Katie Leclerc - Talks About
What Really Matters To Her
By Shirley Craig
I first discovered ABC Family shows through 'The Fosters' since I have always been a big fan of Jennifer Lopez and she is one of the executive producers. After watching a few episodes I got hooked. That's when I started to investigate the other shows on the network and I found 'Switched at Birth' starring Katie Leclerc and Vanessa Marano. Thankfully through Netflix I was able to catch up on what I missed since I found myself completely addicted to this show too! Last week, I had fun talking to the delightful, talented and intelligent Katie about the show, the charities she supports and the important things in her life.
I love Switched at Birth. I'm now addicted.
Thank you. I am really excited to be on ABC Family because I think they took a really big risk with Switched at Birth. People can be afraid of what they’re unfamiliar with, so Switched at Birth being so focused on deaf culture and exposing a lot of audiences to a new world is really great.
Yes, ABC Family seems to be good at taking risks with this show and shows like The Fosters.
Yeah, that’s true. I mean, they’re not afraid to put their characters in uncomfortable circumstances either and, as an actor, sometimes you’re in that uncomfortable circumstance and you’re like, “Oooh…” [Laughs] You’re experiencing it as well. I commend ABC Family because not every show is based for families. Switched at Birth, I think, has a pretty good solid foundation of family but like Pretty Little Liars, those girls are mean and they get drunk and the family is not…it’s not always family. [Laughs]
Yes, I think a lot of people who wouldn’t normally think to go to watch ABC Family are learning that some of their shows do push the envelope.
Absolutely. Yeah, I love when 23 year old dudes stop me on the street and are like, “Oh my god, I love Switched at Birth.” I’m like, “Really, you? Awesome!” [Laughs]
Switched at Birth must be your dream job?
Absolutely, yeah. I had been acting for about ten years before I got Switched at Birth but it was the first time anything was like, “Oh, you’re the girl from…” So it was great exposure but also when I first read the script, I was in a position that I was like so incredibly excited for this character and for this role. I saw it as the most challenging thing that I had ever tried to do, remember lines and hit your mark and speak in an accent and speak in two languages at the same time. It was really hard at first, but the accent has become second nature now and three years later, we are just a bucket of love in those studios. We just love each other so much and we really couldn’t have asked for a better group of people. I am in heaven every day.
I read you suffer from Meniere’s disease (An inner ear infection that can effect balance and hearing). Did you know sign language before you got the role, or did you have to learn it for the part?
I did know sign language before I got the role. I learned sign language in high school and the accent was something that I sort of had to develop. My sister is an ASL teacher. She’s been involved in the deaf community for years and years and I said, “Look at how great this opportunity is. Will you help me?” [Laughs] So we sat down and mapped out Daphne’s specific hearing loss and made her accent based on that. So it’s really catered to that character, but I couldn’t have done it without my sister. She was invaluable. She was amazing and we would run lines in ASL before I went in for my auditions and stuff. I mean, I’m so thankful for her too.
Wow, that’s really great to have had that kind of help from your sister.
Absolutely, yeah, and she has Meniere’s disease as well, so it’s a genetic sort of family trait and so whenever we talk about, “Oh, I got dizzy from this” or whatever, we understand each other. She’s really one of my best friends and I’m so thankful for her in life and in career, so yeah.
Is she your older or younger sister?
Is she your only sibling?
No, I have a brother as well. My parents have a Chinese restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. We’re a close family.
That’s great. You’re from originally Texas?
I was born in Texas and then I grew up mostly in Colorado and then I went to high school in San Diego and then moved to Los Angeles. I kind of moved around a lot, but I always felt like it was good because it made me not afraid to talk to people. [Laughs]
When did you get the acting bug?
When I was in Colorado, I was bullied by this pretty terrible group of girls and my family’s only recourse and solution was to leave the state. So we came to San Diego, California and being that it was close to Los Angeles, I said, “Mom, I've got to try this.”
You know, as a child, I went through like 30 different career paths. I wanted to be a marine biologist and then a chemist. I’d gone through so many that finally in Colorado, when it was really bad with the bullying and everything and I got to do Annie, I said, “I want to be an actor” and I think my mom was sort of like, "Oh okay, this is the next progression of the crazy career choices." She never said no. It was sort of just my dream and whatever.
So I attached myself to acting and I think it kind of surprised her at first, but she has always been one of those people that said, “Dive in with both feet and let’s make this happen” and so I went to a John Robert Powers class originally and I got education from them and I got exposure from them to different agencies and picked up a manager, picked up a commercial agent, and when it came time to get a theatrical agent to get into movies and television, I had shopped around to lots of different companies and couldn’t find anyone. So my mom and dad said, “Alright, we want to support our daughter 100%, so we’re going to start this agency.” She didn’t really break me into it. It was sort of a natural progression into what needed to happen. I had to have a theatrical agent if I wanted to continue doing the bigger projects. So she took it upon herself to help out.
It’s terrific that you had such a supportive family.
Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, when Switched at Birth finally did happen, it was the most exciting moment of either of our lives. [Laughs] We had worked so hard to get to that point. She’d been an agent for like five years at that point and when I lived in San Diego, we would drive back and forth from every audition together because I started acting before I could drive myself and so you end up spending five hours in a day with someone, two and a half hours there, two and a half hours back, five hours a day with someone probably three times a week for two years before we moved to Los Angeles. So even before she was an agent, her level of commitment was so extremely inspiring that when Switched finally landed, it was like, “We have arrived!” We were both jumping and crying and it was beautiful. [Laughs]
Your Mom must be very proud of you.
Yes she is.
Would you say that your big break came with your Veronica Marsguest appearance?
I think so, yeah. It’s funny because at the time, it didn’t really feel like, I was excited to be there and the show shot in San Diego, so it was sort of in my backyard, and it became such a cult classic and I was such a fan of the show too. I was lucky and happy to get in on the first season and Kristen Bell was lovely and she was a good introduction to that world of, okay, television, here we go. [Laughs]
You did guest shots in The Big Bang Theory, Community before you got Switched At Birth, right?
Big Bang and Community were great experiences and just like the smaller features that I've done. I’m a nerd, so not many people have seen them since they’re all science fiction and whatever, but I was so excited to do them. [Laughs]
That’s really great. So outside of your mother, who would you say have been the most influential in your life and your acting career.
Well, I have to include my fiancé in that. It’s funny how my representation has always ended up being people who are very close to me. I had actually almost given up on acting. I was broke and eating hot Ramen every day and I was miserable, so I said, “Mom, I’m coming home.” I went to San Antonio. I worked at the Chinese restaurant for about six months and said, “Ooh, this sucks. I didn’t like LA, but this is way worse, so I've got to get back there.” [Laughs]
I had been talking to this boy who worked at an agency and I had met him prior to leaving Los Angeles and sort of reconnected with him while I was away and kind of started to think, “Oh man, I kind of like this guy.” When I went back to LA, I didn’t want him to be my agent at first because I just thought it was business and pleasure and, I don’t know, we were just starting out.
He ended up being my agent and when the role for Switched at Birth came up, the owner of the company told him not to submit me and he said, “No, hell no. She can sign and she’s age appropriate. She’s got this.” So he kind of went around her wishes and thankfully it worked out and I ended up getting the job. So I have to say, he’s also had a huge impact on my career.
He’s no longer my representation or agent or anything, but he is my fiancé now. So it’s really great to have people in my life who are so close that I can run things past as opportunities come our way and this industry is so confusing sometimes that you--Last week, in fact, I had to turn down an offer for an opportunity. Like I had auditioned for something and I was still in the mix for it, but the deadline for the offer for the movie of the week came in and you have to make the choice of like, do you bet on the gamble or do you go with the straight offer? I’m so thankful that Brian was there for me to call him and be like, “Okay, put your agent hat on. We’ve got to talk this out.” I’m so in love with the people in my life, it’s amazing. [Laughs]
That’s very cool. Switched at Birth probably takes up most of your time but have you planned the wedding yet?
Yeah. So we’ve been together for four years. We’re going to get married on our fifth anniversary and that’s the first weekend in September. So we are in the midst of wedding planning. I have a dress. We’re talking about locations and colors. It’s really exciting. Switched at Birth does take up a lot of time and the rest of the time, I feel like, is the wedding. [Laughs]
Weddings can be a full time job. Have you decided where you think you’re going to get married?
I don’t think we have a location yet. It’ll be in California, maybe Palm Springs, maybe Malibu. Maybe somewhere close to LA, but it'll feel like a little vacation, a little getaway. So I don’t know. I’m so excited though. I think it’ll be kind of a large wedding, which feels a little bit overwhelming at this time, but we have a great wedding planner that we’re working with and I think she’s going to be amazing and I think it’s going to come together beautifully. ’m not worried about the day. It’s the rest of our lives we have together, so as long as we have a good photographer, I think that’s the-and I have a nice dress already, so I’m set. [Laughs]
So to change the subject for a moment, was it your own experience of bullying that led you to be involved with the ‘Be Good to Each Other’ t-shirts?
Yes, absolutely. I think that they do a great thing and I think we can walking billboards for change, even if it’s wearing a silly t-shirt that you go, “Oh, so-and-so designed this shirt” or whatever, it starts a conversation and with the shirts that I've designed, I've really tried to make sure that it’s a positive message. Laugh and smile and good things will come. I really believe in the power of positivity, like strongly.
I think bullying always has been a huge problem in school. But, finally it’s actually getting the attention that it deserves from kids and parents who are starting to recognize that this is not acceptable behavior and how much it damages kids. You must feel really great of being part of the ‘Be Good To Each Other’ campaign?
I do, yeah. I even got to participate in a summit in Washington DC where they spoke about making change and it was teacher and legislators and myself and Tyler Blackburn who’s on Ravenswood now, he was on Pretty Little Liars, but he’s another ABC Family friend. We went and we spoke about our personal experiences and it was in a campaign also with Seventeen Magazine and they did the ‘Delete Digital Drama’ which I also believe in and feel like, you know, social media and Facebook and stuff, kids get to sit behind a computer screen and just scream nasty things at each other and there’s so much anonymity in that, that I think you don’t see the damage right away. So I think it’s a lot easier to be careless. I really believe in the ‘Delete Digital Drama’ campaign as well, just because it’s so easy to be mean when you don’t see the hurt on the other person’s face. We really need to change it. Like you said, I think it’s getting much much better and I’m so thankful for that, but I do feel like, you know, I have a soapbox right now, so let’s be positive with that change. While my voice is loud, I want to be as constructive with it as I can be.
You work for the Purple Company too. Tell me about that.
Yes. Purple is a company that provides video relay services for the deaf and hard of hearing. So it’s sort of like Skype on steroids. [Laughs] It plugs up to your actual TV and it’s basically a telephone for two deaf people to be able to call each other. So I teamed up with them and they have a great concept for a new product that includes apps and stuff and makes it more technology friendly, user friendly, and yeah, it’s a great product.
Good. So tell me about another passion, you like to cook and you worked with Mario Batali.
I did, oh my god, it was a dream come true. I got to be on The Chew and we cooked calamari together and then afterwards have remained in contact and became friends and I love food. My parents, like I said, have a Chinese restaurant in San Antonio, but even before that, I grew up in the back of kitchens. They had every single kind of food you can imagine, Mexican, steakhouse, Italian, pizzerias, deli, I mean, like everything you can imagine, they’ve tried it. So yeah, I grew up around a kitchen and we always cooked for our church gatherings. We would do the catering for them. Those were some of my favorite memories. My mom would have nine trays of lasagna stacked in her arms and be like, “Time check!” and the pressure’s on and it’s hot in the kitchen. Oh man, I just love the pressure of it. Probably if I did anything other than acting, I would like to be a chef.
I think so, yeah. I love kitchens and I love food. [Laughs]
That’s great. Do you get an opportunity to cook much now with working? I guess when you’re in hiatus, you can?
Yes, exactly. So I’m in hiatus right now. Last week for Valentine’s Day, I made Brian heart shaped spaghetti and meatballs. [Laughs] That was fun.
Heart shaped meatballs?
Heart shaped meatballs, mm-hmm.
Brian must’ve loved that?
Yeah, it’s so much fun. Yeah, I love being able to focus on the thing that’s tangible in front of you. You can’t manipulate everything in your life, but there’s food in front of you. You can chop it in any way you want and you feel like you’re in control. I kind of like that.
That’s totally true, you are in control. So you have another passion. Your dogs. Tell me about your dogs?
I have two dogs. I have a two year old Austrialian Cattle Dog named Gus and I have a nine month old Chihuahua-Terrier mix and his name is Sammy. They’re so fun.
Are you able to take them to set?
Sammy’s never been to set yet but Gus has been to set a couple times and everyone just loves it. We’re pretty dog friendly people so usually if I have to leave him in my trailer, the stagehand person will go get him and walk him around. It’s pretty good. He’s pretty social. Sammy’s a little bit wild still. He’s still got that puppy behavior a bit, but when he simmers down, he’ll probably get to venture out.
So what do you do to relax, Katie? Do you listen to music, read, jog?
I really like to be outside. I really love nature, hiking, running outside, like trail running. I have been super into yoga lately. I find that very relaxing and it keeps you fit as well. I don’t know, most of my time is spent watching TV or at work or in the kitchen or outside. I think those are probably my four best things.
Beyond Switched at Birth, since you like to watch TV. Do you have any favorite TV shows you’d like to share?
Oh yeah, I’m really into True Detectives. Matthew McConaughey is amazing. He’s so good. We’ve been watching a lot of VEEP. I’m a little bit of a nerd myself, so of course The Walking Dead has been crazy this season. I don’t know, I feel like I’m mostly focused on comedy and then there’s a couple outlier drama shows, but mostly comedy.
So if you were stuck on a desert island and you had to take either three movies or TV shows with you and that was your only thing you could watch, what would you take?
Oh man, that is such a good question. Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite series ever. I would probably take Friday Night Lights. I would take a great comedy. Oh, I’d probably take the series Freaks and Geeks and probably Arrested Development.
Cool! I’d be happy on your island too.
[Laughs] We’ll set up a screening room.
So where do you see yourself ten years from now, Katie? Do you want to direct or do you just want to continue acting or be doing something completely different?
I’d love to direct. I went to film school. I didn’t receive a certificate or anything but I was dating this boy who was in film school and I said, “Hey, can I go to class with you all the time?” [Laughs] So I kind of got the education and I on set spend most of my time speaking with different departments and asking about what kind of light are we using and why do we use this light as opposed to that light and what is the barger and this filter and blah, blah, blah. I feel like it makes me a well-rounded actor. Obviously I've done my homework for my character and maybe it is because it’s three years later and I feel like Daphne’s second nature, but I do spend a lot of my time asking and finding out what the other departments do and how that can affect the actor based on like, you have to hit your marks because this still light is at a 45 degree angle and this light’s at a 90 degree angle and the way that you will look the prettiest is if you stand right here. That sort of makes sense and they do all the work for you but I guess I’m just an inquisitive person.
So I feel like, having that knowledge, I would love to apply it in a more practical way. I would love to direct. I feel, I have produced before, I feel I’m a great producer. I’m really strong in pre-production and in-production but I’m not so good at post-production. That editing business makes me a little crazy. I feel it’s a little tedious and I’m like locked in a room all day. I’m going to have to get over that but I feel like at some point, in ten years, maybe I’ll try my hand at directing and, I don’t know, I’m just so thankful to work right now. I want to be in features. I definitely want to get into that world, but I think everyone does. I’m also thankful for the path that I’m on. I think that I’m young still and I was thinking of George Clooney the other day, how long his career has been and when he started out, he had like 13 pilots that failed and everything that he’s gone through and where he is now and I feel like it’s the marathon, not the sprint. I feel amazing in the location I’m in now and in my career and I’m just excited for what’s to come.
George Clooney did many years on ER before becoming ‘George Clooney’, if you know what I mean. I hope you’ll have a nice long run on Switched at Birth and then you’ll be able to transition into features and have another terrific acting career and then, in ten years, as you say, it’ll be "A Film by Katie LeClerc."
I certainly hope so and I am thankful to you for saying that. [Laughs]
Finally, what advice or words of wisdom would you give to young actors who just arrived in LA?
I would say to them that they have to be patient and that was the hardest thing for me to learn. I wanted what was next the whole time that I was in the beginning parts that I didn’t really appreciate the moment I was in. It’s exciting to walk into acting class and make new friends and dream about what they’re going to be doing in two years or five years, what you’re going to be doing in two years and five years, but also remember that right now, this is the moment that you’re in and that’s what counts and make the best of that moment.
So definitely have confidence and dream and think about your future, but don’t forget about right now. That was kind of a hard lesson for me to learn, but I feel like I've kind of embraced the now as well.
My other advice to new actors would be that you have to have an amazing headshot. You just have to have one good picture and it’ll get you through so many doors.
Very good advice. Thanks for your time, Katie. I look forward to watching you in new episodes of Switched At Birth.
Photocredits: Switched At Birth, ABC Family, The Big Bang Theory - Greg Gayne, Warner Bros. Television
Other Katie Photos Credited to Bobby Quillard