Switched at Birth is make another huge switch. "What if Regina had told the hospital about the switch when she discovered it years ago?" teases ABC Family's synopsis. "And what if both girls had been raised in the privileged Kennish household from age three? In 'Ecce Mono' [airing July 8], this alternate reality is revealed."
Wetpaint Entertainment got the chance to talk with leading lady Katie Leclerc about the parallel universe explored in the installment — as well as her challenges playing a deaf character as a hearing actress with Ménière's disease.
Wetpaint Entertainment: What do you think inspired tonight’s "what-if" episode?
Katie Leclerc: Well, I think that our writers have strived really hard to put our characters in unexpected circumstances, and I think we get to see that a little bit with the Sorrento-Kennish-Vasquez family getting to know each other.
But with the alternate reality episode, I think they just take it and they run with it. I think they've always wanted to do something like that, but with John having a heart attack, they threw out the show bible and said, "We're going to just start over with these characters."
And I was really excited to see that my character, Daphne, was probably the most different and the most changed from what would have happened with Regina giving Daphne to the Kennish family.
So I, as an actor, was super excited about the new character that I could create. And David Paymer was the director for our episode, and it was so wonderful because I think he's such a talented actor and a fantastic director.
But really, it was super fun to be able to explore, how far do we go with her mean streak and her emptiness as a result of not having the support system that the deaf community provided her in the version that we know? So it was so much fun. It was so much fun.
How would you describe What-If Daphne?
Vapid and selfish and shallow and empty and bitchy and really sad as a result of not having the mother that she didn't even know she needed. I think, in that version, John and Kathryn feel terrible that they didn't have Daphne for the first three years and all of a sudden they get this baby. Their solution is to give this baby everything it wants, but really what the baby really wants is just to be hugged. And I don't think that they had much time to spend with the kids — Kathryn being a romance novelist and very busy and John still being in the Senate.
I think that one of the messages that we're trying to get across: how important family is. And that's true to our show in every episode. But in this episode, it's really highlighted because that family was not a cohesive unit, and they were all messed up. Every one of those kids have major problems and some you could see more than others. But it was really, really fun; and I think our writers did a wonderful job with the episode.
How would you describe Bay and her relationship with Daphne?
Well, I think, Bay in the alternate reality is searching for identity, similar to kind of where we started the series. She never felt like she belonged in that family. And she searches for this Regina Sorrento, and she tries to find this woman who was an alcoholic and really just messed up. I think the girls at the very end of the episode confront John and Kathryn and say, "Look, you never gave her a chance." And I think that's true, that maybe we could have tried to work it out. The girls would be better off for it, but Bay is lost. She has no identity, and she has no family and it's sad.
Do you think many people know that you don't actually speak with — is it called a speech impediment?
I call it an accent.
Do people know that you don't speak with an accent in life?
No. [Laughs] I am so excited for the fans of the show to get to be a part of my real voice. It was really, really funny because we've all been working together for about three years now, so as soon as they called "cut" after that first scene, Vanessa went up to me like, "There's something wrong. What's happening?"
So it was kind of strange to use my normal speaking voice. I am so excited for people to see it, and when I get stopped on the street, the first thing they say is, "How do you do that thing with your voice?" And I just say, "Lots of practice."
How do you do it, actually? The accent — was that hard to perfect? Was it something you had to work on?
It was the biggest challenge that I had ever had in my acting career, ever. It was a fine line to walk. I didn't want to come across as offensive because I don't use that voice in my normal life, but it is also a requirement to add authenticity to the character. So I'm very familiar with the deaf community, and my sister and I sat down with an audiogram and really mapped out what Daphne's specific hearing loss would be. And based on that specific hearing loss, what sounds she would be able to say and what sounds she wouldn't be able to say. So it was a lot of work, and I'm so thankful for my sister's assistance in that because without her, I don't think the voice would have sounded as good. But it's something I'm very proud of.
How did your sister end up becoming involved?
My sister's an ASL teacher in Utah. It's sort of like a crazy, serendipitous thing; but she had been an ASL teacher for many years. In high school, I needed a foreign language to graduate so I elected to take sign language. And then at 20 I found out I had Ménière's disease. At 24, I got the role of Daphne on Switched at Birth. And then — get this — a couple years later, I adopted a deaf dog. So we sign with the dog, and he responds to about 20 different signs now. So I definitely feel like in some weird way, I am exactly where I'm supposed to be right now. It's all working out for a reason, and I'm so grateful for this journey.
How does Ménière's affect you?
There's four main symptoms. You get pressure and ringing in the ear, attacks of vertigo, and fluctuating hearing loss. So sometimes I hear perfectly fine. And sometimes all of my sound drops out, and I can't hear anything and I'm a deaf person. And most of the time there's more than one symptom at a time.
I get affected by it occasionally. Sometimes more severely than others. There's only one attack that I had on set that was a major thing, and it was at the end of the silent episode. I walk up to the window, and I peel back the window. And I look out the window, and it cuts over credits. And then, the very next episode, after the silent episode, I come out, and I give a speech. And the crowd is there, and the principal's like, "Come out willingly." And I'm like, "I will not." But in that moment, I could not stand. I was so dizzy from vertigo that people would sort of push me out into my mark, and I would somehow manage to stop. There was a couple of takes where I wobbled in the middle of my speech. And when I watch it, it kind of works for the moment because Daphne's nervous and really putting herself out there in a scary, scary way. So it kind of works for the scene. But I'm very proud of that scene because most people, if you don't know, wouldn't know that I was about to vomit.
Switched at Birth is giving me an incredible platform to be loud about Ménière's disease. It's really much more common than I think people realize. Heather Locklear has Ménière's disease. Kristin Chenoweth has Ménière's disease. And all of those people that I look up to, and they're able to work through it. So I definitely find inspiration through them. If Kristen Chenowith can sing like an angel, and she can't hear herself, that's talent.
Switched at Birth airs Mondays at 8:00 pm ET on ABC Family.