Interview: Katie Leclerc on Switched at Birth’s Final Season – Exclusive
Switched at Birth is (finally!) back on our screens following a long hiatus. We caught up with Katie Leclerc (Daphne Vasquez) to get the scoop on what to expect from the show’s final season.
Some time has passed since Switched at Birth was last on our screens, so welcome back!
Katie Leclerc: Thank you! We’re so excited to be back, I can’t even tell you! We’re really stoked.
After Daphne returns home in the season premiere, it seems as if nothing’s going to plan for her. Over the next few episodes, how does she cope with all of those curve balls?
I really feel like it’s an adjustment. In not knowing that we were going to be off the air for such an extended period of time, the show itself does that time jump, so I think the creators and the writers really handled the gap well. When you return from a foreign country, your perspective is different, especially when you return from an Asian country to the Western civilization. It’s a whole other world!
When Daphne comes back to what’s supposed to feel like home, everybody’s moved on, she can’t register for classes, and she’s got all these obstacles in the way. But the family is happy to see her and she’s happy to see the family – and most importantly, she’s really, really, really concerned for her friend Emmett. Of all the drama, her biggest concern is Emmett. We really tried to pay respect to [the fact that] Emmett’s dealing with a lot. He’s got a lot on his plate. He’s just overwhelmed, and who hasn’t felt that way? It’s a relatable first couple of episodes. Daphne always wants to be the best friend that she can be, but with Emmett, it’s complicated, so she feels extra guilty. You’re right, there’s a lot of curve balls!
After Emmett’s overdose, some people are more concerned about him than others. Where does Daphne fall on a scale of Melody (very worried) to Travis (not seeming worried at all)?
Daphne’s heart is so big that even though Emmett and Daphne were estranged, her spirit is nurturing and welcoming. She does have to protect Bay, and that does make it complicated, but I think ultimately, she sees someone in pain and wants to help out, regardless of who it is and what the the consequences are.
It seemed like Daphne and Bay got even closer when they were in a completely unfamiliar place and the only familiar thing was each other. In the premiere, they seemed excited about living together in the U.S. Is their relationship as sisters and roommates going to stay smooth sailing or will there be bumps in the road ahead?
Well, we’re never without drama, right?! There are some bumps in the road, but this season, Bay and Daphne are more connected than in seasons past. Most of the obstacles they have to overcome come from outside forces. And isn’t that true to life, too? We think we’re on the right track and making the right choices, and then all of a sudden, outside forces bump into you. [For Daphne], it’s a friend that she hasn’t seen in a long time, and she’s trying to figure things out with Mingo still, and then maybe this other cute boy comes along! Daphne is a warm and open person, and she invites a lot of people into her life, which also invites the drama.
Speaking of Mingo, the end of the Switched at Birth season 5 premiere suggested that Daphne and Mingo will need to deal with the fallout from that picture they took at the costume party. At the end of the first episode, Daphne didn’t seem to think Mingo’s costume was inappropriate. What effect does the campus backlash have on her? Does she reconsider her opinion?
I think that Daphne considers the opinion of other people and allows that to soften her hard stance, but she remains loyal to her first assessment of what was going on. The confusion goes away – she understands why people are upset and really gets involved in the effort to make a change. Although her involvement in the protests at school started with the incident with the photograph, she sees the injustices on a larger scale and that’s what really motivates her to join the cause.
That sounds very on brand for Daphne.
Yes, it does!
Cultural appropriation isn’t the first hot-button issue that the show has tackled. Why do you think it’s so important for Switched at Birth to address polarizing topics and sensitive subjects?
I think it’s important for entertainment to address polarizing topics. I feel like we have a platform to create a conversation. What we’re saying at Switched at Birth is not the be-all and end-all, and it never has been. When we dealt with sexual assault on campus, there was no winner. There was no clear right or wrong answer – it was gray. That is truly what I love about our show. We’re not afraid to bring up the scary topics, and we’re not afraid to leave it in a place that creates opportunity for conversation. Right now, in this world, if we can start to talk to people and if we can try to understand where the other person is coming from, I really feel like it will help us heal in so many ways. I don’t think we had any idea when we were filming these episodes last January how absolutely poignant they would be. It makes me proud to be on a show that really takes a stance and really recognizes the importance and the value that we can contribute. Our demographic is 14-year-olds and their moms, and if a mom can say, “Hey, how did you feel about that?” and the kid goes to school the next day a little bit less afraid… Man, we’ve done our job!
Going back to Switched at Birth 5×01, Daphne initially seemed excited about attending UMKC with Regina. Will that last, or will there be some mother-daughter friction?
I think Daphne just wants Regina to be happy. Daphne wants her family to be happy, but most importantly, Regina. She’s so close to Regina and there’s been so many ups and downs in their life. Regina’s on a good path and she’s really working toward something, instead of when Angelo was paying for the interior design studio and everything was very easy for her. Now that Regina’s on her feet and has to really fight for a degree and learn how to study again and manage being an adult and trying to achieve her dreams at the same time, I find it very inspiring. Daphne just wants the best for Regina. I don’t think there’s a lot of friction, but there are some secrets. When Daphne finds out about the secrets, she’s like, “OK, well, giving up on that thing…” but other than that, she’s just happy for mom!
How would you say this season of Switched at Birth compares with the others? As it’s the final season, are you going to go out with a bang?
Oh, there’s a bang! Oh my goodness, I love our season finale. Truly, as a fan of the show, as a person who dropped everything when we would get scripts in our email so I could find out what happened next, it is the finale that I wanted after five seasons. And it’s an hour and a half, so that’s super exciting! This season, we also have our 100th episode, directed by Lea Thompson, which was a huge accomplishment for all of us. It was a great celebration of how far we had come and how long we had all been together. This season is different because it’s our final season, and we pull out all the stops! When we were filming, we had no idea what the world would be right now, and I don’t know if they would have done it differently, but I’m so proud that they didn’t. And not everybody’s going to feel the same way about it, which I think is great. It should create a conversation, and we can learn from each other.
Without giving too much away, is there a particular episode or scene that you’re really looking forward to fans being able to see?
Well, Vanessa Marano does a Jello shot. It was quite difficult. We had to do take after take because I don’t think the poor girl had ever done a Jello shot! So I’m excited to see what edit they picked on that! She’s adorable, and when she struggles, she’s super adorable. Also, the entire fifth episode is a conversation-creator. I think for the first time, I’m more excited to see how people react to it than to see the actual episode itself.
When you look back on your time on Switched at Birth, are there any memories that stand out for you? How are you feeling about the series winding down to a finish?
There are so many moments. I grew up on this show. I got to quit my day job, so to speak, for Switched at Birth, and what an incredible journey it has been. I remember the first day filming the pilot, I was such a fish out of water. I was just trying to keep my head up. We were sitting in the green room, and Lea Thompson, DW Moffett, and Constance Marie were all just being themselves after 30 years in the business, and I was so intimidated. I was frozen in my spot listening to them saying stuff like “Oh, did you go to this wedding?” of another huge producer that I would love to know! It was a very surreal moment, and definitely a moment where I paused and made sure that I was appreciating how incredibly lucky I was.
Other moments include when Lucas Grabeel taught me the High School Musical dance! That was my favorite. Vanessa has the video of it somewhere – I’m sure she still has it. There are countless memories of Vanessa. I love her like a sister, and five years later, we still see each other real frequently. We’ve been out of production for nine months and I can’t get enough of Vanessa. I am so grateful for the journey that I got to be on and for the people that I got to experience it with. There is no better cast that could have created this show, and it was really sad when it ended, but also, if you’re a real actor, your show gets canceled at some point and you have to find another show, so it’s definitely like cutting teeth. It’s a big transition, but I’ve been lucky post-Switched. I got to be in this great 9/11 short, I just did an episode of Big Bang Theory that’s also airing this week… The hits keep on coming, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.
Lastly, what has it been like to be part of such a groundbreaking show that has meant so much to viewers and fans?
Life-changing. If I could have dreamed it up, I wouldn’t have dreamed it any differently. I get comments and posts from fans of the show who say “I want to be an interpreter now” or “I’m studying Deaf Studies now” or “I want to be a speech pathologist now.” It’s not even one occupation – there’s a whole wide range of great occupations, jobs that help people, jobs that we need that were sort of dying off and being forgotten about, and Switched really got to breathe new life into a young generation who’s about to make really important choices for their careers and for themselves. To be able to inspire someone to go help another person – man, that’s all I want. That’s all I want out of any job that I do. I got to stand on a mark and repeat words and breathe life into a character that really hadn’t been on television before. I also got comments from people saying their cousin was deaf and they never had a relationship with their cousin until Switched at Birth and they learned the alphabet first, but now they know sign language almost fluently. It is absolutely the dream.