WE LOVE SOAPS TV recently had the chance to speak with Vanessa Marano, who will be starring in the upcoming ABC Family drama SWITCHED AT BIRTH.
Vanessa started acting in the theater when she was seven years old, performing in numerous plays at A.C.T. in Agoura Hills, California. She began her professional career with several national commercials.
She is most recognized for her roles as April, the daughter of Luke in the highly popular show, GILMORE GIRLS, as Eden on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, and for the role of Francesca, the daughter of the Emmy® Award-winning Lisa Kudrow, in the HBO Original series THE COMEBACK. Recently, she starred in SCOUNDRELS playing the scheming, school-skipping daughter of Virginia Madsen. She has had recurring roles in shows including DEXTER, WITHOUT A TRACE and TRUST ME. Her guest-starring credits include PARENTHOOD, MEDIUM, LOVE BITES, GHOST WHISPERER, PAST LIVES, SIX FEET UNDER, MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE and GROUNDED FOR LIFE.
Vanessa starred as a young girl who becomes a quadriplegic in the critically acclaimed television movie The Brooke Ellison Story directed by Christopher Reeve. Vanessa is working with Lucy Liu on a miniseries playing the troubled foster teenager, Immy, in Marry Me.
Her first film was the animated hit, Finding Nemo, followed by the independent films, Easy, The Clique, Stopping Power, Dear Lemon Lima and most recently The Secret Lives of Dorks.
Vanessa speaks Italian and is enrolled in her sophomore year in college.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You have amazing diversity in the roles that you’re playing especially as such a young woman. It looks like you’ve been everywhere, and I was curious if you could tell us what your most challenging or most interesting role was that you’ve played so far.
Vanessa Marano: When I was eleven, I got cast in the last directorial project of Christopher Reeve. It was a TV movie called The Brooke Ellison Story, and it’s based on a true story. And it was about a young woman who became a quadriplegic at age eleven and was the first quadriplegic to be accepted into Harvard University, and I got to play her at age eleven, getting hit by the car, being in the coma, waking up out of the coma, going to the rehab center, learning how to use a wheelchair, ventilator pop offs, all that jazz, and I got to work with Christopher Reeve, and that was probably the most amazing and challenging experience that I have ever had and probably am ever going to have.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you had any sort of guilty pleasures on television that you wanted to confess to or share with us?
Vanessa Marano: I will confess to it because I’m very honest about this television guilty pleasure. I’m very obsessed with The Real Housewives franchise. It’s a bad obsession. I’m trying to have it not control my life, but man, oh man, do I love those Real Housewives, so much. If the marathon’s on, forget about it, I’m hooked. I’m there all day.
Was there any kind of preparation or what did you go through to prepare yourself to play the character of Bay?
Vanessa Marano: Well, Bay is a difficult character to play. She’s a very spirited teenager, and she’s very stubborn and harsh, and I think the biggest challenge for me was playing her as a protagonist versus an antagonist because you have Daphne who’s so full of life and is happy and light and smart and just really wholesome and good and easy to deal with, and Bay’s very much the polar opposite of that but isn’t a bad person. And I think that was the most difficult thing going into playing Bay for me.
Can you talk about your cast mates and working with them and how it goes on the set?
Vanessa Marano: Oh, I lucked out. Man, I lucked out so much. The cast is amazing. We have such a collective group of talented people who’ve been doing this for such a long time, and they’re actors who can do drama and they’re actors who can do comedy. And Leah and Constance and D.W. were all fabulous to work with and just so professional and so funny and really just great at what they do, and even from a younger standpoint Sean who plays Emmett on the show has been acting since he’s been a little kid. Lucas has been doing it forever, and Katie who plays Daphne is just a rock star and is so talented and lights up the screen, and I’m so lucky that I got to work with these fabulous people because to work off of them makes me better.
How do you get into the head of Bay and someone who would deal with the news that they were switched at birth?
Vanessa Marano: Well, because I’ve never been switched at birth, I don’t have a lot of experience in that field. Our writer, Lizzy, this script’s her baby, and so she really thought out the characters and how they were feeling, and that was so helpful just because the difficulty that I was having with Bay with her being the most difficult and handling the news the worst. Lizzy was incredibly helpful to help me get into her head a little bit, and I think through collaboration we really figured Bay out.
Can you talk about working opposite Katie and how you two communicate onset?
Vanessa Marano: Can you go into a little bit more detail with that?
Do you have to sign with her or does she have an interpreter? How does that work?
Vanessa Marano: We have a variety of deaf actors on the show like Sean and Marley, and they have interpreters. Katie started losing her hearing later in life, so she’s a bit more adept to deal with situations, but we’ve all been trying to learn how to sign on set, and just because upward education background and because we have so many actors who know sign language and use sign language as a way to communicate, we’ve all been trying to do that. It’s been very hard because it’s another language, but we’re trying.
How do you feel the deaf aspect adds to the dynamic of the relationships in the story?
Vanessa Marano: It’s great. It ups the stakes to a point where I don’t think anybody really realizes or even thought about going there with. We always do polar opposites like; this one’s feisty, this one’s shy. This one’s smart, this one’s artistic. This one’s poor, this one’s rich. This one’s pretty, this one is ugly. Like we always do polar opposites that way, and we never think to be like, well this one speaks one language, this one speaks another language. This one grew up in a completely different culture. This one grew up in a different culture than that one.
I think it’s such an educational thing for actors to be playing and audience members to be viewing, but at the same time, you don’t even realize that you’re learning something. You’re just so captivated and drawn in because you’re introduced to a completely different world that fits perfectly into the story and adds a completely different dynamic that’s really intriguing to watch.
What attracted you to your role of Bay on the show?
Vanessa Marano: Well, I auditioned for it, and then they hired me, and that was a huge attraction.
How do you find yourself relating to her? What would you say your biggest similarities and your biggest differences, aside from that you haven’t been switched at birth?
Vanessa Marano: Well, yes, I feel like that actually was a big attraction for me with Bay is that I don’t usually play characters like Bay, ever actually. This is my first time playing a character like Bay. I have never done it before, and that was like oh, okay, something different, something new, something challenging, something that I really am going to have to figure out.
And that was a big attraction, and I think the biggest thing for me is because I don’t find that I’m like Bay at all, was trying to find a way to relate to her and like her and maybe put a little bit of myself in her. And I, throughout the series we’ve been shooting, I think I’ve finally been able to do that, and if I find myself relating to her, then I feel like I’m doing a good job because I don’t find myself like her at all, but if I can relate to her in any way, I feel like oh, yeah, okay, I’m doing it right.
Do you watch your work when it airs on television?
Vanessa Marano: Absolutely. Absolutely. I know some actors don’t like to do it. I’m not one of those actors. I think I learn a lot from it. I figure out what I did right, figure out what I did wrong, and I get to enjoy the final product that so many people went into working hard on to make, but it’s not just; that’s the whole thing is when I do a TV show or I do a movie or I do a play, it’s not just my performance that I’m watching.
I’m watching the other actors’ performance and the writing and the directing and the lighting and the camerawork and all the PAs cuing the extras in the background, and I love watching that because it’s like we all worked so hard together to make something creative and entertaining, and we get to experience it.
How are you are succeeding in balancing your college work with your acting.
Vanessa Marano: It’s been hard. It has been really, really hard. I’m very fortunate that I was able to graduate early and start early because I’m not so much, like this would have been the year that I would have been a freshmen in college, and I’m technically a last semester of sophomore, but I’m going to a community college, which has been great because I can take semesters off or I can just take one class a semester as opposed to a full load, but it’s been hard. Even that I am struggling with handling, but I’m still going for it because it’s something that I feel really strongly about and very fortunate that I have the means to do.
What do you like to watch on TV? What’s on your DVR?
Vanessa Marano: What’s on my DVR? A lot of things that I haven’t watched in a while. The Borgias is on my DVR, Real Housewives, I tell you, there’s—it’s a massive obsession there. I have a lot of DVDs from cancelled television shows that I like to watch such as Arrested Development and Flight of the Concords, and that kind of makes up for my television viewing experience.
Tell us something about why you decided to do SWITCHED AT BIRTH.
Vanessa Marano: Why I decided to do SWITCHED AT BIRTH was I auditioned for it and they hired me, and that was a big selling point, but I really lucked out in the thought that it got picked up and is being produced and is actually going to air, but even more so that just what a cast and such an amazing group of people who I really got to click with, and you don’t get to click with people very often in the first season, and we all clicked, and it was good.
What will you be doing to celebrate the upcoming premiere?
Vanessa Marano: I’m going to be working actually. I’m scheduled to work the day of the premiere with some pretty emotional/romantic scenes and then possibly we’re going to go over to a cast member’s house to watch it.