Q&A: Vanessa Marano On SWITCHED AT BIRTH's Summer Season

Vanessa Marano stars in SWITCHED AT BIRTH - Photo: ABC Family
Vanessa Marano stars as Bay Kennish in ABC Family's hit drama SWITCHED AT BIRTH. She has also appeared in numberous other TV shows and films including THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, GILMORE GIRLS, THE COMEBACK and SCOUNDRELS. We Love Soaps and other media outlets spoke with Marano about her career and the summer season of SWITCH AT BIRTH last week. Check out the interview below:

Was there anything about Bay that wasn’t originally scripted for you that you added to her?
Vanessa Marano: Bay, in the pilot, wasn’t as comedic as she’s turned out to be. She was a little bit gloomier and I’d say even a little bit angrier than what she is, and then sort of through collaboration with directors and writers she becomes a little bit more comedic.

What kind of moments should we be looking forward to this season?
Vanessa Marano: This season is summer, and so we think of summer so bright and happy and fun in the sun, and it’s a very dramatic season, particularly for Bay it’s quite life changing for her.

Could you tell us more about the upcoming “What-If” episode and how it affects the families?
Vanessa Marano: The “What-If” episode is probably my favorite episode this season. I think it’s going to be a very satisfying episode for fans and it’s a whole “what if the families found out that the girls were switched at age 3 rather than at age 16?” “What if Regina had told the Kennishes what she had found out about the girls being switched?” And so I think it’s going to be very satisfying for fans because they get to see that, it’s in this whole push-and-pull of “did Regina do the right thing?”, and they get to see whether or not she did. And a lot of it has to do with John’s justification of what Regina did, and he’s still so angry about it and how everything would have turned out for each character.

So it’s really fun, because you get to play a character that you’ve been playing for so long but you also have completely different circumstances than what your character had grown up with. And Switched has always been about nature versus nurture, so this is what if the nurture wasn’t what it was because everything changed when the girls were three.

Will the change in family dynamic continue this season or will she be able to repair her relationships within her family?
Vanessa Marano: Well, she repairs the relationship with Daphne, which is nice. I like that those two can’t stay mad at each other as much as they used to. They used to really be able to stay very mad at each other. They’ve also evolved more into sisters. But this is a really big season for Toby. He’s usually a character that’s in the background that you lean on for support, but it’s a very big season for him. He’s talking about getting married, and whether or not that’s the right decision, and so it’s a lot about growing up and figuring out if you’re doing something for love, if that’s the right decision or not.

What has been the best thing about the show?
Vanessa Marano: I would say the people I work with. I really enjoy the entire cast, and the entire crew, and the producers and writers. I really do like everybody that I work with. And it’s nice to be in a situation where you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere for 12 hours and you haven’t gotten any sleep, but you like everybody around you.

What have you learned from working on the show?
Vanessa Marano: Sign language. I didn’t know sign language before the show, but I kind of know sign language now.

Do you find yourself subconsciously using ASL in your normal everyday conversations?
Vanessa Marano: I wouldn’t say I use it in my normal everyday conversation. But, yes, I definitely get into a mode when I’m whispering to somebody, because usually when I’m not using it on set for a scene, Katie and I, when they’re rolling and you’re not allowed to talk, we’ll sign a little bit back and forth just to talk in the middle of shooting. We’re mature like that. And so usually if I’m in a situation where I’m whispering and I have to be quiet, sometimes I’ll just end up doing it because I’m kind of used to mouthing the words while I’m using my hands. And it happens a lot with my sister and my one friend, Megan, and they always go, “Dude, I don’t know sign language. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that. You’re not helping yourself.”

Has it been hard for you to learn it?
Vanessa Marano: Yes, it has been. It’s throwing yourself into a completely different element. It’s nice, though. It’s nice to be able to challenge yourself in that way, because Switched is a story that we all know. It’s a story about searching for identity and it’s a story about searching for a family, but it’s done in this different way involving the deaf community and involving deaf characters, and involving sign language. And so you can’t really get bored because you’re seeing a story that you’re familiar with told in a different light.

Could you talk about how Bay is feeling right now about both of the moms?
Vanessa Marano: Well, Bay right now is bonding more with Regina, and that’s not, even though I don’t think Kathryn sees it that way, anything against Kathryn. It’s just she’s never had an opportunity to bond with Regina and it always felt like Daphne and Kathryn got all of this mother-daughter time and Daphne still got to be a mother-daughter with Regina, and Bay got nothing. And so this season is really about them finding their mother-daughter connection, Regina and Bay.

Can you share a funny story with us about being on set?
Vanessa Marano: A funny story about being on set, let’s see, well, there are so many things. We all get along just so well. The only thing that strikes my mind immediately is Katie was a huge High School Musical fan, and at one point it was like 4:00 in the morning and Lea Thompson, you know she’s done Cabaret on Broadway, she’s done her share of musical theater, as has Lucas Grabeel, who was in High School Musical, and everyone was tired and delirious and Lea at one point was like, “Just teach me the dance, teach me the dance from high school musical.” And so Lucas did it and Katie’s eyes lit up with this look of excitement. It was hilarious.

What was it like filming the all ASL episode that aired in March? Do you think there will be another one?
Vanessa Marano: Well, it was the first time it was ever done on television and it was the first time a whole episode had been done in sign language. So it was kind of nerve-wracking actually, because you were doing something that had never been done before, so all of a sudden you have this huge responsibility to do it right. And so it was actually pretty difficult, but the result was amazing. I hope we’ll do another one. There are no words for doing one right now. But it turned out great and it was really cool, because Switched in general is something that’s never been done before, there’s never been a show with a lead character that is deaf and so many deaf actors. So to be doing something that I’d never even done before on top of that, with an entire episode that was done in sign language was pretty cool to be a part of. Things that are groundbreaking, really.

If Toby and Nikki do get married, who do you think will be Bay’s date to the wedding?
Vanessa Marano: Oh, that’s a good question. Let’s see, episode three just aired, I don’t know if I can give away who Bay’s date is going to be to the wedding right now considering where we’re at.

Is Bay how you expected her to be in the “What-If” episode, or was it surprising to you?
Vanessa Marano: Personality wise, actually Bay hasn’t really changed that much. Personality wise she has changed the least out of everybody. The biggest difference with Bay is when we first meet Bay in the pilot of Switched at Birth, we see her as this confident, truly her own person type of teenager, and then her world gets turned upside down by the switch; all of a sudden she is vulnerable and she’s struggling and she’s building up walls, and everything she’s known is a lie. So we really catch Bay to the point of a nervous breakdown when we first meet her in Switched, and it’s just in the seasons that we’ve been shooting have been building her back up to become the person that she believes she was born to be. So this season we have Bay in the “What-If” episode being raised the entire time knowing that she didn’t belong to Kathryn and John, knowing that she was raised in a situation where she wasn’t a Kennish, and so that definitely changes her perspective on things. It doesn’t necessarily change Bay, but I think it numbs her a lot more.

Do you feel like your daytime experience helped prepare you for this role?
Vanessa Marano: You know what, I’ve said this so many times in interviews, I was so against doing a daytime show when I first got offered The Young and the Restless. I was like, “Oh, I don’t know. That doesn’t feel like it’s me. I don’t know if I want to do it.” And my mother talked me into it. My mother was like, “You need to do it.” And it was truly one of the best experiences I had personally and acting wise. I think I learned so much from that show that I really do apply to every role that I had afterwards. As far as memorization goes, I learned so much, as far as trusting your instincts you learn so much, and my hat is off to any daytime actor, because what they do is way harder than what anybody else in television does.

Where would you like to see your character go next?
Vanessa Marano: Let’s see, I really hope Bay keeps growing the way that she’s growing. She’s a character that kind of takes two steps forward and one step back, and so by the end of the series I just hope she’s a well-rounded person.

Are there any special celebrity guest appearances that you know of that are planned for this season?
Vanessa Marano: Well, we have a few returning characters, that much I can say. Everyone’s seen Blair Redford return as Ty. Bill Lucking is going to be returning as John Kennish’s father, and we also have a few more returning characters from the past season, so we’re going to be seeing a few people that we haven’t seen in a while.

If they would have a celebrity guest star, who would you like to see guest on the show?
Vanessa Marano: Well, I’m obsessed with Helen Mirren, so if we could get her that would be awesome.

Will Emmett and Bay be able to be just friends?
Vanessa Marano: Again, we will see. It’s funny, part of the “What-If” episode is a what-if for Emmett and Bay, so we get to see circumstances changed, what they would have been.

Are there any other struggles that Bay will be dealing with this season?
Vanessa Marano: Definitely Ty and Bay is a struggle. Bay and Emmett is a struggle this season. And Regina and Angelo and Bay all living under the same roof turns into a struggle as well, because it’s just not exactly what everybody expects it to be. But you know what, what family is?

Could talk about how similar or different you are from Bay?
Vanessa Marano: It’s funny, I think I’m actually very different from Bay. Obviously I’m playing her, so it doesn’t appear that there’s much of a difference, like the cadence of the way we speak is very similar, our humor is very similar, because the way that I inflect some certain words reflects on that. But there are so many times when I read a script and I’m like, “What are you doing, Bay?” Because Bay, believe it or not is, and she gets this from being raised by Kathryn Kennish, she almost is an optimist. She goes into every situation making a crazy decision and thinking that it’s going to turn out totally fine.

She decided to go to deaf school and she’s like, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Well, Bay, the worst thing that could happen is that this group of kids who have been neglected from society because of the fact that they can’t hear are going to be judgmental towards you because you’re parading on to their campus thinking that you own it. Come on, Bay, think things through. Or like, “I want to run away to Mexico. What could be bad about that?” A lot of things, Bay. Running away to Mexico isn’t really the right decision. And just the main one, I’m going to move my biological mom and my “switchster” into the guest house across from where my parents live. There won’t be any fighting even though they’re complete opposites. She just doesn’t think things through and thinks everything’s going to turn out just fine, which is something that she gets from, not her biology mother but from being raised the way she was. And I constantly find myself saying, “Oh my God, think things through, Bay.” But she wouldn’t be the Bay that we all know and love if she did.

Do you possess any musical talent yourself?
Vanessa Marano: None whatsoever. We actually don’t know where Laura [Marano] gets that from in our family. I have a cousin on one of my family who’s really interested and talented musically, and the rest of us don’t have that gene at all. It’s really weird, but she has it. But, you know, kudos to my sister. I am very proud of her. The episode that just aired on Austin & Ally she actually wrote the song that she sang. So that’s really cool, 17-years-old and writing a song for the show that you’re on is pretty impressive and I’m really proud of her. I was sitting there in my parents’ living room with her, and I was like, “Yeah, you are finally you, Ally Dawson, played by Laura Marano.”

Would you like to work with your sister in the future on any projects, and what would that be maybe?
Vanessa Marano: Absolutely. I would love to work with my sister. I love my sister. Really anybody who will have us, I just want to work.

Who has influenced you professionally and who you would love to work with some day if you could pick anybody?
Vanessa Marano: Well, I would say Helen Mirren is the answer to all of those questions. But there are so many people, like I would love to work with Christopher Durang on a play. He’s one of my favorite playwrights. I think he’s fantastic. There are so many directors, and so many writers, and so many actors that I’ve learned so much from, from watching, but I would say influence wise so much of what I got influenced by was my mother directing theater. That was my perspective on acting, was because my mom was a theater director. So I would say the way that I learned things and the way that I thought of acting really came from that.

Do you have a Twitter handle?
Vanessa Marano: I do not use Twitter. Well, at this point it just makes me super unique, doesn’t it? I made a decision a very long time ago that I didn’t really be involved with social media. I don’t think I’d be very good at it. Judging by me answering all of your questions, do you really think I could keep it to 150 characters? I don’t think so. It is a great way to promote the show, it’s a great way to get to know your fans, but to me the more important, all-knowing thing of making eye contact with somebody and connecting with somebody that way and having a conversation with somebody face-to-face, I value so much more than hiding behind a computer screen and doing it that way. So I get it, I understand it, I do not naysay on anybody who does Twitter, I totally get it, it’s just not for me personally.

Walker Ragsdale is a freelance blogger with a passion for everything pop culture. For feedback or questions, you can email Walker Ragsdale at Reklawmedia@gmail.com.

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