Recently, Marlee Matlin took the time to answer a few questions about ABC Family’s new original series, SWITCHED AT BIRTH during a press day.
The series follows two teenage girls who find out that they were actually switched as newborns mistakenly by the hospital. One of them, Daphne (Katie Leclerc), is deaf. Marlee Matlin plays Melody a guidance counselor at the high school where the kids go, but also Daphne’s mom’s best friend.
Switched at Birth is a great fit for ABC Family’s programming and if you are a fan of their shows, you will want to tune in when it premieres on Monday June 6th at 9pm on ABC Family. But for now check out Marlee Matlin’s interview below.
Did you want to be a series regular again?
Marlee Matlin: Listen, I’m always happy to be a part of any television series. This one in particular because it’s such a new way of looking at a teenage character. Having four kids, they are finally able to watch me on a television show. It’s as nice and perfect as it could be. I’m always up for trying anything new, as you’ve seen my career go. You never know how your career is going to go. This show I think has a great message for everybody because it involves both hearing and deaf characters together, in terms of integrating the cultures together, to have this culture together as a part of the team landscape and bring it out there to ABC Family I think is a great message.
Can you talk about your character and we’ll see her do this season?
Marlee Matlin: My character is Melody. She does a lot of things. She’s the guidance counselor at the high school where the kids go. She’s also a substitute basketball coach and that makes my son very happy. He’s a sports fan. When I said that I was playing a basketball coach he said, ‘What’s the name of your team? What are your stats?’ I said, ‘No, no. Honey, it’s a television show.’ But I’m happy that he’s excited about something that I’m doing. I also happen to be Regina’s, Constance’s [Marie] character, best friend on the show. I’m there for her, to give her support with all the changes that are happening in her life as a result of the switched at birth news. I’m Emmett’s, Daphne’s best friend, mother. But the storyline in terms of what I play, we haven’t really gotten much into that.
Is it recurring?
Marlee Matlin: Well, so far I’ve done three episodes. I think they’re doing ten episodes and so if the show does well they’ll probably bring me back for more, I’m sure.
But your character isn’t the mother of the other switched child?
Marlee Matlin: No, no. I play the best friend of the mother who had the deaf daughter.
And her character has a son?
Marlee Matlin: Yes. The way that it works, it’s a little complicated. The deaf girl went to school and had deaf friends. One of her best friends, Emmett, I play the mother of Emmett and I’m the one who happened to introduce them into deaf culture. I happen to best friends with Daphne’s not biological mother.
Is there a storyline that you hope your character will get in the future?
Marlee Matlin: I think what the character is there to do right now is create a support network for Constance’s character. She lends credence to the deaf story that they put into the show. Daphne has had the right education, the right upbringing and now she’s been put into this situation where her life has been altered. I think by having my character there it lends credence to what’s going on in the show. We don’t necessarily want them to advantage of deaf storylines and just turn them into simple soap operas. It really is trying to flesh out a real character.
Is it a challenge working with a deaf teenager?
Marlee Matlin: They’re not really teenagers in real life. They’re like twenty-four years old. The one who plays my son is a teenager. He’s seventeen and I laugh to myself because I know how it is to deal with a teenager because I have a fifteen year old daughter and I know exactly how that goes. I guess it’s probably payback for the childhood hell that I gave my mother, but speaking of that, it’s great. It’s a nice change to be working with a younger crowd than I’m used as my costars because I’m not used to that. It’s a great group of people. Lea [Thompson] is great. D. W. Moffett is great. They’re just a great and wonderful group of people to work with on the show. And I don’t have to baby sit anybody.
Apart from Katie Leclerc, is every deaf character on the show actually deaf?
Marlee Matlin: Yeah. The one who plays my son is profoundly deaf and ASL (American Sign Language) is his first language. In terms of the character we have that in common. On the other hand, Katie grew up in the hearing world and was not profoundly deaf like Sean [Berdy] or I were. But she signs well and she comes to deafness from a different perspective. I know that sign language is not her first language, but she’s been nothing, but great. As we said, there are different types of deaf people and I just think that she’s a sweetheart and she’s a great actress.
What’s the biggest challenge of being on the show?
Marlee Matlin: The biggest challenge for me on the show, I don’t know. There hasn’t been a challenge for me yet because having been in the business for twenty five years I’ve seen every single challenge that’s out there. I think for me every piece of new material is challenging, but being on the set is not that challenging. They’ve been accommodating. Everyone on the show has been professional. Everyone here knows exactly what they’re doing. Katie is very young, new to the business and I want to be able to be there to protect her because I know what it’s like. We were up there having our group photos and I wanted to jump in and say, ‘Stand this way,’ because I’ve been there before. I sort of look at life as a mom because I’m a mom of four. But in terms of specific challenges. I like to look at how lines should be read, how we show off deaf culture, but I think they’ve done a great job. My character has been nothing but great in terms of how they’ve written me. I’m lucky in that this is a show that I can actually enjoy doing.
As a mom of four have you thought about how you would react if you found out one of your kids wasn’t biologically yours?
Marlee Matlin: I would probably react very quickly. I would probably first ask who’s the nurse that did this because I’m going ring her neck. That would be the first question. People jump to conclusions about what they would do. I can’t even imagine something like this happening to my husband and I. It would be too hard to tell you what the feelings would be because it would be so beyond anything that you could envision that could happen to any family.
Would you rather not know?
Marlee Matlin: I might probably not want to know unless I would feel by looking at my child and saying, ‘There’s something not right here.’ But I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s just so beyond my scope. It’s probably like the worst case scenario that you could imagine for anyone.
Have you asked your son for advice on how to play a basketball coach?
Marlee Matlin: He would say, ‘Make sure they flip the ball like this.’ I wouldn’t even want to ask. He’d probably get so much into it that I would get lost. We watch a lot of sports together, my son and I and he’s so incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to soccer and baseball. He’s a basketball player, but he knows all the stats. He knows when the referee makes a call and how it all goes. That’s not something that I really pay attention to, and he’s like, ‘Yes, mom, because it’s like this and this.’ I go, ‘Really? You know all of this stuff.’ He has amazing perception abilities.