exciting moment for me where I got to say “Hi guys, check this out. It’s the show that you’re already watching but look. Look what I’ve been doing for two and a half years.”
Moderator: If there was anyone you could work with, who would it be?
Katie I really think that it would be amazingly fantastic to have Kristin Chenoweth on our show. I’ve been pitching from the very, very, very, very, very beginning that we need to have a musical episode being that Constance Marie was originally a break dancer; Lea Thompson was originally a ballet dancer; Lucas Grabeel, obviously, High School Musical. I think that Kristin Chenoweth would be an amazing addition to, perhaps, a musical episode.
Also the fact that Kristin Chenoweth has Ménière’s Disease, I think we’d get along great. And I think we have a lot in common. We could talk about vertigo from the very beginning. I think that she’s incredibly talented and beautiful and I would love to work with her.
Moderator: Do you see Bay and Ty’s relationship and Nikki and Toby’s relationship working out?
Katie Yes, I figure as long as the two people who are in the relationship really care about that relationship and they really are focused on it and want it to happen, there’s no reason it couldn’t.
Yes, Toby and Nikki are very young to be getting married, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t work. The families are very strongly opposed to it and Daphne’s sort of not. Daphne says look, they love each other. Leave them alone. It’s not about anything other than the two of them.
Speaking with Bay and Ty, I think that it’s a little bit more complex. He’s going overseas to Afghanistan. They’ve been through this once before. But being that they’ve been through it once before, maybe they’ve learned something in that experience that they can apply to now.
Long distance relationships take work, they’re very difficult, but I think that they could figure out a way to make it happen. And if they don’t, then maybe they can do what they did before, put it on hold and then revisit it when he comes back after Afghanistan. I believe that if two people are committed to each other, there’s no reason it couldn’t happen.
Moderator: Do you see anything bad happening for the wedding?
Katie I don’t think that the wedding is going to play out the way that the parents think the wedding’s going to play out. Or even, beyond that, necessarily the way that Nikki and Toby think it’s going to work. They have heavy choices to make and, faced with so much opposition up to this point, they need to make the choice for them.
The parents have given their two cents, their five cents, their quarter. Get over it. It’s really about the kids. I don’t think it’s going to happen the way that they think it will, but again, there’s no reason it couldn’t.
For more information on “Switched at Birth”, please visit the official website here.
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