What would you do if you found out that the child you loved and raised for the last 16 years wasn’t biologically yours? Two polar-opposite families must struggle to live together after finding out that their daughters had been misidentified at the hospital is the shocking premise of the hit ABC Family series Switched at Birth, as well as the book of the same name. This work of fiction is written from the perspective of Kathryn Kennish (Lea Thompson), a mother who lived this jaw-dropping fate, but the television series focuses more on the girls, Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) and Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc), and the trials and tribulations of their very complicated lives. Emphasis on the “very.”
Switched at Birth viewers recently met Tess Ritter, played by the lovely Sarah Stouffer (Chastity Bites), who has already proven to be a twisted new frenemy to Bay. Last season Bay landed herself in hot water after she took the fall for her deaf sister Daphne’s missteps. She is now forced to live under house arrest and complete community service–cue twisted Tess. The two got off to a rocky start, but we can’t help but love to hate this character.
We’ve got the scoop on Switched’s newest delinquent and chatted with Sarah about her new role on the ABC Family show.
McKENZIE MORRELL: Can you tell us a little bit about Tess?
SARAH STOUFFER: Tess is–I don’t want to say a tortured soul–but she is not a very kind person at first. I think the more we get to know her throughout the season you’ll kind of get some insight as to maybe why she acts the way that she does. She hasn’t had an easy life, not that that is an excuse to be unkind, but she hasn’t had it real easy, so I think that’s why she is the way that she is.
MM: Will get to see more of her backstory?
SS: Yes, you are going to get to see more. We’re going to delve into that in the next couple of episodes. It is really interesting to see how her and Bay’s relationship unfolds, grows and changes. I definitely think that Tess is a little jealous of Bay and her pristine, easy life.
MM: What has the experience been like coming into an already established show?
SS: It’s awesome. I have been so lucky with these people. Vanessa is quickly becoming one of my favorite people, which is awesome because obviously my story line is with her and you never know going in how people are, and what their personalities are going to be. We get along really well. Everyone is just so warm and nice, and they all know my name which is astounding. When you see someone once a week and you don’t work with them all the time I don’t expect that at all, but they’re all so nice and warm and the crew is amazing. I’ve had a great experience! I can sit here and gush all day.
MM: Had you watched the show prior to landing the role?
SS: I had not. I definitely had heard of it and knew what it was from all the posters and things, but I had never watched an episode. When I had my callback, I went and watched a bunch of season one on Netflix, and I found that I couldn’t stop watching it. It was so good! I just kept watching and watching. I didn’t hear back but I kept watching because I just really enjoyed it. I was bummed I didn’t get the part, so I said to myself, “I can’t watch this anymore, it’s too depressing that I didn’t get the part,” and then long after I had my callback, they called! I go “Oh good. I can find out what happens!”
MM: Do you have a favorite character since you’ve been watching the show?
SS: Oh gosh. I don’t know if I can answer that. I’m going to have to say Bay. I’m biased because I love Vanessa.
MM: How does Tess differ from your real life personality, and do you possess any of her traits?
SS: I am Tess in real life. I’m not a nice person. So… super simple. I just get to be me. (laughs) Hmm… do I have any traits of Tess? I hope not! A friend of mine said to me the other day, “You’re not a bitch, you just don’t suffer fools.” And I think that Tess and I both don’t suffer fools. There’s no time for that. And she has a lot on her plate, and she doesn’t have time. I don’t want to say that she’s impatient. Later you’ll find out that she is, but, yeah I think that would be the biggest comparison. (laughs)
MM: So you’ve been playing the bad girl lately in various roles such as Chastity Bites and Bones. Do you like playing bad more than good, and if so, where does the inspiration come from?
SS: I think the writing helps a lot. Luckily, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Tess before. She seems like a bit of a bully. I just try to, in any role, approach it by putting myself in the characters shoes. If this were me, if I were in this situation, how would I act? How would I be? So that’s how I approach mean or nice characters.
MM: How do you think you’d handle it if you found out you were switched at birth?
SS: (laughs) I’d go-Oh! It all makes sense! (laughs) No, I always tease my parents. “I’m nothing like brothers. Just tell me the truth– I’m adopted, right?” Gosh, I think it would be… It would obviously rock my world for a really long time. It would be interesting to get to know a whole new family though… It would be really cool.
MM: How has the social media love been? Have you gained some new admirers from this opportunity? I was kind of trolling your twitter a little bit and I saw people talking to you about the show and all that jazz.
SS: I think I’ve had a couple new followers since Lizzy (Weiss) tweeted me, which is awesome. I think that because my character is not so lovable, people aren’t itching to follow me, or to find out who I am. It’s funny, I went down a rabbit hole and started looking at comments on some photo that they posted and it’s all, “This girl’s a bitch! I hate her. I wish she would never come back to the show,” and I go, “oh this is why people don’t read comments! Got it!” I just tell myself that it’s because I play a not-nice character, as opposed to they actually don’t like me.
MM: No, you’re such a great actress that they just hate that character so much that they need to express it.
SS: They’ll come around… I think there’s that glimmer of hope for Bay and Tess’ friendship.
MM: I definitely saw there was an understanding between them in recent episodes.
SS: We’ll see. Hopefully it will get more and more positive, as I get more and more positive– as a character.
SS: That’s so funny, because I do a lot of the audio books, because I may have a touch of ADD. I like to be doing one thing and be listening to a book while I’m walking the streets of Hollywood, or showering or driving or doing whatever. I just read Unbroken, which is such a good book. But, I didn’t see the movie, so I don’t know how that was. The book was awesome, and I’m currently just starting a book called Uglies. It’s a young adult book. It’s interesting. It takes place in a world where everybody gets plastic surgery to be model-like at a certain age. If you’re normal looking you’re ugly, and then you get plastic surgery and you go to live with the Pretties. I just started it so we’ll see how it is.
MM: What are your top three favorite shows at the moment?
SS: Ooh! I watch so much more… I got rid of my cable, and I realized that when I had cable, all I was watching was reality television, and no actual TV shows that I should be watching. So I got rid of it, and now that I have Hulu and Netflix, I’m watching all the shows. Let’s see… I love Jane the Virgin. I kind of fell off of The Walking Dead a bit, I’m not gonna lie!
MM: What!? No, I can see why you’d do that. There comes a point where it’s like, you know, what else can you do with…
SS: Yeah, Zombies. I’m usually not one to just give up on a show, but it’s also kind of hard to watch when you don’t have cable. Okay! So, Jane the Virgin… I love The Mindy Project, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine is hilarious. (laughs) I realize I’m naming all comedies, but those are the ones I’m kind of into and I look forward to watching every week.
MM: Those are all good choices.
MM: It is so good. I’m so glad that she’s on that show and it’s doing well, because it is one of my favorites currently!
MM: I do, too. Guilty as charged!
SS: So many seasons in and still so awesome.
MM: Do you have any other projects that you’re working on that we could look forward to?
SS: Not at the moment. Just dedicating my time to Switched at Birth, and auditioning like a crazy person. Which is great; very grateful for that.