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Katie Leclerc was Born This Way

Katie Leclerc stars in the ABC Family Channel series “Switched at Birth.”

Katie Leclerc was Born This Way

by Jackie Speiss


Switched at Birth is a story about two teens who find out that they were, well, switched at birth when the hospital sent them home with the wrong family. Katie Leclerc plays Daphne, a deaf teen who makes viewers extremely jealous of her wits, bravery, and ability to deal with life-altering events. Along with that, her bubbly, happy personality on the show intrigued us to think “What is Katie really like?” Not shockingly, when we had the opportunity to speak with her, we found out the Katie is just as amazing as she is on the show.

Katie Leclerc was born on November 6, 1986 in San Antonio, Texas and raised in Lakewood Colorado. Growing up she studied ASL (American Sign Language) as a second language. Little did she know that she would need it one day for her life and her career, because a condition she developed called Ménière’s Disease. This is a degenerative inner ear disorder that causes hearing loss and vertigo. So far, this has not had major effects on her acting.

When you watch the young Leclerc play the role as Daphne Vasquez on ABC Family’s Switched at Birth, it’s hard to believe that her acting career broke through in 2005. Her beautiful, contagious smile easily lights up a room, and her terrific acting can bring you to tears. At 25, it is safe to say that she has reached her dream, and judging by her talent and energy, it’s unlikely she will be going anywhere anytime soon.

You deal with some discrimination on the show due to being deaf.  Ironically enough some of it came from Chef Jeff, who you are getting very friendly with now.  Have you had to deal with situations similar to that in real life, and, if so, how do you go about doing that? 

I was bullied quite severely when I was in middle school.  So much so that my family, in fact, moved from Colorado to California.  I think that I am trying to advocate as much as possible for the anti-bully movement.  Kids are just [being] mean and it’s so unnecessary.  If I can speak to a kid who is being bullied, I would just say find an ally.  Go talk to an adult.  It’s the hardest thing.  I know it’s the hardest thing to open up.  You feel exposed.  You feel vulnerable.  But you really just need someone on your side.  I just want to spread that message as much as possible. I’m grateful for ABC Family and Switched at Birth for the opportunity for that platform.

I would say watching Switched at Birth has definitely has opened people’s eyes as to dealing with being deaf or being hearing impaired or any type of bullying for that matter.  It just helps us understand.

Absolutely.  The other thing is Switched shows the character of Travis, who is really bullied by his parents, ultimately.  They don’t have any relationship, any sort of connection.  So I just think it’s important to find an adult who you can really connect with.

According to our information you have a hearing impairment.  Is that correct?

Yes it is.  I have something called Ménière’s disease.

This show seems to be the only show that’s dealing with the deaf community in a large way.  Do you think Hollywood is being a little bit slow with representing the deaf community as a whole?

Well, I think that in the past if we saw a deaf character in a mainstream way it could be a one-off character, like a one episode thing.  Marlee Matlin obviously paved the way for deaf actors in a large way and also that show Private Eye in years past.  The actors who work on Switched at Birth, the people who work on Switched at Birth, are just excited for the opportunity to really pave the way in showing the deaf community in a large way.  I think that Switched at Birth does it right.  They do it with tact.  They do it honestly, and they are really good about their facts, and so I think the deaf community is just really appreciative to have a show that represents them accurately and well.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from fans about the show and particularly about your betrayals? 

You know all the feedback that we’ve received has just been so overwhelmingly positive.  When I read the pilot for Switched I knew that we had something special, but it has blossomed into something that I’m really proud.  It’s something to be proud of and the fans are so appreciative and they are so positive.  It’s just been really, really cool to have a Twitter, for example, and be able to stay connected with fans.  I love seeing things on Twitter like “my cousin is deaf and because of Switched at Birth I’ve learned some sign language and now I have a relationship with him.”  That is so cool to me.  Or people who say, “Because of Switched at Birth I want to master in sign language and psychology so I can be a deaf psychologist or an interpreter or an ASL teacher.”  Or in any way I think that we are opening people’s eyes in a large way and it’s really cool.

How has your hearing impairment either helped or hindered your career as an actress?

I would say that the one thing that Switched at Birth has really been proud in teaching is that [a] deaf [person] can do everything that a hearing person can.  For me, my hearing loss is a little bit strange.  My problem is the hearing fluctuations.  Sometimes I can hear okay, sometimes I can’t.  It can be an obstacle, but I surround myself with people who are loving and understanding.  In my career and my professional life I think that I am eligible for pretty much every role.  I feel like I can take on anything so I feel like it really hasn’t hindered me other than I have to be patient with myself.

What ordinary everyday challenges do you face because of your hearing impairment?

Well, like I said sometimes I can hear okay, sometimes I can’t.  The other problem with Ménière’s Disease is pressure in the ear and ringing in the ear and there’s also a touch of vertigo so I can’t go to the rollercoaster parks and scream on top of the wild rides with all my friends, but it’s really not so bad.  I just try to stay positive.  My sister has Ménière’s Disease as well so she sets a really good example for me, and I’m just thankful for it because without the Ménière’s Disease I wouldn’t have the opportunity to play Daphne, so it’s ultimately not so bad.

What drew you to the part of Daphne? 

I think that Switched at Birth has this incredible opportunity to really bring a deaf character in to an audience at home on a weekly basis.  I think we have a tendency to be afraid of something that we’re unfamiliar with and the hearing world and the deaf world are so separate right now.  I think that Switched at Birth does an incredible job of bridging the gap between the two worlds.  Daphne is just this light embodiment of happiness and whatever obstacle gets thrown her way she handles it with grace and tries to always do the right thing.  I’m really proud that Switched at Birth is a family show ultimately.  There’s not a ton of promiscuousness and we try to do the right thing for the most part.  There’s no shortage of drama, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s a family show.  I’m just really proud of Switched at Birth and I get to work with great actors, and it just really is a dream come true.

How hard was it to learn to speak with the impediment for the part of Daphne?

It was quite difficult actually.  I was lucky enough to learn sign language when I was in high school so the sign language part was sort of tucked under my belt and I was pretty confident there.  But I went in to the first audition without an accent.  We talked about putting an accent on and [the show creator] Lizzy [Weiss] and I talked about whether I could do it and do it respectfully, and so I did a lot of research.  I had been involved with the deaf community for many years so I was familiar with it, I watched a lot of documentaries, my sister and I—as I mentioned, she has Ménière’s s Disease.  She’s also an ASL teacher so she’s been involved with the deaf culture for quite some time.  We sat down with an audiogram and mapped out Daphne’s specific hearing loss, then showed sounds that based on that hearing loss she might be able to say or not say, so like a lot of sounds become Bs.  I made my family crazy for weeks because I only spoke in the accent and had to get it perfect, and I think it paid off.

You’ve been acting for a while now.  You’ve played characters from Annie in high school to Veronica Mars and some commercials sprinkled in there since your career has started.  What has been your favorite type of role to play?

The favorite role I’ve ever played is Daphne, hands down.  It’s the most challenging role I’ve ever played.  To speak two languages at the same time and speak with an accent, it’s a lot to juggle in your mind, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  I look back on the first episodes of Switched at Birth and I feel like we have collectively just  gotten so gelled together.  We’re really a team and I feel so grateful to work with such talented actors, and I think it’s really elevated me and I feel like I’ve only gotten stronger.  I look forward to doing that and keeping that up and it’s great.

Now I think you’ve made about 30 episodes roughly.

Yes on 30 and 20 to go.

If you could look back your character’s evolved an awful lot and could you tell us—what would you say was the most challenging scene you’ve had play so far?  It’s a hard question isn’t it?

It is a hard question.  There’s a scene in the finale episode airing Monday, October 22 with Regina, and we are butting heads, and it’s a really emotional scene.  It’s really, really powerful and it’s really strong, and it stands out to me as one of those experiences.  A lot of times I really like those heavy, dramatic, yelling, lots-of-emotions scenes.   You know, it’s sort of cathartic.  But that day, I just remember feeling like how much I love Constance Marie as a person, as an actress, as a woman, and as a role model.  I love her, and having this scene with her was really very hard for me.  There’s also another scene that stands out, on a lighter note, where I have to eat crickets, and it was really hard!  I had to eat two crickets each take and Justin and I are sitting there and I’m doing okay.  I have like three under my belt and there’s probably ten more takes that we have to do, and I’m doing okay.  Justin looks at me and he goes, “Look it’s just a leg” and he sticks out his tongue and there’s this huge leg on his tongue and I couldn’t do it anymore.  He ruined me.  He wrecked it for me because I’m okay and then he just destroyed me.  It was really hard to do the rest of those takes.

What would you say is your favorite scene?  Like what was the most fun to shoot? 

My favorite scenes are the ones where everybody is in them like D.W. [Moffett] and Constance [Marie] and Lea [Thompson] and Ivonne [Coll] who’s the grandma and it’s like the big party scenes.  They take forever to shoot plus all the coverage and stuff like that and plus we’re all giggly and happy, and it’s a blast.  We have a lot of fun but yeah those are—I can’t even pick one out because they’re just all so much fun to shoot.  Maybe the family portrait scene—when Emmett was taking a family picture.  That one was really fun.  David [Paymer] was the director of that episode and so he’s just calling out random poses for us to do, that was a blast.

You and Vanessa [Marano] seem to have like really great chemistry in your interviews but you don’t always get along so well on the show.  Do you think that because you guys get along so well it makes it easier for you to have intense and angry scenes with her, or do you think it makes it harder? 

I think it’s easier. As soon as they call “cut” we start laughing at each other, and we have to get back in to character but for the most part there’s only been one moment where we couldn’t get back in to character.  It was just a giggle fest and it took a solid probably 20 minutes for us to get the take that we could move on from because we just kept breaking character.  It’s in the finale.  We throw each other a look and every time we looked at each other, like I would have to look at a specific part of her mouth so that I wouldn’t laugh.  And she would have to look at a specific part of my nose so that we—you know we couldn’t look each other in the eye because it would just be a problem.

With such a large cast are there any special challenges you have to endure on that set? 

Well, I think everybody has a lot of personalities on our show and so it’s fun when we all get meshed together, and I think the challenge is that we want to see each other and we end up spending extra hours on set.  Constance will just hang out in her trailer or I’ll hang out in my trailer so I can see Vanessa for a little bit.  It’s a good environment up there and I think we try to handle things in stride and stay positive, but there’s really—maybe the commute.  People don’t like the commute.

Are there any actors that you have a special rapport with? 

Probably Vanessa.  We bonded over the fear that the other one might be less cool than they are.  We anticipated having to spend lots and lots of time together, and so we were like, “Oh man, I hope she doesn’t suck.”  And after we found that out from each other it was just sort of easy going.  It was easy peezy and she comes over.  We have what we call family dinner night.  She’ll come over, and we’ll watch reality television, my boyfriend, her, me, and our roommate, and the dog, of course, because he’s part of the family dinner.  It’s just a good time.  We do it as often as we can.

Is it like a mom and dad on the set then for you guys? 

It’s weird because there are four moms and dads, and they’re all—it’s just as confusing as the show but I feel like from the very beginning Constance took me under her wing and at the very first press [junket] … where there’s 15 outlets you’re just super intuitive and super scared.  Constance just took my hand and was like let’s do this, and set a really good example for me.  And Lea has just been so loving and nurturing and she’s so much like her character Kathryn and just receives everyone with open arms, and Marlee as well.  I just look up to these women and I think that they are such wonderful people.

So there is a lot of drama on the show between the families and between friends and with relationships.  Daphne deals with it so well.  Are you like Daphne in that sense when it comes to coping with drama and fighting with people you care about? 

I think everybody wants to be like Daphne or maybe everybody wants to be like Toby.  Toby is really level headed.  But yeah I think in a crisis you’ve just got to try to keep your head and plan as much as you can and I don’t know.

So who would you like to see Daphne get hooked up with? 

I don’t know.  Daphne is so strong and she’s pretty much a force to be reckoned with so I think she’s pretty [well] matched with Chef Jeff.  I think he’s a very confident man and I think she sees a lot of things that she looks for in him, but I don’t know.  Ultimately I think that she’s going to find somebody but I don’t know if we know him yet.

Daphne and Emmett seem to be a perfect match so where do you see their relationship going and do you think there’s a possibility of them two hooking up? 

I think that Daphne and Emmett are perfectly matched for each other.  They have a wonderful friendship and an incredible understanding of what the other has gone through.  Emmett saved her basically.  They’ve gone through so much.  I think they are like brother and sister quite a bit.  I know that Daphne—I think Daphne sees him in a different way after the incident with Simone.  She understands what he is going through, and definitely has forgiven him but I don’t know.  I think that there’s always potential for romance and true love and Daphne definitely has love for Emmett in her heart, but I think that—me personally, Katie, I’m a fan of … is Emmett, if you will.

How did you react when you found out Daphne was going to get romantic with Chef Jeff and what’s your off-screen relationship like with him?

First of all, I think that ABC Family does a great job of casting eye candy, and I couldn’t have been happier to enjoy scenes with Justin Bruening.  He’s an excellent actor.  He is such a doll and he’s so much fun off screen.  It’s a little bit odd to go from talking about family and just normal everyday life to making out with him, but I was excited for the opportunity to share some on-screen time with him.  I was a little bit nervous about the storyline, but I think that as long as you show there are consequences to every action and this relationship could be considered promiscuous and so I think that as the finale episode comes there are a lot of things that are exposed and there’s always repercussions.

How would you describe their relationship and where you think it’s going?

Well, I think Daphne has very high hopes for it and Daphne wants it to continue and Chef Jeff is kind of on the same page, so as long as the obstacles don’t get in their way, they would be optimistic about it.

Your TV dad Gilles Marini is doing real good on Dancing with the Stars. Have you been watching it and what do you think of his skills?

Oh, I think Gilles is the best.  I think Dancing with the Stars in general is really, really fun.  My mom is a huge fan of Dancing with the Stars and so actually this week she came to Los Angeles and on Monday we got to go to a live taping.  We saw him do a new thing and his face is so dramatic and his movements are so graceful.  I just think Gilles is a great guy and I think he’s a wonderful dancer.  Yeah, I’m Team Gilles all the way.

According to our information you’ve expressed interest in being a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.  Do you still want to do that?

It was crazy because when we were there I got to see all the dancers up close, and I looked down and these poor girls.  Their toes are all taped together and their ankles are just hurting.  They just look like it’s so painful, and I think it would be really, really fun.  It seems like it’s a lot of work but as long as it worked out with scheduling and stuff I don’t know.  I think it would be really fun but we would have to see.

Is there any other ABC or Disney affiliated show that you’d like to be on? 

That’s a good question.  Well, I know that my mom wants me to be on Dancing with the Stars.  She’s a big fan of that.  I think I want to be on The Neighbors and the reason I want to be on The Neighbors is because some of our crew from Switched at Birth got stolen by The Neighbors so I want to work with the crew from The Neighbors.

Are there any characters in the future that you would really like to portray? 

I think I just want to keep working.  I love the opportunity that Switched has given me to kind of springboard into a career, and I just don’t want to stop.  I love work.  I would love to play some sort of really awesome action hero cool gal, chick, lady and kicking butt and taking names.  I think that would be really cool, but yeah just anything.  I want to work with Judd Apatow one day.  I want to work with Christopher Nolan someday.  I don’t have big aspirations or anything.  I just want to work with everyone.

I actually was tipped off by my friend Sean Hemeon that you’re doing a show with him and actually a lot of really awesome people—My Synthesized Life.


I’m curious, what can you tell us about that? 

I am really excited about My Synthesized Life.  I think the script is super funny.  It’s about a guy who magically gets this voice change so he talks in auto-tune when he gets nervous, and so I run across this character at a spoken word contest sort of environment, and my character is a poet, and a little bit boy-crazy.  I think the script is really funny, and I’m super pleased to be a part of it.

And your dog Gus makes an appearance in your little promo video you made, and I’m asking a hard hitting question.  I’m sure all your fans want to hear about Gus. 

I hope so, Gus is my favorite!  Gus is actually deaf, which is crazy, and we didn’t know that when we got him.  We taught him sign language, so he knows about 20 signs.  He can sit, and lay down, and eat, and we’re proud parents.

I understand last year in the Disney Christmas Parade you were a part of that. 

I was yes.

Can you tell me what you were doing there? 

Yeah.  I signed along with “Oh Holy Night” and Sean Berdy and I were there, and it was actually really nice because we filmed it a little bit in advance and so we filmed it on my birthday.  I got to spend the day at Disneyland and the morning was—it was just so much fun.  It wasbeautiful, and it’s a little bit funny to see everybody in Christmas hats and Santa Claus gear on November 6th but it was fun.  It was really nice.

What’s your favorite Disney character? 

The Little Mermaid Ariel.

Favorite Disney park? 

Disneyland, hands down.  My family grew up doing that every chance we could so it’s the happiest place on earth for sure.

Have you visited any other ones? 

I have yes.  I’ve been to Epcot and Magic Kingdom and California Adventure and I’m a big Disney fan so I just think Disneyland is the first and the best.

That’s great.  All right, favorite Disney ride? 

Indiana Jones.  I remember the summer it came out my family made a special trip to Disneyland from Colorado so it was a long ride.  The part where the boulder comes down and it looks like it’s going to come at you I really thought it was real and I was screaming bloody murder.  Like I thought I was going to die.  It was terrifying.

Oh, that’s good.  All right, how about a favorite Disney food? 

Okay so at Disneyland they have the Blue Bayou [Restaurant] and my family—every time we had to get the Monte Cristo.  It was always a Monte Cristo sandwich.

What is your favorite Disney movie? 

Well, actually it’s not The Little Mermaid.  I wouldn’t say it’s The Little Mermaid.  My favorite Disney movie would have to be maybe The Incredibles.  I don’t know.  There are so many good ones.  I’m a really big Pixar fan so if it’s Disney Pixar I’d do The Incredibles or if it’s straight Disney maybe Beauty and the Beast.  I don’t know.  Aladdin.  It’d be Aladdin, that’s the one.  It’s Aladdin.

Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted: October 20, 2012.

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