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Lea Thompson dishes on what makes 'Switched at Birth' so unique

ABC Family‘s hit sister-swapping drama Switched at Birth is about to hit the halfway mark of its fourth season. The highly anticipated spring finale airs Tuesday, March 10. One of the show’s stars, Lea Thompson (yes, the same Lea Thompson of Back to the Future fame!), was gracious enough to take a few moments out of her time shooting the new indie film Stars Are Already Dead (which also costars fellow Switched at Birth star Katie Leclerc, incidentally) to chat with me about the show.

We discussed what makes Switched at Birth so relatable, what drew her to the role of Kathryn, and how she has seen her character grow over the past four seasons. Read on for some exclusive Lea Thompson dish!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY COMMUNITY: Switched at Birth is a very unique show. I haven’t seen anything quite like it on TV before. What initially drew you to the show and the role of Kathryn?

LEA THOMPSON: I really think that the show’s central question is really interesting, which is really, What is more important: nature vs. nurture? What makes a group of people family is a really interesting concept. So I just knew that they would always have great stories—because that’s what it’s always about. And the character of Kathryn is way more interesting than I thought it would be. I really loved the project originally, and actually, when I took the part, I thought Kathryn was the bad guy! I thought she was the antagonist, but it proved to be wrong.

I remember saying that to [show creator and executive producer] Lizzy Weiss, and she was like, “Are you kidding? My mother’s name is Kathryn. She’s great!” I was like, “Wait, the rich white woman who has no problems, she’s not the bad guy?!” So it took a big change in thought. I actually found her to be more and more interesting. She really is a person of many hidden strengths and hidden talents. I get to sing a lot on Switched at Birth, which is really fun for me because there’s no pressure on it. Kathryn’s not really a singer, so I don’t have to act like I’m fabulous. I get to sing from my heart as the character, which is really how you should sing. But you get kind of caught up in, “I wanna be good” and, “Will they think I’m good?” In this case, I just get to sing these songs as Kathryn. I have been having the best time this season with that and dancing, because I was doing Dancing with the Stars at the beginning of the season. It’s fun and the fans seem to like when I’m singing [alone] or singing with Lucas [Grabeel, who plays Toby].

Speaking of the fans, Switched at Birth has a huge social-media following, and the chatter every Tuesday is crazy. What do you think it is about the show that makes it so relatable, and something so many people want to talk about?

I think there’s a lot of good drama and I think there are a lot of hearty fans—fans who really enjoy the fact that we celebrate outsiders in a lot of ways. It’s hard to be deaf, and I think [our audience can relate to] the fact that we really appreciate all people and see their stories as valid and interesting, and not just [stories of] perfect beautiful people. And the fact that they all seem to learn something every week, they get to see the sign language, they get to learn something about a culture and a group of people who are underrepresented.

I think everybody wants to learn while they’re entertained, I really do. It’s like multitasking! And that’s one thing the show brings up, because I think we always have a pretty fair argument on every side of every argument, which makes for good drama. If everyone is just sitting around saying, “We agree, we’re right, everything is great, our point of view is the perfect point of view,” there’s no drama to it. But if people have good arguments on either side of an issue, it’s good TV.

One of the things I love about the show is that it doesn’t shy away from letting people have real opinions. Switched at Birth recently made headlines for its rape/sexual consent storyline with Bay and Tank, in which we saw all sides and all matter of differing opinions from almost every main character. What was the general reaction from everyone when you all found out you were going to be tackling a topic like that?

It was really interesting, especially because the character Tank (Max Adler) was one we all loved. He’s a really cool guy, a beloved guy, a sweet guy. There were a lot of conversations, there were a lot of people talking about it, a lot of women saying, “What if this happened to my son?” or, “What if this happened to my daughter?” or, “If this happened to me and I didn’t even think about it [that way]—that it was rape or that it was my fault.” There were a lot of conversations among the crew members and the actors. I love that it happened to Bay (Vanessa Marano) and they didn’t play it like she was this victim; she had really thoughtful responses as to whether it was her fault or not. I do really appreciate the writing staff a lot of the time, because of the way they deal with stuff in a very, very interesting way.

And it’s not just the kids on the show. The adults—you, John (DW Moffett), and Regina (Constance Marie)—all get really meaty storylines as well, which is one of the reasons the show seems so well balanced. Is there anything you can tell us that is on the horizon for John and Kathryn, besides your burgeoning musical career?

The honest truth is, they never tell us! I don’t know what’s going to happen because they don’t tell us, because they don’t want us to tell you! [Laughs.] But we’re all surprised—the adults on the show—at how well they keep writing us and how integral we still are in the story. We were all like, “Oh my God, they’re all going to college. Are you getting rid of us?” It didn’t happen in my life with my kids either, so it’s a really honest portrayal of real life. Parents are still important to kids in college and as they grow up. I think it’s been awesome that they keep giving us interesting storylines. Constance [Marie, who plays Regina] keeps getting the hunky guys with problems; it keeps all the moms happy because they get to see all the hunky guys. And then John and Kathryn’s marriage is very interesting and solid most of the time, which I think people like to see. I don’t know what’s up for us, but I think they’re going to continue with the musical. I know that much.

Can you tell us anything about what we can expect from the spring finale?

There’s a really beautiful song Lucas and I do together because there is a Broadway producer coming to watch our showcase, so we’re very excited about that. And I know Bay goes to visit Emmett (Sean Berdy) in Los Angeles to try to fix everything. Daphne (Katie Leclerc) is continually worrying about whether she can make it and be a doctor because she’s having trouble at school, and she’s got this new kind of hunky love interest too.

I wouldn’t be true to myself as kid of the ’80s and a certifiable geek if I didn’t ask you one Back to the Future question. You recently appeared in A to Z and paid homage to Back to the Future II. So what are the chances for a Back to the Future reunion on Switched at Birth? I could see Michael J. Fox as a college professor for Daphne, or even Christopher Lloyd as a crazy old relative of John.

I’m sure they’d like that, but those guys are hard to book! But I do know we’re going to be doing a lot of stuff for the anniversary, I’m sure I’ll be making some appearances, and I think in the fall we’ll have a big party to celebrate. I certainly wish they would have them on the show, but I don’t think that will happen.



Although I’m sad that a Switched at Birth/Back to the Future crossover probably won’t be happening anytime soon, I can definitely say I am excited to see what kinds of revelations the spring finale has in store for us. Be sure to tune in on Tuesday, March 10, to find out what’s on the horizon for Lea and the rest of the Switched at Birth family!

Switched at Birth airs Tuesdays at 9/8C on ABC Family.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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