Summer television is often the repository of cookie-cutter cuties whose chief selling point — for network executives and audiences — is that they often look alike and sound alike. If the results are usually bland, at least they’re harmless.
So what’s an outstanding young actress like Katie Leclerc doing on a new ABC Family series like “Switched at Birth”?
The premise may be forgiven its melodramatic elements: two families discover that the hospital where their daughters were born made a grave, life-changing error. Kathryn Kennish, an upscale, red-headed mom (Lea Thompson) was given the dark-haired baby, named Bay, and Regina Vasquez (Constance Marie) a sultry brunette and single mom, was given the fair-skinned redhead, named Daphne. Years later, Bay (Vanessa Marano) discovers in her high school chemistry class that her blood type does not match either of her parents’, and tests confirm the shattering fact: they’re not related.
On “Switched at Birth,” two families compete for the affections of a deaf girl. From left: Constance Marie, as Daphne’s mother, Regina, Katie Leclerc as Daphne and D.W. Moffett as Daphne’s real father, John Kennish.
When Bay and her parents meet Daphne (Katie Leclerc) and her mother, the rivalries begin. Even the Kennishes can see that the vivacious Daphne, who is deaf as a result of childhood meningitis, has the spark lacking in the sullen, tedious Bay.
And so will the viewer. Leclerc, 24, won the role of Daphne because “I would be able to build bridges between the hearing world and the deaf world.”
She knows both worlds intimately. The actress is hard-of-hearing and suffers from Menieres disease, a degenerative, inner ear disorder whose symptoms include fluctuating hearing loss and vertigo. Both Leclerc’s father and older sister have it. Leclerc was diagnosed when she was 20. On “Switched at Birth,” she uses what she calls a “deaf accent,” but speaks normally in a telephone interview.
“It’s hard for me to complain about the disease because without it I wouldn’t have this job,” Leclerc says.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, and raised in Lakewood, Colo., Leclerc was the target of intense bullying by a clique of vicious girls at school and her family decided the best way to deal with the problem was to leave town. They moved to San Diego and Leclerc went on to act in school plays and commercials and eventually got her break in the cult series “Veronica Mars” in 2005. Still, the upbeat Leclerc does not hold a grudge.
“I was very upset with those girls and what they did to me, but as I look back on it I have gratitude for that. It put me in California and I’m acting,” Leclerc says. “Not to say it wasn’t a terrible few years, but things got better.”
The show does everything possible to accommodate her medical condition.
“We’ve got a great, on-set medic and we deal with my issues as they come along. If I get sick I’ll take something,” she says. “Or I’ll lay down for a few minutes if the vertigo is really bad. If I have a problem I’ll say, ‘I need a minute,’ and they’re fine with it.”
In the series, Daphne reads lips and uses sign language to speak to her mother and deaf friends. Veteran actress Marie, who last played George Lopez’s sitcom wife, Angie, on “The George Lopez Show,” learned American Sign Language (ASL) for the role. Leclerc says that she sat down with executive producers Lizzy Weiss, Paul Stupin and John Ziffren to discuss the particulars of Daphne’s hearing loss, “mapping out” what sounds Daphne would and would not be able to say.
“I do not speak with a deaf accent, so it’s a challenge for me. Speaking in sign language and English at the same time is really fun and super-challenging,” she says.
Leclerc’s sister Jody, who is 40, teaches ASL and has a more advanced case of Menieres disease that has left her experiencing vertigo for six days at a time. She is Leclerc’s rock.
“She helps me a lot with my character. We go through the lines together. She lives in Utah and we Skype about once a week with each other,” Leclerc says.
Although her health could ultimately affect her career, Leclerc remains an optimist. “In five years, they’re coming out with a cochlear implant designed for people with Menieres disease,” she says.
She’s even become Facebook friends with one of the mean girls who bullied her in middle school.
“I couldn’t forgive them completely. It took me a while to say yes to her friend request,” Leclerc says.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
NY Post: Deaf actress Katie Leclerc unites hearing and deaf worlds on family drama, "Switched at Birth"
Posted by BA Haller at 10:53 AM