Constance Marie on "Switched at Birth"

By Jamie Ruby

Constance MarieABC Family's new series, Switched at Birth, follows two teenage girls who as newborns were acidentally switched. The first girl, Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano), grew up in a two-parent home with a brother, and the other, Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc), with her single mother, played by Constance Marie. Due to meningitis, Daphne lost her hearing as a child. Now aware, both families must learn to deal with the situation.

Marie recently took time to talk to journalists about the new series, which airs Mondays on ABC Family.

ABC Family's Q&A Session
Switched at Birth
Constance Marie

July 13, 2011

Constance MarieQUESTION: I know that you have been involved with the whole green movement and everything behind that. How has that actually played in to your life in terms of the new baby and everything like that?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Oh, my gosh, honey, can we talk? I mean, there are many, many things that I realized when I was even trying to get pregnant that impact the body, and impact body chemistry. So, when it came to dealing with my baby, everything from using cloth diapers to soaps with no sodium lauryl sulfate in them, which supposedly causes cancer, and trying to keep cut down on the plastic as much as possible; all organic food. She hasn't had her vaccines yet. She is now two and a half; she is going to start doing that. I mean, I've got like a wheelbarrow of alternative information, if anybody wants to know any.

QUESTION: Let me ask you for the show itself, is there anything special that you do green in that area?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Well, it's a little bit crazy, and I think the transportation department tells secrets about me behind my back; but, I do have my own recycling bin set up inside my trailer. Where all my paper, and I'm very proud of the production because they recycle all their paper that they have. We have bins all over the place for plastic bottles and stuff. A lot of it is plastic; a lot of this stuff is disposable, so I set up my own bin in my room and I have my paper, my plastic, and I separate it and I keep it in there and every once in a while the transportation fairy empties it for me as a hint to get rid of it. Doing that, and one of the things that we started in our makeup and hair room is we all bring our own cup, so that way we don't use so much paper and plastic cups. We have our own coffee. I donated a coffee machine; so that way everybody can have fresh coffee without having to necessarily go to Starbuck's. It's a really good, good machine.

QUESTION: Well that's fantastic.

CONSTANCE MARIE: Oh yeah. We wash them in the sink there; and you know try to cut down on everything.

QUESTION: What do you think is the single most important thing that you want everybody to get from the show?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Okay. I would have to say that the most important thing about this show is, the most number one thing, is that it literally teaches America and merges the hearing world with the deaf community. Since the deaf community is fifteen million strong, the fact that it merges those two seamlessly, I think it's a huge gift to America. I really do; and that's one of the reasons I'm a part of it is because it's never before have there been like three major leads on a show. You know, in particular, my character, Regina, bridges the hearing world and the deaf world just seamlessly. Of course, behind the scenes I'm working my butt off learning sign language. I would have to say that's the single most important thing, but then if you go into like the three other things behind that is that it calls into question the nature versus nurture question, the racial differences, cultural differences, socioeconomic differences in families. How, no matter if you're a single parent family, a two-parent family, you have money, no money, you're Puerto Rican or you're white, every body's got issues. And how the conflict comes from that. I mean, I think that's amazing. It is just a melting pot of drama. It's fabulous.

QUESTION: How did you prepare for this role of working in the deaf community?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Oh my gosh; sign language boot camp. I didn't know anything about it. I watched a tremendous amount of documentaries and I have a wonderful master's certified sign language teacher, an ALS instructor who came and literally beat me into submission. I say that in a loving way, but really, I had to hunker down and essentially learn a language that I had no clue as to anything about it. It's so funny because in my Mommy and Me group with my young baby, all the moms, every single mom, taught their child sign language, except for me and of course, I'm the one who ends up having to do a TV series where I have to become fluent in sign language in a matter of weeks. Ironic.

QUESTION: What do you hope people learn from the show?

CONSTANCE MARIE: What do I hope they learn? Well, I hope they learn, number one, that deaf people are just like everybody else except they speak fabulously with their hands. I hope not that they learn, but I hope they question as to what a family really is and how it doesn't necessarily have to be like the perfect mom and dad and 2.5 children, how families are completely different, but yet, the love underneath that is the most important thing however you skin that family cat.

Constance MariQUESTION: Regarding sign language, you said you went through sign language boot camp, is there an interpreter on the set with you?

CONSTANCE MARIE: We have that same master's certified sign language instructor. We call him the signing police, but we love him. He actually has to monitor all the sign language stuff. I'm taught directly through him, and then we have Katie Leclerc, who is fluent. She plays Daphne. And then we have Sean Berdy, who plays Emmett, and he's fluent; and then we also have Marlee Matlin, and she's fluent; but everybody has different ways of signing. So, it's like if we were doing a show in Texas and we all had to have the same dialect, that's essentially what Anthony, his name's Anthony Natale, the sign language instructor, he monitors and makes sure that we're all speaking the same dialect so there is uniformity to all of it. So we create this fabulous world in Kansas.

QUESTION: Sounds wonderful and as someone who has a sister who is a sign language interpreter, I thank you for so positively representing this community.

CONSTANCE MARIE: Oh, thank you so much, and you know what? Please tell her I'm doing the best I can. I will become fluent one day; I'm just not there yet.

QUESTION: Yes, she knows. She appreciates it. She watches every week.

CONSTANCE MARIE: Does she do anything in particular? Because one of the things I don't think people realize is that it is a huge muscle to learn how to use your arm like that. Does she do anything, as far as like, to maintain, like putting it in ice or heat packs? Because I've heard that interpreters, when you are learning really intensely, you get pain and there are ways to alleviate that pain. Does she do anything in particular, or has she been doing it forever?

QUESTION: She's been doing it for so long now that it's just second nature to her right now. She was seventy percent deaf when she was a little girl, and then she had surgery for her hearing, and then she just was doing it and she just kept on doing it ever since, and now she is actually in Disney World working as a sign language interpreter for the internship.

CONSTANCE MARIE: That is so cool! There can't be a better place to work!

QUESTION: Now that you are a mom how is that relationship similar to the relationship you have each of the young adults who play your children in Switched at Birth?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Oh my gosh. I think I'm a little more Type A and a little more bossy and a little more controlling and way more mothering. I was always that way and people used to always say to me, "God, Constance, you'll make a great mother some day," and I had no idea what they were talking about. But it was that they just wanted me to back off from telling them not to smoke and take a sweater and make sure that they eat properly; but now I have a baby, you know and some of our actors are young, I just do. It's so funny. I just did a yoga with Sean Berdy the other day. I invited him to my yoga class.

QUESTION: He's fantastic. We're big fans.

CONSTANCE MARIE: He is so sweet and it was funny because I felt so protective and so mothering of him and I took him for ice cream. It was awesome.

Switched at BirthQUESTION: How does the the role of Regina is different from, or similar to, the role of Marcella and Selena?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Marcella, well first of all she was a real person, and she was based upon Marcella Quintanilla, Selena's mom. Marcella was much more docile, and she worked everything kind of behind the scenes, and she was much more laid back overtly, but then kind of controlled things underneath. Marcella had Abraham Quintanilla, the father, to be the bad cop and so she could be good cop. Regina needs to be both; so she has to be a lot more up front, a lot more in your face, and she also is a recovering alcoholic, so she has that sort of disability, I guess it would be. She has to do everything; it's all on her shoulders. So she's a lot more in your face and if I were to like, I don't know, do a celebrity boxing match or celebrity death match, I'd put my money on Regina.

QUESTION: I would love to see you break dance on the show. Is there any chance that you are going to get an opportunity to share with us your awesome dance skills?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Oh my gosh. You know what, the thing about break dancing is - it is for the young - and my break dancing is broke, okay. I'm 45 years old and we don't age very well, but a little bit of salsa might not hurt me. I might be able to bring a little, because I was also in that movie Salsa. I might be able to bring a little bit of salsa.

QUESTION: Do you have a guilty pleasure TV show and would you tell us why you like it?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Guilty pleasure? Well, True Blood is the first thing that comes to me. Is that a guilty pleasure? You know, it's so crazy is because if that, and Dexter, if those scripts had been given to me, I would have probably thought, "You know what, this world is a little too dark for me," you know like all those crime shows and stuff. They're really hard for me because you pay a price living in that world all the time, but to visit it and watch it and watch Sookie Stackhouse and Bill get it on, you know, in vampire lust is pretty awesome.

QUESTION: What sort of preparation is the cast given about deaf culture? Like did you guys learn about how name signs are given? And how deaf people use phones in advance, or do you kind of learn those things as they come up in the show?

CONSTANCE MARIE: You know, it's interesting because I really was blessed to be able to work with my sign language coach well before, like about three weeks before we started production. His first phone call to me was on the, I guess it is the video phone? So I got exposed to that early on and I also got exposed to the name sign thing early on. I kept trying to pick my name sign and nobody would let me. Darn it. I want Regina's name sign to be the same sign for beautiful but nobody would buy it. So I lost and I learned that a deaf person had to give you an actual name sign so mine is a dancing C, because I was a dancer back in the day. What else did I learn? I also learned that deaf people, at least this is what Anthony and what I've seen, are very straightforward; like they don't mince words, and I love that, and it's also very, very consistent with my Regina character.

QUESTION: Fun, well as you learn ASL, do you have a favorite sign?

CONSTANCE MARIE: I think my favorite sign is "beautiful" because it's just done with such flair across your face, like a dance move. It's like when I watch Marlee Matlin sign, they're all my favorite because she is just a sexy signer; the sexiest signer I've ever seen is Marlee Matlin. She does this full body sign. It's beautiful to watch; and I'm like, "What did you say," and she says, "I had to go to the bathroom!" It's not even anything like really exotic that she's saying, it just looks gorgeous.

Switched at BirthQUESTION: Do you have a favorite or memorable scene coming up that you can tell us a little bit about?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Oh, let me see. I just have to say that the episodes that we have coming up, Regina gets busy. I guess that's my heavy handed way of saying she gets to go out on dates and things.

QUESTION: Well great. I'll look forward to that.

CONSTANCE MARIE: She also has big secrets to be revealed. Oh my gosh, there's so much stuff coming down the pike, it's unbelievable. If I look back on it, I just think, oh my god, these shows are just getting better and better, and more complex, and I think everybody is going to, we won't leave anybody unfulfilled, that's for sure.

QUESTION: What has it been like working with Marlee Matlin? I know you mentioned her earlier, and did you know her prior to Switched at Birth?

CONSTANCE MARIE: I had no idea. I had never met her before. I mean, I was a big fan from what I did know and, in doing part of my research I watched Children of a Lesser God, and I just thought, oh my god, she's absolutely amazing and she is going to play my BFF! Oh my gosh, I'm not worthy.

That was the first thought that went through my head, and then when I met her, she could not have been more warm and sweeter and smarter and funnier and we both this rat nasty same sense of humor. She was just incredibly, incredibly supportive of me and I just never felt judged by her; you know, like I was less than as far as my signing is concerned. She was just awesome. She is just like the best pretend BFF to have and we're also twitter junkies. We talk via twitter all the time.

QUESTION: Which character do you see more of yourself in, Bay or Daphne?

CONSTANCE MARIE: Oh, I think I'm a hybrid. I think I was young and rebellious and artistic and feisty, but I also had that wanting to work really hard and do well in school, even though I was kind of average; but considering my circumstances growing up, I was the good kid in my household. I never wanted to get in trouble, so I did both of them.

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