Vanessa Marano previews what is next for Bay on SWITCHED AT BIRTH
ABC Family’s SWITCHED AT BIRTH made a big splash this season when they presented a story line that found Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) dealing with questions of sexual consent after a night of drinking at a college party with old boyfriend Tank (Max Adler). What followed was a story about campus rape told in the gray area where nothing is black and white, and neither party is 100% right or wrong. The story line was handled beautifully by writers and actors as they dealt with a very real issue that doesn’t often get handled well in the media (our good friend Jace wrote this lovely review about why SAB might just be the bravest show on TV).
As the season continues tonight, with an all new episode called “Player’s Choice,” Bay continues to work on her relationship with Emmett. I spent some time chatting with Vanessa Marano about what it has been like playing this story and where Bay goes next, as well as what she is most passionate about these days, besides SWITCHED AT BIRTH.
I’ve really enjoyed what the show has been doing this season, and what you in particular have had to play.
Thank you so much – I really, really appreciate that. I am very happy with it, too. I’m really happy with how people are responding to the story line. It’s been great. It’s kind of like, we’ve always been that show that has never been afraid to take on sort of uncomfortable areas. It feels like we haven’t done an episode, like our ASL episode, in a while, and this is the first one that we did, in almost 2 years. It just feels like we’re “home again” in a weird way, because we’ve always been that show. [laughs] Which is funny – our home is uncomfortable areas. It’s amazing!
When the story came together, how was it presented, how did the cast and crew work together to make these episodes?
Lizzy [Weiss], the creator of our show, came up to me in my trailer, while I was in the middle of like, two scenes, so I was running around like a mad woman, changing my hair and my makeup and wardrobe, and she was like, “I just wanted to give you a heads up about this story line that is coming up” so when she said, I was terrified. So nervous! To tell that story in a way where the woman isn’t necessarily in the right but the man isn’t necessarily in the right either, so both in the wrong, but one is more at fault than the other. It is a scary thing to take on, you know? Usually when the story is told, the guy takes complete advantage of the girl, and it’s terrible, and she now has that with her for the rest of her life, and she’s been violated. Or it’s like, a super vindictive girl took advantage of a guy, and now he is owned for the rest of his life, and he has charges filed against him. That wasn’t the story we were telling. We weren’t telling that story at all. We were telling a much grayer area, and it’s something that I think happens way more frequently than we realize. I feel like a lot of the times, much like how Emmett reacts to it, they want to see it in the black and white. You know, it happened this way or it happened this other way, and they don’t accept the possibility of well “maybe it happened like this” and if it did happen like this, how do you deal with it because it’s much, much messier. That’s terrifying as an actor, because you don’t know how people are going to react to a messy story line!! We did it, we talked about it so much! Every single crew member had an opinion. It’s so funny doing these interviews now, being a few months away from when we originally shot this story line – literally, while we were shooting it, if I never talk about this subject again, I would be so happy. We talked about this to death! [laughs] This whole week has been me talking about it! We did what we wanted to do, which was start a conversation. And we wanted to start a conversation with no right answer. For there to be no resolution is different and uncomfortable, and a lot of people wouldn’t have taken a chance on it. A lot of audience members might not have gotten on board with it, but our audience did. They were right there with us, and the critics have been so supportive of the whole story line, too, which, I don’t know, makes me really proud! That we got to do this thing that started a conversation which was the whole goal!
I think the added layer of having it be Max’s character [Tank], not just another guy we don’t necessarily know. It was a character we know…
Not even just a character we know, a character that we LOVE! I love the character of Tank, and that’s the real “WHAT!!” That question of like, “are there really go good guys out there or is he still a good guy?” That’s the crazy thing! The two parties that I’ve seen the most opinionated, like no sympathy for the opposite person, have been mothers of sons and fathers of daughters. Fathers of daughters are completely on Bay’s side and aren’t giving Tank any kind of say to say he was in the right. The mothers who have sons are completely on Tank’s side – literally, they have been the most polarized, among the ones I have spoken to, obviously, I can’t speak for an entire group of people [laughs], but that has been the ones that I’ve seen who have been so one-sided about it, in a weird a way.
It also speaks to how many people are watching the show, or how many different groups of people tune in, that you have the mothers, the fathers, the teens – the audience is so varied!
Mmhmm, we’ve always been a very diversified show, as far as demographics go. Our adults play a very major part in our show. It’s so funny, if you talk to Lea, or DW, or Constance, all three of them go “We thought we were signing up to be the parents on a kids show, where we get to work once a week! And go home and have our regular lives” and no, they work just as much as me and Katie do!! [laughs] It’s so funny, but there’s always been a dad on the show, there’s always been moms on the show, grandmothers, and a lot of different ages on our show that have substantial plot lines and story lines, so I think it’s a show that speaks to kind of everybody. At the end of the day, we can all relate to the basic point of the show, which is “what is my identity?” Is it what’s in my blood, or is it how I was raised? What makes me, me, and I think we all know what it is to love our family and then feel like we’re not related to our family [laughs].
I just came from dinner with my family and in the span of an hour we all went from “I love these guys” to “are you sure we’re related?”
Family dinners are such a roller coaster ride! [laughs out loud as she continues] I have dinner with my family at least once a week, and it’s always the same! But at the end of the day, especially where we live in a day and age now where so many kids have been adopted, and gay marriage, and there are single mothers, who went to a sperm bank or whatever – we live in a world of such non-traditional families, and at the end of the day, it’s still a family. We’re so much a family, so no matter how different you are, if you have a family, you get it [laughs].
Where does Bay go now? Getting her mind off things, moving forward, what’s next?
Her whole thing – she wanted to forget about it, she wanted to push it down, she wanted to repress it, and that is not what was going to happen, otherwise, you’d have no idea what to do with dealing with any situation. The worst thing to do is try to pretend like it didn’t happen. She’s owned up to what happened, she wanted to talk about it so much with Emmett. She wants to be really honest, and open, and deal with it, so that she can move on. I think the fact that Emmett reacted the way that he did react has been super hard for her. Her whole thing, end of the season, is to try to get him to see the light in a weird way, so that they can be back to where they were. That’s her goal right now, to get the Bay and Emmett back in Bay and Emmett.
I put a call out for questions, and a lot of the responses were questions about Bemmett, and what’s coming there! I love you and Sean together, even when you are at odds.
I think our fighting scenes are way more interesting than our romantic scenes!! A) you see more in an argument, in any argument scene, you see more what the relationship means to the person, when they’re fighting with them, and then you throw in the sign language and it’s SO COOL TO WATCH [laughs].
I read something that said your sister was asked about the show and that she’s basically ‘shipping you with every guy on the show!
[laughs] She’s just trying to help her sister out!! Trying to get more good looking guys on our show, always, for me to act with. People ask me like “do you ship Bay and Emmett” and I’m like, if I ship Bay and Emmett that means that I don’t get to have more boyfriends on the show!
You have these guys come in, written so three dimensional, so that you find yourself drawn to everyone, and it’s like, well, crap, as a viewer, now I like him, too!
The worst part is, like Daphne, too! [laughs as she goes on] Daphne gets a new one every season! I like that I get Sean, and then I get Max, and I’m fighting over Sean and Max, and Katie keeps getting more and more boyfriends as the show goes on. I’m like, hold on a second!! [laughs] What’s going on? What does our contract say?
The Daphne and Bay relationship is so important to – they’re in a good place right now, and I wonder if that’s something we’ll see continue in the next few episodes?
They’re definitely at a good place right now. The cardinal rule of SWITCHED AT BIRTH is that if you start off the season in a bad place, you end up in a good place. If you start off the season in a good place, you end up the season in a bad place [laughs]. That’s the Bay and Daphne dynamic! They’re stronger than ever right now. They’re at a point right now where they refer to each other as “my sister” when they’re talking to other people, it’s so subtle, but it’s such a sweet thing. Especially if you re-watch that pilot! [laughs]. You would never think that that would be a place where the two of them would have ever been [laughs].
Do you have something you want for Bay, or something you can go to Lizzy and say “maybe we can do this with her?” Is there a list of things you’d like to see her accomplish?
I mean, just when I think I see where Bay’s life is going, the sexual consent episode comes out! I really have no idea what’s going to happen or where Bay is going to go, but that’s okay, too! I like the surprise.
What do you have coming up besides SAB?
Right now, it’s just a lot of SWITCHED AT BIRTH – we only recently went on break. But I am an ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, so that’s something I’m working on in my spare time. They are very, very, very close to finding something that will essentially open the door for the cure to paralysis. It’s called and epidural stimulator, and right now, they’re referring to the fundraising thing as the big idea. So if anybody wants to go to http://www.reevebigidea.org/ to learn more about it – it’s such an incredible thing. It’s something that’s going to change the world when it comes to paralysis. It’s been what I’ve been doing in my spare time – hopefully raising money and spreading the word about that.
Is that something that always interested you or how did you get involved?
What happened was – one of my first big jobs was Christopher Reeve’s last project. He was the director. It was a film called THE BROOKE ELLISON STORY about a girl who was 11 and she became a quadriplegic. I got an intense course in what it is to all of a sudden be a quadriplegic. I had wheelchair practice with Chris; at one point, he took his ventilator off to show me what it’s like to not be able to breathe on your own. He walked me through what it’s like when you first arrive at the hospital, and what you do when you go through rehab, when you’re not able to talk right away. It was a very, very hands on experience. We shot in June, and he unfortunately passed away in October. And so that was something that was really hard on me, and always motivated me to donate money to the foundation because if you would ever have a conversation with him about how passionate he was for finding a cure for paralysis and how strongly he believed, it just made you want to do everything you could to help. And so last December when they announced the big idea, the Epidural Stimulator, it’s mind blowing! It’s insane – the success that they have found with these four guys. I highly recommend you watching it; it’s so wonderful, because it’s what he wanted and what he knew was going to happen. And 10 years after his death, it’s here. We can make the difference into making it a reality. If everybody donated a dollar, it would be here!
It’s crazy to think what has happened with our generation – can you imagine where we’re be 10 more years down the road?
I know!! It’s crazy!! It’s amazing! To think that there’s going to be a cure for paralysis in my lifetime? It makes it that much more to think – there could be a cure for Parkinson’s, there could be a cure for ALS, all of the cancers! It’s mind-blowing to think what the human mind can figure out. We’re possibly going to be able to be a part of all that. That’s so cool to me to be actively participating in changing just a little bit of the world!
SWITCHED AT BIRTH airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on ABC Family.
More information on the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation can be found here.