EXCLUSIVE: 'Switched At Birth' Star Constance Marie on What Makes Someone a Great Parent

In Switched At Birth, a new series premiering tonight at 9/8c on ABC Family, two teenage girls discover they were accidentally switched as newborns in the hospital. Mexican actress Constance Marie (The George Lopez Show) plays the mother of one of the girls (Katie Leclerc). We caught up with the talented actress to talk about her return to TV and what makes someone a good parent. 

The George Lopez Show ended in 2007. What’s it like being back on TV?

It's awesome! But it's funny — it feels like I never left TV because The George Lopez Show is played over 47 million times a day. But I went through a transition — got pregnant, had a baby, breastfed, and now my baby's healthy so it's time to get back to work. And to do it in the drama vein — which I haven't done since American Family — is really, really wonderful. We're telling wonderful stories that anybody who has a mother can relate to. It has so much heart. 

What’s the new show about?

Switched At Birth is about two 16-year-old girls who find out through a DNA test that they are not biologically related to the parents who have raised them. My character is a single mom and a recovering alcoholic and the other family is a two-parent family; they're upper class and more conservative. The two families have to move into the same property and have to get to know each other because the girls want to know the opposite parents that never raised them. That's when the drama ensues. We try to co-parent and that doesn't work out, and I'm OK with their daughter getting a piercing, but they're not OK with it. There's a lot of comedy and drama that comes out of the discussions on parenting in the show. 

Tell us more about your character, Regina Vasquez!

She's a type A alpha mom. She's like a momma lion. She's very protective because she had to be a mother and a father to her daughter and she also had to help her daughter deal with the deaf aspect of her life. She's a hairdresser and she doesn't have a lot of money, but she has a lot of style. That's how I grew up  — not having so much money, but being creative about it. So she's a hard-working single mom. I was raised by a single mom, so I really think it's important to represent them properly. 

What do you think makes someone a mother? 

I think there is a certain amount of biological and genetic things that are transferred, but I really think it's nurture. That's why I like playing this single mom. There are a lot of single parent households, be it the grandmother who's raising the child, or a father or a cousin or an aunt — and I really think it’s nurture: who's in that child's home, who's in that child's psyche and in their emotions and who loves them on a daily basis. That's where they're getting all of their lessons from, all of their love from, all of their security from — biology doesn't have all that much to do with it.

Is this a real thing: people being switched at birth?

Yes! I'm on Twitter and somebody just tweeted me this morning that their sister was switched at birth in 1959 in Canada. It happens. When I was in the hospital with my baby, her bracelet fell off her leg like seven times. It's possible that that little bracelet could slip off or an error could happen – it’s not inconceivable. And look, my daughter was created through IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) and she was also frozen. So what if they happened to grab the wrong test tube? What if she wasn't mine? But here’s the thing: she’s mine. I don’t care what mistake was made — that baby is mine. She's 2 years old and about 4 months and I'm not giving her back.

Is it true that you learned sign language for your role in Switched At Birth?

Yeah. I learned it and am learning it. I only had three weeks to prepare for the pilot and learn it. The hard part is that sign language is predominantly one hand, so whatever your main hand is, you do it mostly with that hand. My right forearm is like Popeye, it is so rough, so I have to do these big gnarly emotional things - I did a five and a half page monologue scene the other day and my arm was so tired. The cool part is I now know this language. It's the most beautiful thing. My daughter learned sign language, too. She's 2 and she already knows 15 signs.