The new family drama Switched at Birth on the ABC Family channel is about two girls who have very different lives. There was a mistake at the hospital when they were born and their lives were switched.
Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) grew up in a wealthy family, the daughter of John and Kathryn (D.W. Moffet and Lea Thompson), while Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc) grew up with a single mother, Regina (Constance Marie), in a working class neighborhood. Daphne also lost her hearing due to meningitis at an early age, which provides an extra challenge for her.
The accidental switch is exposed when Bay takes a blood test in her high school biology class and discovers that genetically she can’t be related to her parents. The mothers now have to cope with the reality of the situation, and to help create a bond with their biological daughters, Regina and Daphne move in to the Kennishes’ guest house. There is a lot of adjusting for both families to do and the series follows their efforts to get to know each other.
Switched at Birth, which has enjoyed great ratings since its recent debut, has the conflict between the mothers and how they raised their kids. But it offers much more. It’s an interesting premise that can provide a variety of great stories according to Constance Marie, who talked about the production at the recent Disney-ABC press day held in Burbank.
Marie told me, “We get to deal with the racial, social and economic differences within the families. At the heart of it is how each family is honestly trying to do the very best for their child. That’s what every parent does. The crazy part is that we get to see how different that is to each family. You put two families who are completely opposite in close quarters and the drama just naturally unfolds from that.”
Marie explained that the heart of the stories is how the mothers are trying to get to know children that are theirs — but not theirs. “It’s such a complex question to explore. What would you do if the child that you had raised for fifteen years was suddenly labeled not yours technically, but you’ve been nurturing and loving this child for so long? The drama from that creates a smorgasbord of topics and moments.”
When you add the deaf aspect to the stories you get into other issues to explore, and Marie is happy that Marlee Matlin is a regular on the show as a counselor at Daphne’s school.
Marie, who has a long run on The George Lopez Show to her sitcom credits, said, “It’s great to have Marlee Matlin, an Academy Award-winning actress, as part of this. She adds some humor too. And I’m no stranger to comedy, so we throw a little bit of that in there. We hit both tones with an authenticity that never feels forced, so that’s a beautiful thing.”
The legal aspect of the “switched at birth” situation is also interesting to explore. Marie said, “What the writers came up with is that, instead of fighting each other, you actually get to know each other and prevent some kind of legal battle. The girls are so close to becoming adults to do whatever they want, so you want the mothers to handle this in a loving way. Lea Thompson and I have some amazing scenes together. Our characters both respect and love each other because they know they are doing the best for their own daughters.”
In order to learn sign language for her role, Marie revealed she went to sign language boot camp. “I had three weeks to pretend to be fluent, that I’ve been signing for twelve years, which was brutal. I learned quickly at sign language boot camp. The signing has been a whole character within itself. It’s a non-stop job. And it has given me the most buff forearm ever.”
Because Marie was a dancer, she said it helped her understand the fluid movement of sign language. “It is a gorgeous language,” Marie beamed. “In the USA, English is the predominant language and the second is Spanish, and the third is sign language. I didn’t realize that. I have learned so much about the hearing and non-hearing world, the deaf community.” That aspect of the show has been a huge education for Marie, and she believes other will find it interesting also.