Switched at Birth - Vanessa Marano and Lea Thompson
Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) and Kristen Kennish (Lea Thompson) © 2011 Disney Enterprises

ABC Family’s new drama Switched at Birth tells the story of two teenagers who just find out they were accidentally switched as newborns at the hospital.

Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) grew up in a wealthy family, the child of John and Kathryn (DW Moffet and Lea Thompson), while Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc), who lost her hearing at an early age due to meningitis, grew up with a single mother, Regina (Constance Marie), in a working class neighborhood.

Lea Thompson and Vanessa Marano spoke with us about the challenges their characters face in this new series.

How does your character find out she’s been adopted?

Switched at Birth - Vanessa Marano
Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) © 2011 Disney Enterprises

Vanessa Marano: My character, Bay Kennish, is doing a chemistry assignment in class, where all the kids are trying to find out what their blood type is. It turns out that with hers there is no way scientifically she could be related to her family.

This prompts her to go to a genetic councilor and they find out that she was indeed switched at birth with another girl, Daphne Vasquez, who happens to be deaf. And in an effort for all of us to get to know each other, we decide to move into the same area.

Were the two girls at the same school?

Vanessa: No, Daphne is deaf and attends a deaf school. She’s in a unique situation where she has a hearing mother who became fluent in sign language, but is someone who is comfortable in the hearing world and in the deaf world.

For the Kennishes, it’s so foreign to them and, at the beginning, they don’t really make an effort to really put themselves in her place, that she can’t hear us, because she speaks very well for a deaf person and she reads your lips. As the story continues, as we continue to grow and to get to know each other, we learn her language, which is beautiful. It is the biggest sign I think of respect and connection that you can show a person.

A big theme in our show is what could have been, and a big issue for Daphne and Bay is would I have been the same person if this whole thing hadn’t happened?

How seriously did you get curious about these real life incidents that mirrored what happened on the show? Did you do research?

Switched at Birth, "Pilot" -Constance Marie, Vanessa Marano and Lea Thompson
Regina Vasquez (Constance Marie), Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) and Kristen Kennish (Lea Thompson) © 2011 Disney Enterprises

Vanessa: It’s not something you can really do research on, because there’s a lot of different dynamics to it, it’s not just switched at birth, it’s one is wealthier than the other, one’s a single parent, one is deaf, one is a rebellious teenager, and there’s a sibling. There are so many different points to it that you can’t really research it, because it’s so unique to those people in our story.

Lea Thompson: And what’s relatable is that there are so many different families, and the idea of being from completely (different environments). Also when people are adopted now, more commonly at 18 they’re going to meet their biological parents.

There are other things that we can all relate to, not just this switched at birth thing. When your son and your daughter get married to someone else, you all of a sudden have this whole other family at the wedding. Like, who are these people? There are all those things that happen where you’re trying to get along, but you’re from very different worlds.

Lea, have you heard any responses about this concept?

Switched at Birth - Lea Thompson
Kristen Kennish (Lea Thompson) © 2011 Disney Enterprises

Lea: What people seem to respond to and what is really interesting is the idea of how these two mothers make it work for them. They’re very different people. They’re from completely different backgrounds.

My character thought she had it all figured out, she had her perfect little life, two children, a boy and a girl, a perfect husband and everything seemed perfect and then all of a sudden this bomb goes off in her life where she is forced to open up her mind to other things.

There is conflict between the mothers and how they raised their kids. I think my character blames the other mother for the fact that the daughter’s deaf, because she got it from getting meningitis. And so I keep thinking that if I had raised her she wouldn’t be deaf, she wouldn’t have gotten sick because I would have taken better care of her.

We’re jealous of each other, we’re defensive about our children, and what’s great about this show and what’s great about what the creator, Lizzy Weiss, put together is that there’s a lot of potential for real, honest-to-god conflict. You don’t have to drum it up, because everybody wonders (what they would do in this situation).

What is your favorite Lea Thompson movie?

Switched at Birth - Vanessa Marano and Lea Thompson
Vanessa Marano and Lea Thompson at the 2011 Disney/ABC Television Group press junket © 2011 Disney Enterprises

Vanessa: Oh my goodness gracious. I’m going to say it. It’s Back to the Future. God she doesn’t get that at all, she’s never heard that. But we did have an actor on set who totally nerded out over Red Dawn. It was adorable.

Lea: It was really sweet. He seemed really cool and then he was like, ‘I loved Red Dawn. It took me two weeks to tell you that.’

Have you ever had a fan come up and you’re like, ‘Okay, they’re going to freak out about Back to the Future,’ and then it’s some completely obscure movie?

Lea: All the time Or Broadway. They’ll be like, ‘I loved you in Cabaret.’ And I’ll be like, ‘Wow, not that many people saw that. That’s awesome.’ You never know.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.