Phone interviews can be a harrowing process. As an interviewer you anxiously wait on the line, hoping for a pleasant and worthwhile interaction with the talent (and, of course, good reception). With a cheery “Hey, Robert!” almost immediately those preliminary worries vanished. I instantly knew my time speaking with Vanessa Marano would be delightful.
Over the generous span of a half hour, the Switched at Birth star opened up about starring on the ABC Family show, audition room mishaps and golden advice for aspiring actors. Kicking off her career with roles on Gilmore Girls and as Lisa Kudrow’s daughter on The Comeback, Vanessa is no stranger to success. With appearances on more than 38 movies and television shows, the 23-year-old actress seems to navigate the Hollywood lifestyle with effortless professionalism. Simply put, if you’re not currently following this charming starlet, you should be. However, don’t expect to be able to “follow” her on Twitter. See Vanessa explain why and so much more in our phone transcript below…
RP:When did you know you wanted to be an actress?
VM:Well, I was 6 years old when I knew I wanted to be an actor, but of course, I also wanted to be a lawyer and a fashion designer. So you know… as a 6 year old I’m sure I also wanted to be a princess unicorn. Not a possibility. But, my mother owned a Children’s Theatre and she also, for an extended period of time, taught drama at a high school. So I kind of always grew up around teenagers doing plays and kids doing plays, so it wasn’t a foreign concept to me. I just wanted to do it professionally. So I asked my mom at age 6 if I could do it and she said â€˜Absolutely not. That’s a terrible idea. It’s a horrible industry for women and for children. And stage mothers are crazy and I don’t want to drive you around in traffic everyday.’ No means try harder [Laughs] especially when you’re six! So I kept asking her and asking her and asking her, and, finally, when I was around 8, I guess I wore her out and she looked up agents.
Her version of being supportive was to look up agents who had a reputation of turning children down for no good reason and crushing hopes and dreams. Cause she thought, â€˜Okay, I’ll take her into the agent, the agent will say no and I’ll be like oh that’s so bad for you, I guess, we can’t do it now, when you’re 18 then you can do it.’ And then I went in and I read for this woman and her co agent, and they took me. My mother almost had a heart attack in the lobby! And to top it off, my little sister [Laura Marano], who was five at the time (so a year younger than when I started begging), didn’t even have to read. She was just kind of adorable and so they took her too! My mom was like, “That was not part of the plan. This couldn’t have gone worse!” Both my sister and I have been acting ever since, and we’re still repped by those two agents!
RP: Wow. How would you say your mom feels now?
VM:Oh, she’s better now! [Laughs] She’s on board with it now. She still, like, once a month has that moment of, like, “You can just give it up, that’s fine.” It’s just such a crazy industry, as I’m sure you guys know at NYCastings. There’s no rhyme or reason. Anything happens.
You truly have to love the acting part, in order to get through all of the insanity that you have to put up with… because if you don’t actually like the process of performing, it’s just not worth it. That was kind of what my mother, having been in the industry, was basing it all off of. It’s not worth it if you don’t love it. You have to make a lot of sacrifices, for something that may never pay off.
I really love it and have for the past 14 years. Not a day goes by that I don’t think that that was the right decision, for me to start as young as I did! I totally understand the whole, “I’ll wait tables for the rest of my life, just so I can do a show!”.
RP:Have you worked over here in NYC?
VM:I’ve actually never worked in New York. I would love to! My dad’s side of the family is in New York, so I’ve gone back and forth and had auditions out there quite a bit, but I’ve actually never had the opportunity to work out there. I would LOVE to though! That’s a big dream of mine, just because I love the city and it would be nice to be close to my dad’s side of the family too.
RP:Would you do any theatre out here?
VM:Absolutely! I would do a Broadway play. I can’t sing or dance to save my life, so musicals would be a non-option! [Laughs]
RP:I know a lot of actors who struggle between getting an agent and a manager? You’ve dealt with both… which do you recommend for actors just beginning?
VM:I would say submitting yourself to a manager before an agent is a good choice. A manager is going to be making sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle. So if you can find someone, whether they be a small time manager or a big time manager, just someone who can see your talent like at a showcase or through email or something. Hopefully you can find someone who gets passionate about you and they can figure out the agents from that point on.
Agents have so many people they’re already handling and so many people who are submitting themselves to them already. It’s kind of nice to go in with an insider, and have a manager suggest you. Then you’ll have a higher chance of getting it. My suggestion is finding their email and sending your stuff over. They may never see it, but they also may see it. And if you can do any showcases and know someone who knows someone who can invite somebody – that’s the way you gotta do it.
RP:The audition room can be scary.
VM:Yeah! It’s terrifying! It’s a terrible, terrible place to be. [Laughs].
RP: Can you recall a time when you feel as though you completely failed in there?
VM:Oh! Oh! So many times. SO many times. I actually just went on an audition recently where I thought it couldn’t have gone worse, and then, like, I got weirdly positive feedback for it. There are times when you walk into an audition room and you think you’ve nailed it, and then they call you up and they’re like “that was terrible. No, we hated you”.
I remember one time, I was really sick. I had walking pneumonia. I was not aware that I had walking pneumonia at the time [Laughs]. But I DID. And I had an audition. I was driving from work in the morning and was feeling sick. But it was the only time I could schedule it with the director, so I was like â€˜alright, I’m gonna go in, I’m gonna do it!’ I literally was driving and I was like, â€˜I’m going to vomit.” [Laughs] And I did. In the car… into a napkin! It was disgusting! And then I got into the audition room and went into the bathroom and vomited in there again! I then went into the audition. I completely forgot the dialogue. It felt like it could not have gone worse! And then they were like â€˜yeah we liked her’. I was like, â€˜Really!?’.
RP:It’s funny how that happens!
VM:I didn’t get it, but…. [Laughs]
RP:You grew up doing a lot of community theatre. As someone who’s done it quite a bit as well, I’m curious if you think it’s a good way to keep your craft sharp as an actor? Or do you believe actors should spend their time searching for paid gigs instead?
VM:You’re doing something that you can enjoy, so you’re actually artistically satisfying yourself, maybe not financially [Laughs], but artistically. Paid job or not paid job, every time you get up on a stage, every time you get up in front of a camera, every time you just do a cold read in an acting class you’re learning. That’s only gonna benefit you. The more you do the better. But, if the paying gig is at the exact same time and it conflicts with the community theatre thing, then sorry community theatre, I’m gonna have to bow out! I think it’s a good choice to just do whatever you can, if you get paid or not. As long as it doesn’t hurt you. [Laughs] Not something that’s absolutely awful and will haunt you for the rest of your life and you won’t get hired again because of it… then it’s also a good choice.
RP:You play Bay on ABC’s hit series Switched at Birth. Can you tell me a bit about Bay and her journey this season?
VM: Bay is one of the girls that was â€˜switched at birth’. She grew up in this super rich, super right wing family and she was always like this artistic, angsty girl. She never fit in, couldn’t figure out why, and then it turns out she was switched at birth and was supposed to grow up in a working class, single mother, family – totally different than the way she was brought up! Also, she finds out the girl she was switched with ended up going deaf at age 3. So there’s this added element to what Bay’s life could have been. The show’s really about identity. What makes you, you. Is it nature vs. nurture? And then it has this added element on top of it with the deaf community. There are at least 3 scenes an episode in ASL [American Sign Language] entirely (no talking only subtitles) and then maybe half the scenes are simcom (talking and signing at the same time).
We start the season focused on a crime her [Bay’s] ‘switchster’ committed. She had this image of moving to California to be with her boyfriend. That’s not happening. She’s figuring out who she is and what she will be eventually. Her plan that she has for herself is not working out at the moment and it’s only going to get further into not going the way that it’s expected to go.
RP: So, I sent out a tweet saying I would be interviewing you and I was flooded with all kinds of questions. First of all, I don’t know if you know this, but masses of tweeters REALLY want you to get a Twitter?
VM: I do know that [Laughs]. We were just talking about it. When I live tweet the show I have to go in and take over, so to speak, the ABC Family twitter. And, literally, the only questions are â€˜When are you getting a twitter?’. It’s been four years and it’s just not happening, guys! [Laughs].
RP: A lot of performers say it’s smart to stay away from all that.
VM: I’m either smart or incredibly stupid… we’ll see what ends up happening [Laughs]. Only time will tell!
RP: You know what, Meryl Streep isn’t on Twitter, so I think you’re okay!
VM: I know, I know… I shutter to compare myself to Meryl Streep! I feel like that should absolutely never happen!
RP: The other majority of questions I received had to do with Sean Berdy. People want to know what it’s like working together and why you think you have such great chemistry on screen?
VM: Us working together is kind of like any other performer working together, except there is an interpreter on set. Which is something that’s so weird for all the new directors or crew members. It’s kind of hilarious now, having done this for four years, watching new people come in and try to adjust. I was that person!
I mean, as far as chemistry between performers. Chemistry is something if you are a halfway decent actor and you have halfway decent writing, it’s something that you should be able to do. If the story is there and it’s supporting the two characters and your job is to bring the story to life, then you should have chemistry no mater who they put you with. We have a story that hasn’t really been done before, and I think that’s why it resonates. They [Bay and Sean] don’t speak the same language when they first meet. He’s deaf. So the first few moments when they meet there’s no communication. It’s like only eye contact. I think that’s why it resonates so much with people, because they have to work that much harder to speak the same language.
RP: What’s something you always do before filming a scene for the Switched at Birth?
VM: Coffee. As lame as that sounds… [Laughs]. It’s funny because on Switched, every weekend I have to go over my sign language with our ASL master. It’s like the routine I’m in now. So I get to the point now where learning a scene without sign language I’m like, â€˜Oh my God! It’s an easy day. I don’t have to do any preparation!’ [Laughs] Which is crazy. You’re still memorizing your lines and going over your lines with your costars and all of that jazz, but that seems like no preparation compared to all the stuff you have to do for the sign language scenes!
RP: Very impressive. I’d like to end with your greatest piece of advice for aspiring actors?
VM: I would say, my greatest piece of advice is don’t take any of it too seriously. Don’t take any of the rejection too seriously and don’t take any of the praise too seriously. That’s when you get into your most dangerous spot. It’s a rare profession where you get paid to do what you love to do. And you get paid to perform for people and tell a story and entertain and it’s like a lot of people are plumbers for a living, so you can’t take it too seriously. At the same time, it’s also one of the hardest jobs in the entire world. With all the manipulation. All this building up and putting down. Nobody, I think, realizes how much all of that can take a toll on your psyche. Don’t take the highs seriously and don’t take all the lows seriously. Because no matter what point you are in your career, and I’ve worked with a lot of actors at a lot of different point in their career, you’re never on top. [Laughs] But, that’s okay, because who wants to be on top, because then what are you still striving for?
RP: That’s very true. Kind of jumping off that, is there a specific piece of advice that someone’s given you that’s stuck with you?
VM: The best piece of advice I ever got from someone was “e;there are no actors, only actresses. Because it’s so true. The strength of a female and all the emotions of a female – that’s what a performer ends up being! [Laughs]
RP: Well, there are certainly a lot of great roles for women on TV right now, and you’ve definitely nabbed one of the best, so congratulations!
VM: Thank you very much, [Laughs] that’s very sweet of you.
RP: You and your sister are both so talented. There has to be something in the blood there.
VM: [Laughs] It’s just the refusal to give up. Especially if you’re mother is the one saying no.
RP: Well I think you’re doing a great job. Thanks for all of your time, Vanessa. Anything else you’d like to share?
VM: Just tune in to Switched at Birth, Tuesdays at 9! Thank YOU so much for speaking to me. Have a good rest of your day! I hope it’s not freezing over there too much right now.
Take Vanessa’s advice and tune into Switched at Birth, Tuesdays at 9PM on ABC Family.