Special Interview with ABC Family ‘Switched At Birth’ Katie Leclerc

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On June 6th, ABC Family launched their new drama series, “Switched At Birth.” “

Switched at Birth” revolves around two teens, Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc) and Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano), who discover that they were accidentely switched at birth at the hospital. Each teen grew up with a completely different environment and upbringing, and each feeling different.

When the two teens discover the change and meet their real biological parents they come together. Due to Daphne’s adoptive mother/Bay’s biological mother’s, financial struggles, Daphne and Regina are invited to live in the Kennishs’ home with Bay’s wealthy family. The girls learn and start developing relationships with both their biological parents as well as each other.

SD Entertainer had the wonderful privilege of interviewing one of the main stars of the series, Katie Leclerc. Katie has been fluent in American Sign Language since she was in high school and was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease at the age of 20. While she is not deaf, she is hard of hearing due to one of the symptoms of Meniere’s disease, which causes a disorder of the inner ear that affects her hearing and balance.

Katie has a real heart of gold, a real love for her fans, and really enjoys the role she has on the show. She feels that the show has made a real difference in people’s lives on their views of those who are deaf and the deaf culture itself, as well as how people view things different from their own perspective.

During the interview, she talked to us about herself, her character, the show, and her enthusiasm about the show’s impact. The interview was fantastic and very eye opening. Katie not only represented the voice of “Switched At Birth,” but also represented her own voice within the deaf culture.

We give you her insight and voice:

Entertainer: How do you like your character? What’s your opinion of her?

KL: I like her a lot. I feel like I’ve got a lot of similarities with the character Daphne. She was sort of bullied as a kid. She grew up with a mother who made her work for all the good that she’s received. She worked hard at school. She’s got a good head on her shoulders and she’s pretty grounded. I think that its really nice to be ale to play someone that people can identity with and people really root for. And not only that as I read the script, and as I go along, I’m rooting for her. And that it’s cool to see the relationship sort of blossom and its really fun to see the two families are coming together to form a family. It might not be the most conventional family, but it’s definitely a group of people that really support each other. That’s the great thing about the show. At the end of the day its just about family and loving people that you’re with no matter what the circumstances are.

Entertainer: Your character is such an inspiration not just for those in the deaf community and hearing world, but also for others with other types of disability.

KL: I think that the nice thing is that I think that people are afraid of what they don’t know and having a deaf character, having multiple deaf characters, come into your life and into your television. Being able to familiarize with that will only help build a bridge between the two worlds. This show and other shows like Glee where they have people in wheelchairs and they have cerebral palsy. And I think this is a great time for television where they’re sort of expanding their horizons a little bit.  I think producers and writers are not afraid to show people who, by everyday conventional terms might be considered disabled, but you can see them as fully able to communicate. As is in the deaf culture’s case to get by. Not only get by but to thrive. Daphne, One of my favorite parts about the show, Lizzy Weiss, the creator, she made sure that Daphne was never the victim. She’s very strong and she makes it work no matter what the situation is. It’s very cool to see that.

Entertainer: What strengths and weaknesses do you think your character had to face with that? Since I know it’s different for everyone.

KL: I think that she was made of fun, like I said, as a kid. And I think that kids are very mean. Or at least they can be. She was made fun as a kid. And she had to find her past. When she found her sign language, she lost her hearing at the age of age, and when she found sign language, she sort of found this culture and this community that is so supportive of each other that she was sort of able to rise above. And she, you know, plays basketball and nobody can take that away from her. She’s the best girl on our team I think. (Laughing).

Entertainer: How do you relate to the character? Were you involved in any sports as a teenager like her?

KL: I was. I played basketball actually coincidentally enough.  I was in Basketball when I was in junior high and growing up and all of that. I cooked as well. Daphne really likes to be in the kitchen. That’s something I can relate to her with. I LOVE to be in the kitchen. Haha. If I wasn’t an actor, I would probably try to be a chef.

Entertainer: That’s great too that they have the equal opportunity to hire those who are deaf or partially deaf to play the deaf roles.

KL: Yeah. Absolutely. And I’m so very lucky. I feel like I’ve been preparing for this role for a very long time. I learned sign language when I was 17. I took as an elective in high school. I actually grew up in San Diego. So it’s nice to speak to a local. Haha. I went to Valley Center High School. I was involved in their drama program. So I sort of needed a foreign language to graduate. So I took sign language since my sister was my teacher. I figured that I could speak with her and that would cool. Then, when I was 20 I found out that I was diagnosed with something called Meniere’s disease. Meniere’s Disease has four main symptoms: you get pressure in the ear, ringing in the ear, fluctuating hearing loss, and attacks of vertigo. I’m very fortunate because my sister also has Meniere’s disease and I can see what her struggle is and learn from that. And also, to know what her strengths are and try to capitalize on those as well. I feel like it’s been a long road to get here and that after about 10 years it’s finally all paid off and I couldn’t be happier. The role of lifetime. And like you said, I identity with the character so much and I sort of feel like things happen for a reason. I’m very grateful that they chose me.

Entertainer: What’s it like to be an actress with the hearing impairment? Have you gotten other roles besides this one?

KL: I have. Been acting for about 10 years. Most people I think are unaware of my disability, my hearing loss. It’s been challenging at times, but I’m very lucky because I work with a wonderful group of people. They are all very aware of my Meniere’s. There’ve been times when I have attacks of vertigo, which for me is the most challenging symptom. But there was the time on set, where I’ve gotten dizzy and had the vertigo thing happen and D.W Moffett ran over to me. He can tell I was spinning. He ran over to me and it was like, “Are you ok?” “I’m ok.” And he took me down in a chair and he asks for one of the PAs to get me a bottle of water. And he had to check in with me every so often to make sure I was feeling good. But everybody is just so kind and everybody is so considerate with everyone else and so supportive of everyone else.

Entertainer: Right. And then you never learn.

KL: Exactly. I’ve gotten to meet some really cool people and have so much on set. I’ve gotten to wear some very pretty clothing and some gorgeous shoes. And I get to be on the back of MX motorcycles and go really fast. That’s really fun. I think that’s opened so many doors for me and I’ve become friends with some of the crewmembers on set. If nothing else I’ve just thankful for the people involved in our show. From the cast to the bottom.

Entertainer: What impact are you hoping that the show will have for the viewers besides that unique perspective?

KL: I think that the impact is really starting to show up. One of the little girls that came to my parents’ restaurant today, she looked up at me and she said and signed “Thank You” when I signed their autograph for them and took a picture with them. She then signed “Thank You.” I think that it’s great that a four-year-old little girl that would otherwise have never known sign language is sitting there signing “Thank You.” The first girl that ever “recognized me” was at Lucas Grabeel’s launch. He just launched his EP while filming.  So Lucas has this launch show at the restaurant I was there, Sean Brady was there, Vanessa Marano, and a lot of people from the crew showed up to support. This little girl maybe 11 or 12 came up and she signed, “Hi. My name is Piper.” To Sean Berdy and I. This is just so cool to see that these kids who would never be exposed to this world are all of a sudden picking up on signs and picking up on this culture. I think that it’s really cool. I think that there’s no way to go but keep doing that and helping people realize that we’re not so different. Opening minds and just creating color. So whatever anyone’s differences are, as long as we’re creating color I think it’s great.

Entertainer: That’s fantastic.

KL: And to go on Twitter. I tweet. To go on Twitter and see people’s posts of thanks like: “Thank you for making me feel comfortable in my own skin because I’m deaf.” “Thank you for showing me that it’s ok to be deaf.” “Thank you for inspiring me to become an interpreter.” All of these different things I think that we really can do some good. Even if we only do good for that one deaf kid who all of a sudden feels like maybe he is not so strange in school. I think that’s amazing. I think that it’s great.

Entertainer: What do you like best about San Diego? Figured it be a fun way to end this off.

KL: That is a good one to end off. Well I grew up there. I don’t get down there as much as I wish I did. I grew up in North County. The beaches in San Diego are about a million times better than in Los Angeles in my humble opinion. I just think that the San Diego culture is really laid back and there’s so much less traffic in San Diego than there is in LA. I like to go down there just for the weekend and kind of just veg, and hanging out with friends, and go check out the beaches. And I don’t know. I love the San Diego culture. I’m really excited for Comic Con. I’m really looking forward to that. Just looking forward to the food down there. I just love food in general. There’s a couple of restaurants that I can’t help but go to. Yeah. I like San Diego a whole lot.

Photos courtesy of ABC Family Site

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