EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Actress Katie LeClerc Discusses Her Role on ABC's New Series SWITCHED AT BIRTH
Newcomer Katie LeClerc is one of the stars of the latest ABC Family series Switched at Birth. The drama debuted earlier this month delivering 3.3 million viewers; making it ABC Family's most watched series premiere.
Switched at Birth tells the story of two teenage girls who discover they were accidentally switched as newborns in the hospital. Bay Kennish grew up in a wealthy family with two parents and a brother, while Daphne Vasquez (LeClerc), who lost her hearing at an early age due to a case of meningitis, grew up with a single mother in a working-class neighborhood. Things come to a dramatic head when both families meet and struggle to learn how to live together for the sake of the girls.
LeClerc has appeared in various television series, which include Veronica Mars, The Riches, and R.J. Berger, but Switched at Birth is her first starring role. She said producers held nationwide casting calls for the roles of Daphne; a role which many submitted audition tapes and youtube videos for. After being submitted by her talent agent Katie was called in for a first audition and then again for a callback where she went against another girl for Daphne, "It was a very nerve wrecking experience because I had all of my hopes and dreams and wishes into this one basket and thankfully it came through; I got the part and I was just very excited to sort of represent this community. I know how many people auditioned for it and I’m so excited that they choose me.”
LeClerc told me that after finding out she was cast she prepared by sitting down with producers and a dialect coach “and tried to sort of map out where Daphne would be and based on that, how [and] what she could say and what she couldn’t say.” Playing Daphne requires her to use a lot of sign language; LeClerc didn't need much preparation for that since she had known since she was seventeen having taken it in high school as an elective.
One of the aspects LeClerc says she loves about the series is how they really represent the deaf community and give viewers insight to the hardships they face. When she was twenty she was diagnosed with Ménière's disease, which is a fluid retention in the inner ear can cause fluctuating hearing loss and vertigo. She explains some of the POVs they use in the series, “They do things where they drop the sound out so you can kind of get a perspective of how Daphne doesn’t always catch what they are saying. They aren’t use to being around a deaf person so they talk very fast and sort of overlap and its difficult for her at times. You can see where Daphne’s perspective is; it’s a good insight.”
Katie talked about her first encounter with actor Lucas Gabreel, whom she was a fan of because of High School Musical. LeClerc was the second cast in the series and was brought in for the screen testing for characters Toby and John Kennish, Daphne's biological brother and father. She went on to say that prior to the screen tests she performed her usual tradition, "Before an audition I blast the music as loud as I can. I sing and I dance and get all this energy out; it really helps me." Coincidentally her music of choice was "I Want It All" which is one of the songs Gabreel sang in the third High School Musical film. "I’m a huge High School Musical fan. It’s a pleasure I just cannot deny myself."
After preparing herself she walked in for the audition to find none other than the actor screen testing for the role of Toby. "I just about melted because I had no idea he was going to be there I was just like ‘Oh My God!’ I was very excited and I tried to keep my cool as best as I could..." Katie continues to say that since filming began, her and Gabreel have become close friends and the chemistry shows in the various scenes they share together. Despite the years apart Daphne and Toby just seem to have this instant connection that you would believe they were brother and sister.
Katie had another charming story regarding actress Lea Thompson. While filming the second episode, Thompson surprised her cast mates by leaving various animal pillows in their trailers, "Lucas got like a sharky kind of whale-ish thing, I got a lady bug and I know Constance got a unicorn. It was just the sweetest thing in the entire world... there was no note, no explanation, no nothing, were just like ‘what is this?” Then Leah goes ‘oh did you get your pillow?’ and I’m like ‘Oh my God, that’s great!’ Since then we’ve just become great friends and I feel very lucky to have met her."
She then added "You know, I think that I’m actually very lucky because we have such a great group of people working on the show. Not only the cast but also the crew; I think I made some pretty awesome friends in the process and that was something I didn’t necessary expect. It made it that much better."
In comparison to her previous supporting roles, Katie is starting to understand the pressures of having a series rest on her shoulders, "It can be overwhelming sometimes and I have to step back and say ‘wow this is real life’ because it really is a dream come true for me and,, you know I worked so hard to get here... It is totally surreal and I’m loving every moment of it, but I think that the key is to not take it for granted and I’m trying to take it as it comes and trying to enjoy the moment."
Being a big movie buff the actress hopes to one day work with the likes of Christopher Nolan and Meryl Streep, but overall she says her goal right now is just to keep working, "Ultimately I just want to work and I feel very lucky that I have a job right now and I feel very excited about that and it’s just going to be over soon. We film episode ten tomorrow, so we’ll have to see if we get the back ten and potentially another season but for now, I love it. And I’m very grateful for the part I play."
Co-star Lea Thompson played a role in the 1984 film Red Dawn which the film is currently receiving a remake. When I asked her opinions on remakes in general she responded, "I wish that there were more encouragement of creativity but it’s also nice to see classics revisited. Sometimes I wish that they would wait a little bit longer to revisit those classics," she continued, "I think that there is potential for good movie making as long as you come at it with that in mind. I think that a lot of time they come at it with ‘let’s make another movie so we can pay our mortgage’. You got to pay the mortgage too right?"
Along with movies and food, she has a love for comic books. "Right now I’m reading Transmetropolitan which is great and one of those classics you always hear about but never get around to going through." She also mentions another favorite of hers is Vertigo's Sweet Tooth which follows a young boy who is half deer/half boy and must survive a post-apocalyptic America, "It’s really kind of dark and really kind of sad but you fall in love with these characters and you find yourself rooting for them in these inconvenient circumstances."
Being a comic book fan and an actress, she does have hopes of one day playing a part in a comic book film. She admitted to auditioning for the role of Mystique in the recent X-Men: First Class; which went to Jennifer Lawrence. Her dream comic book movie role would be to play the role of Mary Jane Watson in an adaption of Spider-Man Blue. "[Spider-Man Blue] was the first comic I ever read. That was my introduction to comic books and I think that it’s one of the, I mean, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are masterminds when it comes to these characters. I just commend them. I got to meet Tim Sales once and he autographed my copy of Long Halloween. I was really excited about that."
As Switched at Birth continues, Katie is most looking forward to developing her very unique character, "I’m very interested to see what direction to choose to go and how they choose to portray Daphne’s non-biological father; who has sort of disappeared. [He] is very mysterious and they don’t talk about him very much. Daphne doesn’t really know that much about her dad and she discovers things as the season goes on. She discovers about her dad that maybe you know, ‘he wasn’t such a bad guy’... I’m very interested to see how this man, who literally abandoned her, is going to play into her life and if he does how Regina handles it as well."
Switched at Birth stars Katie Leclerc, Vanessa Marano, Constance Marie, D.W. Moffett, Lea Thompson and Lucas Grabeel. Created and executive produced by Lizzy Weiss along with executive producers Paul Stupin and John Ziffren.