In the ABC Family Channel show SWITCHED AT BIRTH, life has been more unexpected than Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) could have ever imagined since she found out that she was switched-at-birth. She met her biological parents, had one of her parents die, had her boyfriend cheat on her and then cheated on him, had possible non-consensual sex with her ex-boyfriend, and then was subject to punishment for a crime she did not commit. This is not exactly the normal life Bay had envisioned or hoped for, but along with the unexpected turbulence and tribulations, there have been moments of great joy too. Bay has had a remarkably full life.
In an exclusive interview, star Vanessa Marano talked about Bay’s roller-coaster journey in Season 4 and what lies ahead for her, as well as for her switched-at-birth sister Daphne (Katie LeClerc).
As we are getting close to the mid-season finale in a couple of weeks, what is going on with Bay? What does she want?
VANESSA: She wants to solidify her relationship with Emmett (Sean Berdy). She wants them to be together forever and she will stop at nothing until that happens. So if that means she has to get on a plane and go see her boyfriend and declare her love for him — despite the questionable consensual sex issue that he can’t seem to wrap his head around, that she was possibly taken advantage of — which by the way, kudos to the critics for being so understanding. But Bay doesn’t care. She wants Emmett. They are meant to be together. That’s all she is thinking about right now.
Bay also seems to have her art back in her life as well. So she might be torn between the boy and art. Is that a tug-of-war for her?
VANESSA: At this time, art is totally back but that is not necessarily a factor where she is going to have to choose between one or the other. She just wants it all. She is young and she’s ready to take on the world.
How would you describe Bay at this point in her life?
VANESSA: What I love so much is that I’ve been able to watch the character grow for four years — from where she started off, she was this spoiled, self-centered, angry, rebellious brat to who she is now, someone who is incredibly selfless and fearless. She was a character that was insecure and she still has her insecure moments, but the one adjective that stands out right now is that Bay is fearless. She’s gone through the wringer and she is not afraid to take chances on what she thinks is right.
It seems also that with the switch and Angelo (Gilles Marini) dying and the assault at the school that Bay has gotten to be quite strong.
VANESSA: She has always been a very strong character. She never really had to deal with any real issues, so to speak, and she was raised in a privileged world where she was sheltered and when you’ve grown up sheltered, you do not often get a chance to show that the strength that is within you.
One of the most beautiful things that we saw out of her strength was Bay’s willingness to reach out to her friend Tess (Sarah Stouffer) and then she created the Every Day Heroes bench. That was so beautiful. Can you talk about how that idea came about?
VANESSA: I have no idea how that idea came about. I just read the script and it was there. I think they were thinking the whole time that it was something they wanted to do with Tess. From the beginning, they were kind of enemies and got off on the wrong foot. Tess is like the polar opposite of Bay. She didn’t grow up sheltered. She is very in your face tough, which Bay is not. She has a much more quiet toughness to her. But I think the writers wanted to show that this is the life that Bay is lucky not to have and, with all the craziness that is going on with her, I think that she forgets that there are people dealing with issues every single day, not just one instance. The writers wanted to honor that in saying that Bay is impressed by it and recognizing that there are people like that out there who go through the wringer every single day and are still going through it for the people that they love.
It was such a wonderful idea. It just seemed like a beautiful and mature and artistic way to express love for people who are going through tough situations. It was a nice turn for Bay in being less self-involved with her art.
VANESSA: Exactly. This is the first time that she’s actually done her art not just for her. That is a great way to put it. Because if we remember the first season, Bay doesn’t have a lot of friends. I don’t know if that is something you’ve noticed, but she doesn’t have a lot of friends at all. The only other times that she had a girl friend was like Simone (Maiara Walsh) and her were friends and Simone turned out to be a huge mean-girl and Emmett cheated on Bay with Simone. Then she was friends with Zarra (Tania Raymonde) and Zarra was conducting all sorts of illegal activities and trying to get Bay to run off to Mexico. So when she makes friends, it doesn’t really go well. So her friendship with Tess is like the only one that is sane. If you go back to the first season, Bay was kind of lashing out with her artwork — particularly when she was hanging out with Zarra. She was like taking on the town. She was just so angry about the situation with Emmett and she was really doing it to get her aggression out — opposed to doing it to represent something beautiful, like Tess’ love for her son. So it is the first time that she is doing art not to just for her.
As you mentioned, Bay doesn’t make friends easily or maybe doesn’t keep friends easily, but she still seems to be close to Daphne and maybe that is why she don’t feel like she needs other friends.
VANESSA: Thank god they are close right now. Those two go up-and-down every season. It’s like: are they going to be friends or are they not going to be friends? Thankfully, they are in a very good place right now. I love that too. Daphne is someone that Bay has been so jealous of, like Daphne was so perfect and now she’s spiraling out of control and isn’t perfect anymore; and rather than Bay being, “Ha ha! Now your the one going through all this stuff,” she was there for Daphne. She was like, “I’m here for you and I’m going to help you through it. We’ll get through this together,” which is kind of a testament to how she has grown.
It seems like there are times when Bay regrets that she took on the penalty for Daphne’s crime. Is that going to continue to haunt them or have they moved past that?
VANESSA: I think they’ve moved past that. That was stupid. I’m sorry, but how was that going to work out? Bay never thinks anything through. It’s funny because our show is about nature versus nurture. Like Bay’s brash attitude and sarcastic, cynical way of viewing the world and her artistic side is so biologically Regina (Constance Marie). But then she also has this aspect of Kathryn (Lea Thompson) in her, which is that she’s kind of an optimist in a weird way, like no one sees Bay as an optimist. But she goes into every situation thinking that things will work out fine and that it’s always going to turn out okay. When she was off to Mexico with Zarra, she just thought that was going to be fine. When she was going to be one of the first hearing students at the Carlton Hearing Students Program, she was like, “They’re going to accept me with open arms. It will be fine.” And now with Daphne, she’s like, “Oh, I’ll cover for her. I’ll take the heat for this crime. I’ll be fine.” She’s always like, “What’s the worst that can happen?” And always the worst happens! (Laughs)
So you wouldn’t say Bay is the perfect role model, but we do appreciate her optimism and enthusiasm.
VANESSA: I think Bay is a good role model in the sense that she actually learns from her mistakes. Every time she does make a mistake — and we’re all human, we all make mistakes — she does learn from it and she never makes that mistake again. She’s also the first person to admit when she’s wrong. Bay’s not really stubborn. She says the first thing that pops into her mind and it is usually something inappropriate and sarcastic, but she learns her lesson and always takes one step forward. (Laughs) Well, two steps forward and one step backwards, actually.
Bay seems to have benefitted from all these painful lessons. She is very close now to three of her parents. What do you see as the pluses and minuses of all that parental support?
VANESSA: There are so many opinions! And all three of them always have a different opinion. Like none of them agree with each other. So it’s one of those things where we can relate to loving our parents and wanting to strangle our parents. Three parents is three times the love and three times the strangulation thoughts.
She’s multiple viewpoints on every situation. That’s got to be beneficial to her.
VANESSA: Absolutely. But multiple viewpoints is multiple opinions and everyone’s got an opinion and it’s like you can’t make everyone happy. That is kind of the downside of that situation. But, at the end of the day, you have to make yourself happy.
What has been your favorite part of working on this season. It has had a lot of trauma, obviously, but maybe there was something you really enjoyed.
VANESSA: What I liked most about this season was the fact that we are not in high school. It’s been the first season that we have been in college — and Bay is not actually in college, she’s doing community service and trying to figure out her life — but it’s the first time that we played these characters more grown up, so to speak. We have been with them since they were 16 years old and now they are adults. Still young adults, making mistakes. They are still kids at heart, but they are growing and that’s fun and cool. You don’t often get a chance to play a character like that. A lot of times on television, it’s like being in high school forever — you don’t get to see the character progress. So we got to do that this season, which is super cool.
What would you say you’ve learned portraying Bay for this many seasons?
VANESSA: My appreciation for the deaf community through this show has grown immensely. I wouldn’t say that it wasn’t there, but I had never met a deaf person before the show and I had never done sign language before the show. I have now become so invested in it and it is something that I am incredibly thankful for. It opened my eyes to a loving, supportive community and I am so glad that I got the chance to know the people that I’ve gotten to know and what I’ve gotten to learn. What I would say that I learned from this particular season: applauding Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams for doing that “The Notebook” rain scene — because the rain scene that Sean and I had to do, I was a little baby. I couldn’t handle it. (Laughs) We were stressing the whole time thinking it had to be as epic as “The Notebook.”
That scene was beautifully done though.
VANESSA: It was beautifully done. Lea Thompson directed that episode and she did a great job. I was actually crying. It was the most uncomfortable thing you can actually imagine, as a human being, was acting in that scene.
What was your first thought when you read that scene in the rain. Were you like, “Seriously?! I’m going to have to this in the rain?”
VANESSA: Yes, that was my first thought when I read it. That was my exact first thought! I was like, “Seriously?! We already did the mud fight. Do you not want my clothes to be dry this whole season?”
What was it like working with Sean in that kind of scene? Did you both look at each other and go, “We’re not going to laugh, we’re just going to do this”?
VANESSA: There was no laughing to be done. It was miserable. But he handled it so much better than I handled it. Like, I don’t know if it was apparent, but I thought it was so evident that I was falling apart. So maybe he thought somebody had to keep it together. At one point, someone had to start spoon feeding me soup because my hands were shaking and I couldn’t actually hold a spoon. But then everyone was like, “But it looks so good” and I was thinking, “That is the least comforting thing in this moment.” If they had told me that it would be over soon that would have been way more comforting.
You and Sean have worked closely over the years. What is it like working with him at this point where you have gotten so comfortable?
VANESSA: It’s exactly the same as when we first started working together. Not much has changed. But that’s the same with everybody. This is a group of people where our dynamics were set up right from the beginning — we all just got each other — and that’s never happened to me before. A lot of times it takes a lot of time to get comfortable with people and I would say that for the entire cast we liked each other right off the bat.
Bay has obviously had some tough things she has dealt with over the years, what kind of advice would you like to give her at this point?
VANESSA: (Laughs) “Think things through!” That’s it. Just: “Think things through before you do it.” If she just did that, it would be just a little bit easier. I don’t think we would have a very interesting show if she did that, but I think it would make things a bit easier for her if she took a moment before and thought about it.
Do you think she has sworn off alcohol at this point? Has she learned from that particular difficult situation?
VANESSA: This is also someone who biologically has the predisposition to become an alcoholic. So maybe she shouldn’t have been drinking that much anyway because of that — and she’s underage. She was lucky she didn’t get arrested.
I don’t know if the show is going to address it any further, but it seems like it wrapped up the assault storyline pretty quickly with Tank’s (Max Adler) expulsion. Is it going to revisit that storyline?
VANESSA: I definitely know that they would like to have Tank come back for one more episode in Season 4B to see more of a resolution, or maybe even less of a resolution, just to see where he has been and where he is at. But that is something the writers definitely want. I would just like to see Matt Adler again. I love working with him.
What was your first thought when you saw that storyline introduced for Bay?
VANESSA: It was: “No! Ahhh!” That was literally my first thought. I was nervous. It is not so much the idea of putting yourself in that head-space because I’ve never been that type of actor where that would affect me. Those poor actors who gets so emotionally affected by those things, my heart goes out to them everyday because that is something that is really hard. But I’ve played a lot heavier and a lot crazier stuff than this. But usually things are way more black-and-white and they are more clear, like: this is wrong and this the right way things should have been done. And that was not the storyline and that was not the story that the writers wanted to tell. They wanted to raise the question of: “Who is in the right and who is in the wrong, and are they both in the wrong?” Like: “Is it still considered assault? And what is going on?” There was no clarity and really no resolution. It was sort of that they wanted a conversation to happen with the audience and that scary because the audience can react pretty negatively. This is something that can really get on the wrong side of people and thankfully our audience just embraced it with open arms — and the critics were so awesome and really got what the writers were going for, which was they wanted to start a conversation about something that is happening and no one is really talking about — this particular circumstance. There’s the black-and-white version opposed to this gray area that happens frequently, and we really want to start the conversation. There was no clarity whatsoever. That was one of the first things the show’s creator said to me, “I don’t want it to be clear.” And that’s terrifying, especially as an actor, as we’re taught that we have to play a character with a strong point of view and, even if that point of view differs from your own personal point of view, your character has to have their own opinions, perspective and point of view on things.
I applaud the show for taking on such a difficult storyline and that there was no clear answer. It was fascinating to see how it was done.
VANESSA: It was fascinating. It got a lot of people’s attention in the way we were hoping to get.
So what’s next? What teasers can you offer about what’s upcoming for the last couple episodes before the mid-season break?
VANESSA: The mid-season finale is an emotional roller-coaster, especially for people who have been with the show since the beginning. It was an emotional roller-coaster for me as a performer and I think people are going to be just wrecked by the time that they watch the final scene. As far as the Daphne storyline, there is an amazing storyline that she has that involves the character of Natalie. It’s a true story. It happened to the actress who plays Natalie (Stephanie Nogueras). This particular thing happened to her, and she told the writers about it, and she allowed them to tell her story and it’s crazy. That’s part of the mid-season finale and it’s all true. It’s amazing. Then Bay, maybe Bay will be on a beach, somewhere sunnier than Kansas City. So maybe that’s going to happen!
To find out whether there is hope for Bay and Emmett and their romance, as well as what other unexpected events come up next for Bay and Daphne, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of SWITCHED AT BIRTH on Tuesday nights at 9:00 p.m. on ABC Family Channel.