Last year’s break-out sensation SWITCHED AT BIRTH returns with all new episodes sharing the heart-warming story of two families struggling to find a way to live together. In a recent press conference call, star Lea Thompson shared how her character Kathryn Kennish, mother of one of the young teens, continues to cope with this shocking discovery, which compelled her to write a book about the experience and how that adds even more stress into their already complicated lives.
Could you talk a little bit about how life changes for Kathryn, and Kathryn and John specifically, once she has the fame of being a best-selling author?
LEA: I think it’s one of those things where you’ve been married for a long time and then all of a sudden the person that you thought you knew everything about changes and your perspective on them changes. Kathryn is just coming into her own, she’s getting a voice of her own, and I think she was always a little more subservient or something to her husband in terms of his fame and him having all the limelight, and now she’s got a little bit of limelight, and it definitely shakes things up. And that’s a really interesting lesson to learn about marriage, is that, and I’ve been married for 23 years, and so things change and you have to adjust to that. And in a lot of ways it’s great. It adds a new spice to your marriage. So I think there’s a lot of ups and downs within their marriage, and also there’s a young lawyer that’s helping them with the case against the hospital and he takes a little bit of shine to Kathryn, which is so surprising to her, she hasn’t really thought of herself that way for a long time, so that’s also kind of a shock to their marriage, I think. But D.W. Moffett, who plays my husband, is such a wonderful actor and I have such a great time working with him, I love everything he does, so it’s kind of fun to have conflict and get to act with him that way.
Another source of conflict might be Angelo. Can you talk a little bit about how that changes the dynamic as well and how Kathryn reaches out and is there for Bay, and Daphne too, through this?
LEA: When I first read the pilot I really thought that Kathryn was the bad guy, I really did. I thought “Oh, here she is this entitled rich lady.” And then I said it to Lizzy Weiss and she was like, no, I love her, and so I had to completely change my idea of her. She really is an amazing person. She is the glue that holds this whole new family together. She’s the one that really tries to put her prejudice and her comfort zone aside in order to make everything work and make everyone get along. Angelo, she’s never really trusted Angelo, but for Bay’s sake she has to try to make it work. And she is definitely like me, if I find another person in my family I’m like “Yay, let’s bring them in, let’s try to include everybody,” and I’m a real big family person so I can really relate to that about Kathryn, even though deep down she does not trust Angelo. He’s just too charming. I think it’s much harder on John because he really realizes that he’s not Bay’s father on some level and that’s very, very difficult for him.
Do you have any preference about how Bay and Emmett’s story is going to go?
LEA: I don’t. I think what he did was so terrible I don’t think Kathryn would want them to get back together, but she is pretty accepting. And Emmett has been really trying. He’s been really feeling bad about it. Trust me, I don’t know. They don’t tell us what’s going to happen.
There are so many twists and turns on SWITCHED AT BIRTH, do the writers let you know what’s going on ahead of time, or do you find out these surprises as you get each script?
vLEA: They do not tell us what is going to happen ever. And the only reason that Lizzy Weiss, the creator, doesn’t tell us is because she loves watching us go, Oh, I can’t believe that happened. She really just literally gets some kind of sadistic pleasure out of it, I don’t know, and so it makes for fun. And also always the re-dos, because we always do a re-do, it’s always really fun, sometimes we don’t get the script until right when we’re going to read it through and so we’re right there. What’s nice about it is that we can understand how much fun it is for the fans to discover these things as they happen.
That’s awesome that you guys are kind of experiencing it in a way kind of like we are as watching it.
LEA: Exactly, exactly. And you know, I don’t know how she does it, I don’t know how they come up with such fantastic surprises all the time, but they do, they do. They keep everybody interested. And there’s always some kind of new fabulous, gorgeous guy coming on the show, which we all appreciate.
That moment between Kathryn and her lawyer last season felt so romantic. What’s more fun, playing a mom or playing the sexy roles?
LEA: Well, moms are sexy, that’s how they got into that predicament in the first place. (laughs) I’ve been playing moms, you know, since I was 21, so it’s just different aspects of moms. But I do like the idea of representing the honest truth about women in that they are mothers but they also still have some spark left in them and they still have a lot of drama and excitement, I mean, everyone knows that. So I just really like playing real people or well-rounded characters, and that usually includes romance and all of that. I like that they let me do that, have that moment, because I always tease, we all tease Constance Marie because she has such gorgeous men all the time. And I’m like, you are definitely a fantasy for all those housewives out there, to imagine that they could have this line-up of hunks all going, please love me, please love me. She’s the luckiest girl on TV, I’ve got to say.
Like many of your previous characters Kathryn is a very strong, determined woman, and I’m wondering in what ways do you see yourself in her?
LEA: What’s very interesting for me about Kathryn is that, she’s a woman who had this insulated life, her husband was a famous baseball player, she’s always had a lot of money and lived in a good neighborhood and thought she had figured it out and done everything perfectly, and then she realizes that she made a terrible mistake and she took the wrong baby home from the hospital and didn’t even know it. So it kind of shocks her into meeting new people and to reaching out and to hanging out with people she never thought she would and learning sign language. Her world is expanding and also, at the same time, her children are getting older and she realizes what is she going to do with the rest of her life, so she goes and she’s writing this book and all of a sudden becoming kind of a career woman, which is changing her whole life. So I kind of relate to that because both of my kids are now older, and that weird feeling you have when you’ve been concentrating on being a mother for so long. I’ve always been working, I’ve always had a career, but now they don’t need me in the same way and I have to try to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. So that’s one way that I really relate to Kathryn Kennish.
Do you enjoy dramatic or comedy more? And has comedy always come easy to you?
LEA: No, comedy’s the hardest thing in the world. But one of the things I really love about SWITCHED AT BIRTH is that D.W. Moffett, Constance Marie, and I are well known for our comedy chops and the fact that Lizzy Weiss cast us was, I thought, a really great sign for the future, because there is a light touch to SWITCHED AT BIRTH, I think. And I’m not really fond of people who don’t have a sense of humor, so I like that our characters, even though there’s a lot of drama and a lot of crying and getting angry and all that, there is still a light touch and a sense of comedy and that all the characters do have a sense of humor, and of course Vanessa Marano is hilarious, she’s like the funniest person I know, she plays Bay on the show, and so that’s one of the things I like about the show. And those procedurals or cop procedurals, I think I’d really have a hard time doing that because everyone’s so serious all the time. At least we get to kind of make fun of ourselves, which is just how I like people to be in general.
What do you find the most challenging working on the show?
LEA: The most challenging thing is learning the sign language, and not just learning the sign language but translating the sign language because it doesn’t exactly translate, which is something everyone should always know about other languages, is that there’s no perfect, direct translation. So when we’re trying to take lines that we’re speaking and signing they’re usually different, you’re not saying exactly what you’re saying, so that becomes challenging and learning the sign language. And of course if you do it too much when you’re not used to it, it hurts your hands and arms.
Do your daughters watch SWITCHED AT BIRTH? And what do they think of the show?
LEA: My daughters love ABC Family and they love the show. And they’re always squealing, and it’s really fun, we all get in my bed and watch the show, which is really fun. I love that it’s a show that they like to watch. They’re 17 and 21, and they’re both actresses, and so it’s just great. And they’re fans of all the actors and they geek out, and it’s really, really awesome.
How has the cast relationship has evolved over the past couple of seasons?
LEA: They’re just the best people. I just love them. Constance makes me laugh every day. Vanessa is the funniest, smartest girl, we call her 411, and we always go, “Thirty years in the business,” like pretending we’re smoking a cigar. She’s just so professional and so interested and so smart and funny, witty. And then Lucas Grabeel has got this heart of gold, he’s so talented. It’s such a joy I get to sing a tiny little song with him in the show, and it was like such a great moment for me. He’s a very special person. And then D.W. Moffett’s hilarious and we just get along like a house on fire. And then Katie Leclerc is the most beautiful, funniest, kindest person I know, so I feel really blessed. The young girls, you know, this is a hit show, we won awards, it’s getting a lot of attention, and they’ve never let it go to their heads. They’re just professional, happy to have a job, committed, but not difficult to work with. We all come in, if we have to cry we don’t have to make things difficult for each other, we just cry. But when you have to go to work and you have to work for 12 hours and you’re in a relationship that could last for many, many years it’s such a blessing to be with such nice people. I really couldn’t ask for a better crew, and especially because we’re doing drama it’s really fun that everyone’s got a nice sense of humor.
Has SWITCHED AT BIRTH given you maybe a new fan base, or a larger fan base now that there’s much younger viewers?
LEA: It’s been really exciting connecting with a different demographic. It’s also really beautiful for me to get a tweet that says, “Oh, my God Kathryn Kennish is a mom, I just saw her in this movie ‘Back to the Future.’ She plays Lorraine Baines.” It’s like the opposite, they’re discovering my older work, and I really enjoy it. And I also think that this program, the network’s targeted toward teenage girls and their mothers but there’s also men that really like to watch the show with their families. But I think that it’s a really important thing to do a show. I think teenagers, or girls are so complicated and so hard to navigate, and I feel really proud to be part of a program that in some way helps young women have a voice and deal with issues and think about things in a productive way. And I really love that I have that fan base, because I have two teenage daughters, well not anymore, one of them’s 21 and one’s 17, but I just lived through those years and I know how they need good role models and ways of speaking about issues with their moms and sometimes, when you see it on TV, it’s a great way to talk about things. So I’m really happy to have this new group of fans and I’m really excited about the show.
Your character, Kathryn, has a daughter who was switched at birth. How in real life how would you react and how would you handle it if you found out one of your real daughters had been switched at birth?
LEA: Well, that’s a tough question. I think I probably would react in a lot of the same ways as Kathryn. I think I would try to get to know my daughter and get to know her world. I love family. I love the idea of family. And I try to do whatever I can to keep my family close to the rest of my family, so I think it would be so difficult. One of the things that Kathryn deals with is that she made a terrible mistake. She didn’t know that she was taking the wrong baby home. She didn’t recognize her own baby. So her whole idea of what a good mother she is, is totally rocked. And I can relate to that. I think a lot of women blame themselves for everything, and so I think Kathryn really blames herself, but she instantly loves the daughter she gave birth to, and certainly loves the daughter that she raised. What I think is interesting about the show is how they stay in their families, they stay with the people that they were raised by. Even though we live together we stay pretty close to the people we raised, which I think is really how it would be. And even though people don’t know somebody that was switched at birth, most families have some contact with either someone who was adopted or they were adopted and then they meet their parents, or they have egg donors, or they’re step-children. Our idea of what is family is always evolving and is it nature or is it nurture, so I think that’s what makes the show so viable and interesting to people, one of the things.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a mom in today’s generation with social media and technology?
LEA: Well, I don’t really know how to be a mom in any other way, but I’ve tried to stay up on things so that I could know what my kids were talking about and what they’re doing online and Facebook and Twitter and all that stuff and understanding why they like it, and then understanding what to warn them about. But I think it’s always been hard to stay honest with your kids and warn them of the real consequences to the things that they do. I think it’s easy for them to forget, or not want to know the consequences of what they’re going to do. But I think … for me when I inform them of the real problems and the real dangers of what’s going on, I think they get it and it’s only when you don’t understand that they’re, I don’t know, for me I just was really honest with them about why they shouldn’t post a picture of themselves doing this or doing that, you know. But it’s a different world, and no one’s really sure about how it all ends up. But if you use these kinds of things in a positive way, then they can be useful to you in creating community and work.
Certainly technology has evolved over the years. And you also, of course, mentioned Twitter a lot, I’m wondering, if Twitter was around during your Some Kind of Wonderful days or Back to the Future days is that something that you think you would get more instant feedback from fans, or would you have liked to communicate with fans that way, or were you maybe more private?
LEA: That was a definitely different time, and I think this is the same for ridiculously famous people, you were separated from your fans. You weren’t supposed to talk to them for fear you’ll say something stupid, which I do every day. But it always felt uncomfortable to me. I really like people. I really like getting a sense of the pulse of what’s going on and what they’re feeling. I like Twitter because most of the time people are pretty kind and it’s not anonymous really, so people aren’t that gross thing when people are anonymous hiding behind a fake name. It’s just not natural. It’s wrong. If people are going to say something, do you know what I mean, they should say it. It’s bad enough if you can’t look at someone in the eye, but if they’re just saying mean things and hiding behind a fake name it’s very cowardly. But Twitter doesn’t feel like that. It feels like people are generally polite, and so I enjoy that interaction and I enjoy Instagram even more than Facebook and all that. I actually get business done. I was doing radio interviews today, and one of them, we missed one. And he tweeted me like, “Are you okay?” and then I was like “Oh, I’m sorry we missed you,” and I got his number and I called him. So I didn’t make an enemy. I kept an interview, so it’s actually a really interesting way to communicate. Also, sometimes famous people that I know, they’ll communicate with me and we’ll say hey, and they’ll say, do you want to do this charity, and I’ll say, oh, sure. And it’s a really good way to communicate, I think, at least right now for me.
Kathryn might be the best mom on TV right now as far as what’s realistic, but also she’s really good at it, she’s got a lot of stuff coming her way. So I imagine for an actress portraying that character it’s kind of a responsibility. Do you have fans who ask you for parenting advice and how do you respond to that?
LEA: I think she is a nice mom, Kathryn, because I think she really tries to open up her mind and really see the kids’ point of view. Like I was saying earlier in the interview I thought she was the bad guy at first, but then I realized she wasn’t. I think she also has a really soft and deep love for people, and compassion, so I think those are qualities that we’d all like in a mom. And in terms of parenting advice, I personally have two children, so I have nothing but respect and admiration for moms. I know what a difficult job it is. So more than advice I usually just have empathy for other moms and how much you have to grow as your children grow and how you have to keep accepting them as different people. As they get older and older you have to accept them as they change and realize that they have their own path and that they’re not like just an extension of you, that they are actually real, whole people that have their own journey, and you know that can be really hard to do. It means that you have to keep growing as they grow. So I guess that’s my advice, but I don’t know. You make a lot of mistakes you have to forgive yourself for too when you’re a mom, because you’re just a person yourself. But it’s interesting, I’ve been playing a mom since I was 21, and moms are just people, they’re all different and they have different ways of doing it.
The ABC Family audience is sort of in a league of their own as far as their fandom, and I’m curious if you can share with us one or two of your most touching or surprising fan interactions since you started SWITCHED AT BIRTH.
LEA: Recently I was on the beach with my kids and my neighbor, her daughter can’t hear — she has several other disabilities, but one of them being that she can’t hear — and now she’s about 11 and she’s been my neighbor and I’ve watched this little girl growing through these really intense disabilities, and as soon as she started being able to sign she could come out, her personality could come out. And she recognized me because she loves SWITCHED AT BIRTH because there’s sign language in it. And it really brought tears to my eyes to see her and all the other little girls on the beach who are now learning sign language and learning it from SWITCHED AT BIRTH so they can communicate with this little girl who was stuck in her own little world, which was very frustrating to her. But now she can communicate that she wanted a picture of me that she can take back to her school so she could show off that she knew the mom from SWITCHED AT BIRTH, and it was really touching to me. So it’s mostly been about that, about how the sign language and the fact that we’re dealing with these issues that these people have been facing without a show to help them out with it, or to make it okay to be deaf and to make it okay to try to communicate with someone even though you don’t know sign language exactly, you’re trying, and that’s all that matters, I think that’s been a really effective and beautiful experience for a lot of people who felt alone. That’s been the most beautiful thing about this show. It really is speaking to an underserved community of people who are deaf or hard of hearing and making other people understand about sign language and interested in learning it themselves.
Have there been any plot lines that you might have wished went in another direction, or do you have any ideas about how you’d like any of the current plot lines to go?
LEA: I do have my ideas. I think the whole book thing kind of came from me, because sometimes you give the writer a little bit of an idea of what you think, and I was really interested for the people who watch the show in exploring the idea of a woman whose kids are getting older and she’s spent her whole life kind of being a housewife and being second to the husband and the kids and the house and just being kind of service and all of a sudden she realizes what is she going to do with the rest of her life now that the kids are getting older. And so I talked about that because I feel that myself with my kids being older, and I said, you know, it would be interesting to see how she blossoms that way. And they came up with the idea of the book and that she wants to have a career of her own. So I like that plot line and I like the idea that Kathryn is getting a little more Bohemian and a little looser and her world view is opening up a lot, and I like that. I think some of the plot lines I would like to have they won’t do because the character of Kathryn and John, their marriage is very important to the network, so I would like them to have really big problems in their marriage, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think they like our relationship, and we do have a really great relationship and we do have great chemistry. I mean, I think we have really good chemistry, D.W. and I, as actors.
What are some other things that surprised you about your character?
LEA: I love Lizzy Weiss, the creator and the main writer on the show, I love that she sees both sides of the coin all the time. She’s a very interesting person. She should kind of be a lawyer or a debate artist, because she can definitely see both sides of the argument and write them so that they’re both right, and that’s a beautiful thing for an actor and for a person to think about. So there’s been a few surprises. I’m actually surprised at how inclusive she is and I’m surprised that when she gets mad sometimes she lets me get really mad and I’m surprised at that, and I’m really surprised at how she can grow. She definitely has grown a lot. There’s been a really good arc for her character, and for someone who’s been so sheltered and her world has been very small and closed in, she’s got an ability to move outside of the box and write her book, I mean, this crazy thing of writing her own book, that’s crazy. I wish I would get to that. I wish Lea Thompson would do that. So that was a big surprise. And of course at the end of these eight episodes there’s a big surprise at the trial that Kathryn does that I was very surprised about. Also about the book, Kathryn Kennish wrote it, not me, but the character of Kathryn Kennish wrote this book, which is very interesting, especially for big fans of SWITCHED AT BIRTH, and it’s out today in various online places. I have my own copy. But for big SWITCHED AT BIRTH fans it’s very interesting and nicely written.
Is there any specific guest star you’d like to see on the show?
EA: Brad Pitt, Andrew Garfield. Well, we’re so lucky to have Gilles, and we’ve had such amazing guest stars. We had Meredith Baxter playing my mother. I hope she comes back. I thought she was amazing. And let me think, as the show grows and is on longer we’ll get more and more interesting people. I can’t think of anybody that we should get. I’m sorry. The sky’s the limit.
With Kathryn and John facing strains on their marriage and Bay rebounding from her breakup with Emmett, the upcoming eight episodes concluding the first season of SWITCHED AT BIRTH promise to even more heart-tugging. To see what’s next for the Kennishes and Vasquezes, tune in for the Fall premiere of SWITCHED AT BIRTH on Monday, September 3rd at 8PM on ABC Family (ABC Spark in Canada)
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