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Interview with Katie LeClerc of "Switched
at Birth" on ABC Family 2/26/13
ABC Family’s Q&A with Katie Leclerc – Switched at Birth
Moderator: Could you please describe for us the Gallaudet
protest in 1988 and their significance?
Katie: Absolutely. In 1988 the students who had been
attending Gallaudet University I believe for just under 100
years had finally gotten fed up with always having a hearing
person be in control of the school, the dean, the
administrators, the board. All of the decisions were made by
hearing people and the deaf students at the time rallied
together and decided to protest the oppression, as they
felt, and shut down the school. They didn’t go to classes.
They gated up the fences so of like occupy Gallaudet in ’88,
and they actually achieved what they were hoping for. They
got a deaf president and everybody went back to classes and
everything was okay.
Moderator: When did you first learn about Gallaudet and how
did it make you feel?
Katie: I learned sign language when I was 17 in high school
as a foreign language elective, and they told us the story
of Gallaudet when I was in that class, and I felt inspired.
I felt like here’s a group of kids who feel a certain way
collectively and took it upon themselves to make their
voices be heard in a time when no one was even listening to
deaf people. I think that it goes to show you that if you
really put your mind to it you can achieve extraordinary
things in the face of oppression, and these students
definitely set out to do that.
Moderator: Monday, March 4th is a really special event for
you and your cast. Can you give us an idea what that’s
about, the “All-American Sign Language” episode?
Katie: Absolutely. I think from the start of Switched at
Birth people have always responded incredibly well to our
all-silent scenes where you really get a perspective in to
what a deaf person’s daily life might be like. I think that
it’s an interesting concept that hasn’t really been seen on
television before so Switched at Birth definitely paves the
way. I’m very proud of ABC Family and Switched at Birth for
even taking that a step farther.
The episode is going to be structured in the sense that
there’s a deaf person in every scene, so every scene that
the audience is watching from their living room is told from
the perspective of that deaf person in the scene. I think
the first scene has some dialog and the very last scene
might have a bit of dialog, but the majority of the entire
episode is silent and based in American Sign Language.
Obviously there are characters that don’t sign so you see
the deaf person in that scene struggle to understand what’s
being said because they’re not making it quite as user
friendly as they have in the past with the captions. It’s
all going to be captioned and there will be sound but
there’s no spoken dialog from one actor to another actor.
It’s incredibly exciting. It’s such a huge risk that ABC
Family is taking. I absolutely applaud them. It’s something
that I think our audience is really excited about. People on
Twitter have definitely been all abuzz about it, and I know
that the cast members are very proud of it. We worked
tirelessly on this next episode, the March 4th episode. I
mean the days were so long. We just stayed until we got the
best product that we could, andmy hat is off to the
production of Switched at Birth and the network ABC Family
for really putting in due diligence and a lot of hard work.
Moderator: Do you see this episode as kind of a benchmark for
even further episodes or even other TV shows?
Katie: I think that Switched at Birth is a benchmark for
putting an example out there that our world is very diverse.
Our world is not black and white and not everyone is 90
pounds and walks around in fabulous clothing all the time. I
think that our show shows diversity in a multitude of ways,
economically, racially, just what a family looks like, and
how diverse that can be compared to each other’s families.
I think that Switched at Birth has gone a long way in paving
the road and showing that not every character on a
television show has to be picture perfect. I think that we
have seen deaf characters in the past sort of in a one-off
kind of co-star, guest star sort of way, and Switched takes
that even farther. You really get to have a relationship
with these deaf characters just as much as you would a
Moderator: What was the most challenging part of making the
“American Sign Language” episode?
Katie: I would have to say it’s kind of interesting because
we always have an interpreter on set for every deaf
character that’s in the episode. Each individual person has
their own individual interpreter, and when you have a scene
with nine deaf characters all of a sudden there are nine
extra bodies that weren’t always there.
I think that American Sign Language is fascinating because
the language itself if so open to interpretation. There are
so many different ways to say the same thing but with
different emphasis and different words and different
grammatical structures and all of them are correct. To me it
was fascinating to look out and see nine versions of the
same sentence in varying degrees of differences. I think
that was fascinating, and I think it posed an extra
challenge on shooting that episode just in the fact that
there were more bodies. There were more people to go through
and had to go through multiple languages before the message
was absolutely received between the director and the actor.
I think that the time and the diligence and you had to pay
attention to each individual signer, and it’s a little bit
different than closing your eyes and listening to everyone.
There’s a lot of moving parts literally, hands are flying
everywhere. I think it was extra challenging with the time
and with the extra people, but I think that the end product
shows that we had extra bodies and shows that we had extra
effort put in to that episode because it really sparkles, it
Moderator: Are there any other issues that you would like to
see Switched at Birth address on an episode?
Katie: I think in the pilot episode there’s a very, very,
very, very opinionated argument whether or not deaf and hard
of hearing children should receive cochlear implants. That
was sort of touched upon in the pilot. The Kennish’s were
very adamant about giving Daphne as many opportunities that
they could; that included giving Daphne a cochlear implant.
Regina and Daphne and Melody’s perspective was different
because the cochlear implant is something that certain deaf
people see as a limiter in continuing the deaf community,
and they see it sort of as a problem within the deaf
I think Switched at Birth started to touch on that. I’d love
to see how they would expand that. I think that we approach
the deaf community with tact and respect, and I think it’s
such a fascinating argument that I would love to see them
tackle both sides.
Moderator: Thank you so much for speaking with us. One of the
really interesting storylines this season has been the
introduction of the pilot program and it sort of provided a
lot of conflict for the characters, and in particular with
this new character Noah who has Meniere’s disease and is
possibly going to go deaf and is in the process of that. How
has that storyline affected you and have you had any input
Katie: The Meniere’s disease storyline I love. I have
Meniere’s disease for the listeners who are not aware of
that. I was diagnosed when I was 20 years old with Meniere’s
disease and it’s definitely a part of my daily life. Attacks
range in varying degrees of intensity and frequency and it’s
so sporadic and unpredictable that it’s definitely a
challenge for me. Adding the additional character Noah who
has Meniere’s disease I think has gone a long way in
potentially helping to explain my position to viewers and
audience members who are unaware. It’s easy for me to just
go “Oh yeah that guy, I got that.”
But I think that in addition to that Meniere’s disease
affects like three million Americans, and so many people
don’t know what it is and don’t know how to treat it and are
very much afraid of it. I think that having a character just
like having a deaf character and a deaf audience member to
watch they can see what that person struggles through and
how they excel. I think that having someone with Meniere’s
disease is much more specific hearing loss and more specific
to certain audience members. I think it’s great because I
think it shows that no matter what your problem is you can
rise above it. You can chose to get angry about it and get
in a fight with your friends about it because you can’t hear
in that moment or you can go the higher route (Noah) and you
can try to figure out some way to compensate for your
hearing loss in that moment.
I applaud very much ABC Family for putting that additional
character in. I did have a little to do with the storyline.
They asked me what my personal experience was. Some of the
things that Noah experiences are personal to me and some of
the things that Noah experiences are generalized for
patients with Meniere’s disease. I love the storyline. I
love Max Lloyd Jones who plays Noah. I’m just really happy
that character is part of our show.
Moderator: Has anything really surprised or challenged you
that was brand new to you?
Katie: You know what I really appreciate about this season is
the way that this season started. The deaf and the hearing
program both being at Carlton simultaneously is obviously
challenging for many of the deaf characters. What I found
interesting that Switched at Birth chose to approach it in
the way that the deaf characters are represented towards the
end of the season, but in the beginning of the season you
got to see discrimination in a different way.
Bay was discriminated against because she was hearing where
many of the deaf characters are discriminated against every
day because they’re deaf. They don’t even realize that they
flipped the coin, and they’re making fun of this poor girl
for something that they’ve learned how to compensate
without. I think that approach was a very interesting
approach. I think that many televisions shows would try to
paint the deaf character as the sympathetic character, and
yet it worked with having Bay be bullied at school and feel
very vulnerable there. I think that was a great approach. I
think it was a very interesting way to do it.
Moderator: How do you think that this episode is going to
impact ASL and how people view it?
Katie: I think Switched has done a great job of integrating
ASL and makes people really, really excited about it. This
particular episode could go one way or the other. I think
that when we first started Switched at Birth I was nervous
that the majority of our audience members would shy away
from the subtitles, and not being used to closed caption
might feel a little bit like, “Wait a minute, what’s going
on here?” Stereotypically subtitled films don’t always do as
well in America and I went, “Oh, what are we doing here?”
I think that this episode has the opportunity to fly away
home with this great idea that American Sign Language is not
only useful in real life it’s convenient. You know you can
have private conversations in a room full of hearing people
and nobody can hear. I think that American Sign Language is
fascinating, and I think that the majority of audience
members are just going to fall in love with it even more. I
think that what we’re doing is innovative and new and
pushing boundaries yet again. I hope the audience is going
to respond with gratitude and with applause and waving their
hands in the air just like the deaf community does. I think
that we have the ability to build a bridge between the deaf
and the hearing world. I think this episode in particular is
really just propelling that idea forward that we are all
equal. We are all the same and there doesn’t have to be a
dividing line between us.
Moderator: If you were Daphne in the situation of this
episode do you think you would handle it the same way she
does or differently?
Katie: I don’t know how I would handle it. Daphne definitely
sees this opportunity and before she even realizes she’s a
leader she’s leading this organized revolution. She sort of
gets thrust in to this opportunity of being able to have a
voice for the rest of the students and being able to speak
out against the students. I think that Daphne sets a great
example in that when you see something that you don’t feel
is right speak up.
If you are able and have the cognizant ability to make your
voice be heard and make a difference and make life better
and easier for a group of people that you genuinely care
about I think that everyone should follow in those
footsteps. I think that Daphne sets a great example in that
regard. I’d like to think that I would be as strong, but
Daphne really does it right and I definitely commend her
Moderator: How did doing an all-ASL show came about.
Katie: The writers are very tight lipped about their
developing the episode. We didn’t find out that the ASL
episode was going to happen until right before the TCA
(Television Critics Association) event where we announced to
everyone that it was going to happen so it was kind of a
surprise to the actors; we’re like, “We’re doing what” and
not only are we doing all ASL in that episode there’s a deaf
rap in the episode. All the deaf kids get together and they
rap together, and that was a really big challenge. Also, for
me in particular now that my character is going to play the
role of Juliet in the play I also had to do Shakespearean
sign language, which is a whole other animal.
It was a very ambitious episode. I think that the actors
when we first heard we were excited but a little bit
nervous, and then when we saw the script we were a whole lot
nervous. Thankfully our director for this episode is one of
our very favorite directors on set. Steve Miner directed the
pilot and many of our favorite episodes along the way. I
think that it went smoothly. I think that it could not have
I think that the tireless efforts from the writers to
constantly update the scripts and make them better as much
as possible even if that means two minutes before we’re
shooting, which is not uncommon, but we never stopped. We
were always trying to innovate a way to make this scene
better. This is great. How can we make it better? I think
that’s what is so special about this episode is that
everyone recognized that this is the one; this is the one
that defines Switched at Birth. This is our star.
We’re only 39 episodes in at this point, but this is the
moment where—this is what we’ve worked for to be able to put
an episode out there that is all silent and loud at the same
time in a way that might be unexpected. I think that we’re
all very excited. I speak for every cast member when I say
we will be watching on Monday and we are very excited to see
how this turns out.
Moderator: Can you talk a little bit about what it was like,
maybe one of your favorite moments of filming this episode?
Katie: Absolutely. I knew exactly the moment you started to
ask the question. There’s a scene where it’s actually in the
rap scene that I just touched on. That scene sort of builds
in to this moment where the students—there’s I think six
deaf students hanging outside the school at night, and they
look at each other and they are talking about how unfair
this is; how absolutely devastated that they all are that
they’re going to be split up. How they feel like their bond
is strong enough to stay together, and in that moment
realize that they are strong enough just exactly as they
are. They don’t need to be split up.
They have the power to really tell everyone exactly what
they want and they have the power to be heard. I think that
it is a defining moment. It’s a defining moment for the kids
in that scene because they understand that they’re stronger
together than they are as one, and that this is absolutely
within their power to change. I think that every teenager
has that moment in their life where they go, "Wait a minute,
this is not cool. I’ve got to do something about it.” And to
see that moment just captured on scene six different times
in the same moment but in six different faces, I think that
it’s incredibly powerful.
Even as I was reading the script, you know you can sort of
hear the music build when you’re reading the script and you
can tell that this is an emotional scene. This is the
defining moment for this episode, that these kids are now
taking matters in to their own hands and it is so powerful.
It is so awesome. I’m really, really proud of that moment.
Moderator: Was this a show all of the cast had been looking
forward to or was this more kind of a spotlight for the cast
that are hearing impaired?
Katie: I would say it definitely is a spotlight for the deaf
cast members that we have. The deaf cast members that we
have are so lovely. They’re such wonderful kids and they
bring such life and energy to the set. When it’s the family
we laugh, and we giggle, and we have a great time together.
When it’s the deaf kids at Carlton they’re out in the middle
of base camp playing football together, like being rowdy in
wardrobe and the wardrobe ladies are like, “What are you
doing? What are you doing? Stop it!” But you know what it
just goes to show that we have such a great time together
that you know almost work is secondary.
We love each other and this was a time— I think everyone
realized this is a time for some of these kids who have had
minimal screen time on Switched at Birth and yet that’s
still a major accomplishment because most other shows would
not even give them that minimal time. This is an episode
where those characters are defined, and you really get to
I personally am such a huge fan of Ryan Lane who plays the
role of Travis. I love the character Travis. I love what he
goes through. He has some weaknesses in this episode, and
thus far he’s been so strong and taken everything with
grace, and I think this is his breaking point. I think Ryan
Lane does a great job of his portrayal of that breaking
point and his acting ability is so strong. That’s not to
over shine the other five main characters that we have that
are deaf. I think each one of them has strengths in
different ways and I love getting to know those characters
Moderator: I know there are captions on this for those that
don’t sign. Did anyone think of not having any captions? Do
you think this would kind of scare off the audience or do
you think it might have made it more interesting?
Katie: I think that Switched at Birth’s goal thus far has
always been an attempt to make everything as user friendly
for the audience as they could, you know for the students
who are perhaps in ASL 1 and they’re learning Sign Language
and they’re very excited about the signs. Sometimes when
you’re watching a show the Sign Language itself gets cut
off. For Sign Language students that’s frustrating, but for
a deaf person that’s incredibly frustrating because the
language itself has been cut off so otherwise where they
would be communicating in their own language they’re then
forced to read the subtitles.
In this episode we were very, very mindful of not cutting of
the Sign Language. As much as possible you see all of the
signs. You see every word that is used in American Sign
Language. There are also subtitles for the hearing audience
members. I think that American Sign Language is a very
visual language, and much of it is graspable even if you’re
not familiar with the signs because it’s all based on body
language and emotion, and you can sort of see that on the
actor or the character. But I think that the goal was to
make it as accessible as possible for everyone so definitely
I think the subtitles will help with that.
Moderator: Do you enjoy the thrill of having controversial
storylines, or are you ever put in the position of maybe
your character is promoting a point of view that you as a
person don’t really support?
Katie: I am so onboard with everything that we’ve done this
season. Daphne had a previous relationship where she lost
her footing. I care about this character Daphne as much as I
do my very best friends, and the storyline made me nervous
for the poor little girl. But this season I think that we
have tackled issues, for example Regina’s alcoholism. I have
people in my own life who are struggling with very similar
matters. I think that we don’t shy away from controversy. If
anything we plug right in, and I think that in doing that we
are able to ask questions that are potentially very rough. I
think that we try very hard to show both sides of the coin
in whatever struggle the characters are going through.
I admire Switched at Birth for not shying away from issues
that many other shows would, and I think that we try to
do—again, for example when Bay was bullied I think that it
was an interesting take on it. We all know that bullying is
a problem but how can we go about it in an interesting way
and make it a little bit different than perhaps what other
networks and other television shows are trying to portray. I
think our goal is not to be controversial but to show
controversy and to show it as openly and honestly as we can.
Moderator: After alcoholism, Meniere’s, even immigration, all
those issues, do you have any ideas for another topic that
Switched might tackle that you’d like to see?
Katie: I definitely think that the cochlear implant one is a
very interesting topic. I think that our controversy doesn’t
have to be limited to the deaf world and the hearing world.
I think for example the alcoholism it’s something that
everyone can relate to. I think that economic problems are
something that many, many families can relate to right now.
There’s not necessarily one thing in particular that I think
we should tackle. I think we’ve done a good job so far, so I
think as long as we stay true to that then we’ll be okay.
Moderator: Can you talk about all of the changes your
character is going through, how close is it to your own life
and what are some of the big differences or things that
you’ve really had to think about with Daphne?
Katie: Absolutely. I would say that my personal life is
somewhat similar to Daphne’s. I love to cook. Daphne’s a
chef, a budding chef. I played basketball when I was in high
school, and Daphne had her spout with basketball and enjoyed
that very much. I feel like the characters are starting to
The hardest thing for me as an actor or the hardest
challenge was my hearing loss is very much less significant
than Daphne’s. With Meniere’s disease part of the condition
is my hearing fluctuates so sometimes I hear fine, sometimes
I just miss a word, sometimes I miss everything for a half
hour or two hours, and it can be frustrating. It can be in
varying degrees very infuriating. The hardest part as an
actor for myself was to have a consistent hearing loss and
to make sure that it was true to what Daphne’s is.
Another one of the challenges that we face is if we get a
new director that hasn’t been a director of Switched often
times they’ll come in to the set with ideas. That’s
wonderful but sometimes those ideas mean that the character
in the scene with me turns away while they’re still talking
and that doesn’t work for our show. There are definitely
some adjustments that have to be made in terms of blocking
and sometimes lighting and the way that the scene is staged.
We sometimes have to go back and make adjustments to make it
work for our show, and honestly I love that.
I love to see the new directors come in and make them feel
at home and make them feel like this is different. It’s not
like every show. You’re definitely going to take things that
you learned from another show and apply them here but I
think this show is also going to make you think as an actor,
as a director, as a camera man. Sometimes we chose to
highlight the hands or pick up certain things here and
there; it’s definitely a communal effort on set. Every
department is very much involved with all of the decision
making and I love that. I think that we have a great family
on set, and we all appreciate each other, and understand and
respect each other.
Moderator: What are your long-term goals for either this
program or for yourself say probably five years down the
Katie: I love this show. I think that this show is only going
to expand and only going to improve. My personal goal is for
Switched at Birth to keep going to keep tackling hard
questions. Honestly I just want work. I have a film on the
Hallmark channel that’s coming out in May. I am working on
independent films as much as possible. I just love acting
and I love Switched at Birth for giving me the opportunity
to launch myself in to a major career, and I definitely see
this as a springboard.
I love Switched at Birth. I am a fan of the show, and I
think you have to be a fan of what you’re working on to have
the best performance that you possibly can. I love the
people that we work with. My personal goal is to stay happy
and to keep working, and hopefully that means on Switched at
Birth and if it doesn’t then you know the next project is
what you make it. As long as you go to it with a happy
attitude I think that you make the best of it. My goal is to
work and hopefully that works.
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