SWITCHED AT BIRTH: Lucas Grabeel Interview (2013)

"Switched At Birth"
“Switched At Birth”

As the ABC Family drama series SWITCHED AT BIRTH returns for its second season, life gets even more complicated for Bay, Daphne, Emmett, Toby and their respective families. In a recent press conference call, co-star Lucas Grabeel shared what he is enjoying about the show now that it is picking up steam and has won over the hearts of millions of fans, plus a few teasers about what lies ahead in the second season.

How does the verdict affect the relationships between the two families now that Angelo was awarded such a significant amount of money?

LUCAS: Well, he definitely doesn’t shy away from spending it right off the bat, and to thank the family for all of the hospitality that they have shown him he buys everyone in the family a pretty lavish gift. And some people respond to it very positively. My character, for instance, gets three hours of recording time with a famous producer, so because I’m a musician and having the band and everything, I’m very excited about that. Whereas, Daphne gets a food truck, and gets to experiment with her own business and having her own food truck, but of course that brings up a lot of problems for the parents with responsibility and liability and being out on our own and how safe is all of that, and so it’s kind of a mixed bag with everyone’s gifts.

As far as your portrayal of Toby, is there anything that you’ve been bringing to the role that may be beyond what’s written in the script for you? Is there anything that you’ve actually added to playing Toby?

LUCAS: It’s been a great experience because on paper Toby was completely different when they had written the character originally than after I had gotten the job. And so the whole musical part of his character and playing instruments and singing and writing songs and all of that stuff came after I was hired, which was really great. And so they have tailored a lot of the character to my own strengths and abilities and things, so that’s been really fun to mold the character myself and get to have a little bit of input with all of that, so yes, it’s really great.

Toby had to make a lot of adult relationship decisions there towards the end, and I’m curious as a real guy who’s older and a little more experienced than Toby, what did you think about how your character handled the Nikki situation?

LUCAS: Referring to the last question, a lot of the characters’ decisions and actions and things have come from me personally, and I feel like as the producers and the writers have gotten to know me a little bit more, and I am 28 playing a 17-year-old, so definitely a bit of, I guess, experience comes into play more so than a 17-year-old kid would have. But one of the most interesting parts about the character in general, even from the beginning, is that this kid is the objective point of view of the television show. He’s not a parent. He didn’t have to go through the whole experience of raising a child and having this huge lie or this huge surprise being thrown upon him. And he wasn’t a child either in the whole, oh, who are my parents, who am I, what’s going on. He’s on the sidelines and he gets to view everything, as I said, from an objective point of view and just gets to be a shoulder to cry on for the sisters and gets to stand back and do everything from far away, which definitely lends itself to be more of a mature, wise character. As far as Nikki goes, I’m trying to think back to what happened at the end of the first season, because we’ve been shooting several episodes, she pushes him away, and then Emmett convinces Toby to go back after her. I think after the whole Simone debacle being just completely heartbroken and that kind of helped show his frailty … teenage problems that a lot of kids have to go through. But he finally decided that it’s time to move on and saw an opportunity to find comfort somewhere else and get the band back together and pick up where they left off.

Could you describe Toby’s approach to getting the girl, versus Emmett’s? I feel like they have different strategies.

LUCAS: Yes. I think they both play the cool game, but, in different ways, and I think Toby’s generally a good guy and just tries to be himself and live by example in that regard, and I think girls pick up on that and see an honesty there, he doesn’t really hide anything. Whereas, I think Emmett tries to create this mystery and this, I mean, it also is part of just his culture of being deaf and being separated from the rest of the pack and all of that, but also his coolness comes from, you don’t know anything about me, and I’m dark and mysterious and ride a motorcycle. You find out what’s behind the curtain.

You starred in Disney’s “High School Musical” movie series, can you describe for our readers what that experience was like for you?

LUCAS: Well, it’s hard to encapsulate such a vast experience in a short answer, but it took place over quite a bit of time and lots of experiences, and it started off as this made-for-TV cable musical, which we all were very excited to be a part of, but didn’t have any idea what kind of magnitude that it was going to explode into once it was released. And from the three separate movies, the two separate international concert tours, the countless international press tours and junkets and all of those things, it was a lot of experience, life experience in a completely different perception than a lot of us had experienced, well, any of us had experienced before that, most of us being late teenagers, early 20-year-old kids, so you grow up really fast when something like that happens. And for me personally it was a lot to take in all at once. I never saw myself being a part of something like that, with that much attention, and your whole world just kind of gets turned upside down, and it was a lot at first. I have nothing but gratitude for it because there’s very few people in the world that get to experience what we got to experience. And it’s such a gift as an actor, so much of the time you feel like your job is, I don’t want to say meaningless, but we’re entertainers, we’re not changing the world here, and when you’re part of something as global as “High School Musical” and you see firsthand from a child’s point of view how it did help inspire them and change their mind in some way, shape or form a love of the arts or a desire to explore different things than just one thing that they’re told that they have to do when they grow up, it’s a beautiful thing. And it makes you think about that gratitude that you have for your career that you did make a good decision building towards something that was artistic but still has some sort of meaning, so yes.

What is the difference for you in filming a movie as compared to working on SWITCHED AT BIRTH?

LUCAS: It’s a pretty big difference. It’s a different kind of pace. It’s a different kind of lifestyle altogether really. I love them both. SWITCHED AT BIRTH is my first television series that I’ve shot on a regular basis, and it’s so great to have a base, a home, that I get to sleep in my own bed every night and get to drive home every day, which is great, and every day I get to see the same smiling faces and we all come together and we work really hard, but it’s a much faster pace so we get in and we work hard and then we’re done, and it’s very gratifying. Whereas, on a film you are usually on location, you’re living out of a hotel, and for the first week it’s a bunch of strange faces and you’re trying to figure everybody out and figure yourself out and how you fit into the movie and everything. But there’s something great about that too, a bunch of people getting together and creating something really magical in one fell swoop, and then you’re done and then you wait however long until the movie is edited and get to see the fruits of your labor. I don’t know, there are great things about both of them.

Can you tell us a little bit about the other romance and relationships coming up this season with other characters?

LUCAS: Well, at the beginning Daphne is still struggling to get over her infatuation with Chef Jeff, and it’s a hard situation that both of them, I guess, are put in, her being such a young person and him being established in his job and everything. And there’s a jeopardy that arises if he continues the relationship, and I don’t think she, as a 16-year-old, really understands that, and so that definitely puts a damper on her romantic desires. And Bay is trying to ward off any guy at the moment, at first, at least, to try to heal her wounds and just be alone and try to figure herself out for a little while. But I can safely say that doesn’t last too long.

If you had to pick a New Year’s resolution for Toby, what would it be?

LUCAS: I feel like he relies on other people a lot of times with his music and maybe he should not necessarily just shut everybody out and go out on his own, but not worry so much about being a musician without a band. So maybe he should just write and sing and produce, and be okay with being on his own and making his own musical decisions.

How do you think Toby would have handled it if he was the child that was switched?

LUCAS: I bet he would have a lot of anger, a lot like Bay has handled it, I’m sure. Having the rug pulled from underneath you, not knowing necessarily where to land, I feel like he would also be very investigative and try to figure out the who’s and the why’s and everything, detail-wise, but also just, yes, very angry and a bit of self-pity, why me, why this, this could have happened to anybody. It’s a very scary thing to think about. You wake up one day and you realize you don’t know who your parents are, and these people that you said that you love them and you do, but you have these people that just instantly become strangers overnight, it’s kind of strange

How do you think Toby has matured since the switch?

LUCAS: I think he has become much more of a, I don’t want to say caretaker, but his responsibility he has gained from listening and being able to be a friend, as well as a brother, to his two sisters now, and before I feel like he could have just slacked off. He was the rich kid who did what he wanted and didn’t really have any responsibilities or worries. But since the switch dealing with two sisters instead of one and the emotional roller coasters that both of them have been on, he’s had to be there and calm the waters a few times, and make sure that they’re taken care of, because he loves them and he has taken a little bit more of an adult, mature responsibility for them and wants to make sure that they’re all okay.

You have many talents, singer, actor, producer, writer, musician, and probably even more than that, if you had to pick just one of those areas to focus on for the rest of your career what would you choose?

LUCAS: I moved out to Los Angeles to be an actor, so that’s my first and foremost thing that drives me and keeps me going and that I love to do. I feel like everything else is to fill the time and get out all of my extra artistic frustrations and expressions through doing everything else, because as an actor you’re not always working, you’re not always acting. It’s not something you can just get together with your friends and you’re like, “Hey guys, do you want to act?” So playing music and painting and writing and all those things helps fill the gaps.

As you mentioned, you’re a writer too, have you written any episodes for SWITCHED AT BIRTH, or maybe you would like to?

LUCAS: No, actually. I would definitely want to direct an episode before I would write one. I’m not that great of a writer. I write more songs and poetry and things, not so much television. But I would love to direct, and one of these days I’ll get up the courage to ask him. I was wondering if you can just talk about your relationships and how they’ve developed with people like Lea Thompson, D.W. Moffett, or the other people who are more your age peers over the time that you’ve been filming.

What is it like working with the rest of the cast?

LUCAS: It is strange every time you start a new job, that’s kind of a strange thing about being in this business, you’re forced to be in the same room as all of these people day in and day out and you really don’t know how everyone’s personalities are going to mix and everything. And this is just one of those, I mean, it happens often, but it’s … often that you find somebody that is, there’s always one person in the group that’s a bad egg or some kind of diva or something like that, but just kind of sours the mojo of everyone on set, and it’s just unfortunate, but since the pilot we instantly got together and it just clicked. And I of course grew up a huge fan of Lea Thompson and there wasn’t this like nervous, oh no, what is she going to say and that kind of thing. And of course meeting her and everything, I was a little nervous, but she’s so warm and inviting and gentle that we started talking and it seems like we’ve been friends for years, and that kind of goes for everybody else in the group. Vanessa and Katie and I hang out from time to time, and they’re just two amazing individuals. I think one of the things that has strengthened our relationship is that the three of us don’t really have too many other friends that are actors. So much of the time it’s hard being around it when you’re on your off-time, because I don’t really like talking about acting. I don’t like talking about the business. I go home from work and I don’t want to talk about it. So all my other friends, a lot of them are in the business, but most of them are in other areas and things, so Vanessa and Katie are kind of the same way and so we kind of click on that level and we can talk about stupid stuff or whatever and not have to worry about being like, “Oh man, you hit that beat really well the other day and that is like really deep.” So yes, it’s great.

If you were ever to take one of those star leads, as they do nowadays in a show on Broadway, is there a certain show that you’d actually be interested in doing some day?

LUCAS: Oh man, I’ve actually come very close multiple times. It’s always some sort of scheduling debacle. I was going to do Godspell, I was actually going to replace Corbin Bleu in Godspell this summer, but unfortunately the show closed before that could happen. And I was also going to do Rent a few years ago before it closed, but High School Musical 3 conflicted with it. I really love theater and I love doing it. The whole live audience thing, it’s what I grew up doing and the first time I was on stage was when I decided that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It’s definitely something that I have to do and will do, it’s just about finding that right show at the right time. I feel like, especially with the show, with SWITCHED AT BIRTH, it’s so hard to find a show across the country, in New York, that I could do for any extended period of time. A lot of shows don’t want you to just do a month, especially with all the rehearsal and everything just to come in and do a few shows and leave, so it probably won’t be any time in the near future, but I definitely will do something. As far as what it is, I don’t know. When I was in high school I was really into keeping up with all of the current shows and things and I’m kind of out of it now. Whenever I go to New York I try to see as many shows as I can, but usually it’s just like I get there and then I just buy tickets and go see whatever’s there.

How are you alike and how are you different from your character?

LUCAS: I actually try to be a version of my 17-year-old self, and I’ve grown up a lot since then and I’m much more mature in real life and deal with things pretty differently, so I guess that’s how I’m different. But I am pretty similar in the sense that, well, except for the fact, I didn’t have a baseball player as a father and was actually much more on the poor side of an upbringing than rich at all, so we lived out in the sticks, in the middle of nowhere. But actually in Missouri, I’m from Missouri, which is kind of strange that the show takes place in Missouri as well. But, yes, with not a whole lot and when I was 17 I was definitely into music, I liked writing songs, I had a couple of garage bands and all of that, so very similar in those ways. But what’s the biggest challenge is trying to be 17 again.

Do you have a behind the scenes moment or memory or something that you can share with our readers that you think they might be interested in?

LUCAS: Well, goofing off, having a good time. We work hard but we play hard. Lea is hilarious when she gets tired, do you know what I mean, that moment when you get really tired, it’s at the end of the day, and you just start getting zany and kooky, and once that starts happening we all take a step back, because Lea, any performer will always act out when they get to that point, but she’s absolutely hilarious. One day she was singing Britney Spears at the top of her lungs, and then she grabbed me and asked me to teach her the “We’re All in This Together” dance from High School Musical, so just silly things like that that pass the time. We’re all goofy. I’m always making a fool of myself too. That’s our job is to be jesters and make fools of ourselves.

You and Toby are both into music, so how do you think that your musical styles differ?

LUCAS: I’m kind of all over the place. I started off when I was a kid writing singer-songwriter, acoustic, folky kind of stuff, but then as I got older and explored with different instruments and things I got into a little bit more of the dance music, electronic music and things. And since then I float around. The last song I wrote was a straight up country song, but I’ve written a lot of hard rock, rock and roll, rock pop, and jazzy stuff and hip-hop kind of stuff, I’ve done raps, but I just like to experiment. Whereas, Toby, I’ve only written one song for Toby, so that was pretty much straight up rock pop, but the writers of the show usually come up with poppy tunes.

Do you have any other projects right now going on that you can tell our readers about?

LUCAS: Yes, definitely. During the break, before we started shooting the second season, I shot a music video of a new single that I’m going to release in a couple of months, it’s called the “1, 3, 5, and 8,” and it’s a pretty full-on dance track. And the video, I’m super excited about. I brought on the choreographers from High School Musical, Bonnie Story and Chucky Klapow, because we had such a great time working on the three movies together, but we were always under the Disney umbrella and so we’ve always wanted to get together and creatively work on our own and do what we really want to do, and so this video really gave us a chance to do that. And I brought on some of the dancers from High School Musical and a lot of the crew members and old friends that I’ve just known forever, and we’ve made a lot of videos together but this was by far the biggest production and we shot in a huge soundstage and it was just a wonderful day. We shot it all in one day and had an amazing time doing it. I’ve been editing it for the last couple of months, and we’re just about done. It’s looking fantastic. I’ve got a couple of featurettes and trailers and things that I’m going to release beforehand and I’m going to have the song remixed and release a couple of versions of the song on iTunes before the video is released, and then eventually the video. So that should be happening hopefully at the end of February or March, once we get everything done. With working on the show it’s a lot harder to get everything together and spend as much time on it as I want to. But I’m super excited about it.

Do you have a favorite episode so far?

LUCAS: It’s weird, because I will watch the episodes once they air, but when I watch it it’s different than the normal audience member watching it because in scenes that I wasn’t there for, I pay attention to things, but any scene that I’m in or that I was shooting, I have an instant memory of being on set, and so its more perception than just kind of witnessing it as an audience member. So there are moments that I remember that I really liked, but most of them are set based. There’s one episode where our band was shooting a music video, and we all got in a big fight and the director had just said, okay, Vanessa and Lucas, you’re going to be in the background and we’re just going to shoot that right now, and you guys just fight for, I don’t know, two minutes. And so we just improv’d this fight and it was absolutely hilarious and we had such a great time doing it, so moments like that I remember. When you watch the episode, we’re blurry in the background and you don’t hear … hardly anything, but I pick up on that and I remember that, and that’s one of my favorite moments.

What is something that you would hope that the fans would learn by watching SWITCHED AT BIRTH?

LUCAS: I feel really honored to be a part of SWITCHED AT BIRTH because of all of the things that I feel like it is standing for and educating the youth of America today. Being on ABC Family or any kind of teen directed network you worry about becoming a teen soap opera and just talking about boys and sex and the fake things in teenage drama, whatever, it’s all like kind of made up, but the great thing about SWITCHED AT BIRTH is not only are we educating people about the deaf culture, not only what it feels like maybe to be deaf or to perceive yourself as a deaf person occasionally when you are put in Daphne’s point of view and having the sound cut out and just kind of seeing the world from her eyes, and I think that’s one of the beautiful things about the show, as well as how difficult it may be to be a hearing person to understand what it’s like to go through life as that knowing someone so close as Daphne and Regina, and then getting to fight for her against the ignorant people who come in contact with her and not knowing how to react to her and how to treat her and being disrespectful and all those things. And so the whole deaf culture part of it is really great. It’s such a beautiful language and it’s a beautiful culture that they have and they are very strong and very proud, and that’s something that I didn’t know as a person before being a part of this show. So I think that’s really fantastic.

To see the premiere of the second season of SWITCHED AT BIRTH, be sure to tune in on Monday, January 7th at 9:00 p.m. on ABC Family. Aptly entitled “The Door To Freedom,” we shall see what lies behind each door for the Kennishes and Vasquez/Sorrento families.

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