In ABC Family’s new drama Switched at Birth, Constance Marie portrays Regina Vasquez, a working class, single mother whose daughter, in a horrendous mistake, was switched in the hospital as a newborn. For many years she has raised Daphne (Katie Leclerc), who is deaf, as her own, only to discover when Daphne is in high school that she is not her biological daughter, but Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) is. Bay went home with a wealthy couple, John and Kathryn Kennish (DW Moffett and Lea Thompson).
Now they all have to live with the reality of the situation, and Regina and Daphne move into the Kennish’s guest house, so that they can all get to know each other.
Constance Marie and Katie Leclerc spoke with us about their new series which they consider a dramedy.
Talk about the relationship with the other daughter Bay, played by Vanessa Marano?
Constance Marie: It’s heated.
Katie Leclerc: And Vanessa is so funny.
Constance: There’s a lot of comedy that comes from her take on everything. She’s got a cynicism and a way of looking at the world that is genius.
Katie: Yeah. We’re very opposite people. She’s sarcastic and cynical and I’m bright and happy most of the time.
Constance: (she smiles) Because I raised her well.
Katie: It’s a great juxtaposition to see the two characters and their personal struggle to get along regardless of the mother [dilemma].
Aren’t your characters now living in the guest house of the more wealthy family? Isn’t that kind of awkward?
Katie: Ya think? There’s definitely moments where the two families clash, but there are very sweet moments where you really see the connection with the characters and really see they care about each other and just want everyone to be the best they can be.
Constance: We get to deal with racial, social and economic differences in family and how each family is honestly trying to do the very best for their child. That’s what America does. That’s what every parent does. The crazy part that we get to see is how different that is to each family. You put two families who are completely opposite in close quarters and the drama just naturally unfolds from that.
They are trying to get to know children that are theirs but not theirs. It’s such a complex question. What would you do if the child that you had raised for fifteen years was suddenly deemed or labeled not yours technically, but you’ve been nurturing and loving this child for so long? Just the drama from tha, and you add the deaf aspect to that, it’s just a smorgasbord of topics and moments.
Katie: There is a lot of adjusting for both families to do.
The subject matter in this series is so heavy, are you able to lighten up between scenes?
Constance: We laugh all the time. DW Moffett makes us laugh all day.
Katie: And Marlee (Matlin, in a recurring role). She’s so funny.
Constance: Marlee Matlin, Academy Award-winning actress, nasty humor too. Me, I’m no stranger to comedy. I’ve done it a little bit so we throw that in there. We hit both tones with an authenticity that never feels forced so that’s a beautiful thing.
Then there is the legal aspect. What do you do? What the writers came up with is that, instead of fighting each other, you actually get to know each other and prevent some kind of legal battle. The girls are so close to becoming adults to do whatever they want so you want to do this in the most loving way possible.
Lea Thompson and myself have some amazing scenes together. We both respect and love each other because we know we are doing the best for our own daughters but we are diametrically opposed as to what we want them to do so it’s pretty amazing.
Katie: There are a lot of strong women on the show! (she laughs)
Constance, Marlee said that you have a real talent for sign language. Talk about the learning curve there.
Constance: She is amazing. I had three weeks to pretend to be fluent; that I’ve been signing for twelve years which was brutal. I went to sign language boot camp and I was really blessed that I was one of the first people hired because they thought, ‘If we’re going to get an actress who really doesn’t know anything, we’re going to have to give her some time.’
The signing has been a whole character within itself. It’s a non-stop job. I have the most buff forearm ever.
Because I was a dancer, I understand something about the fluid movement and it is a gorgeous language. In the USA, English is the predominant language and the second is Spanish and the third is sign language. I didn’t realize that. I have learned so much about the hearing and non-hearing world, the deaf community. It’s been a huge education.
Katie: I think this show is a great facilitator to bridge those roles and see that the deaf community is really not that different than the hearing community. There are a lot of differences but there are a lot of common threads that tie both worlds together.
We will be hearing from the other mother and daughter played by Lea Thompson and Vanessa Marano tomorrow.