Just a decade ago, a show centered on a multi-ethnic family headed by a lesbian couple would never have made it past the drawing board. Today, however, marriage equality is mainstream and One Million Moms [the far-right group that asserted ABC Family had “lost their minds” for allowing the show to air] is the butt of a joke on The Ellen Show. And while The Fosters pushes the envelope in myriad ways, nothing can beat watching this family grow and thrive every Monday night.
We had the chance to speak with Cierra Ramirez, who stars on the show as Mariana, Stef and Lena’s charmingly clever adopted daughter. The 18-year-old actress and singer (you may recognize her for her roles in The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack & Cody) dished on her role, on-set antics, and what’s in store for our favorite new on-screen family.
Betty Confidential: When did you find out you were chosen for the role of Mariana and how did you react?
Cierra Ramirez: Well, my auditioning process was very strange and kind of out of the ordinary. When I auditioned, I put myself on tape the day that I found out the series I was on was no longer getting picked up for another season and they were testing for the role. My agent told me, “You can do this but I’m pretty sure they have someone in mind.” So I just tried to be optimistic, put myself on tape, and the day after I found out I had booked the role. I was just so thrilled, I was so amazed, I loved the script, and it was so amazingly written that I was just so blessed to be working on it. It was awesome.
BC: Though the response to the show seems to be overwhelmingly positive, there has been some criticism from conservative groups because your on-screen family is headed by a lesbian couple. How do you handle that?
CR: You know, I always like to think that if people aren’t hating on you, then you’re not doing something right, but if they ARE hating on you, then you are doing something right. That’s what really drew me to this project. I’m hoping that it’ll help people in the long run become more open to the idea of these types of families and see that being raised by same-sex couples, the families do turn out alright. And it’s something that’s such a big topic and such a big issue in the world now that I think it’s time that something is on the air like this. So I’m very blessed to be a part of it and I hope that people can really resonate with it.
BC: Why do you think so many families today can relate to the show?
CR: I think people can relate to the show and every single one of the characters. That’s what I love about this. It’s so brilliantly written that all of the storylines and characters, they’re all very identifiable. I’m hoping that, because it deals with certain issues, whether it’s same-sex couples or foster kids or trying to identify or find yourself, lots people can relate to a lot of the storylines. Thankfully, lots of feedback has been very positive as far as that goes. I love hearing different fan stories saying “Oh my gosh I totally would’ve done that or I have done that” –different stuff like that. It’s just very cool to see.
BC: What would you say to kids who are growing up in families that don’t fit a traditional mold?
CR: Family is the best thing that could ever happen. I love family and I love that this show is about family. “It’s not where you come from, it’s where you belong,” is the best quote that I could ever take from this show. It doesn’t matter if you’re different; it doesn’t matter if you’re not related by blood or anything like that. If you’re with a family who loves you, genuinely cares about you no matter what happens thick and thin and unconditionally, you’re in the best position ever and no one can tell you that you’re not.
BC: What’s life on-set like? Are there any funny stories or pranks you can tell us about?
CR: Oh my gosh, the set life is amazing. I love every single person. I have to say, there’s not a lot of pranksters, but there’s constant laughter. One thing that’s a constant is mainly with me, I’m really bad. I have a problem with my phone going off in the middle of filming. It never fails. I will put my phone on silent but then an alarm will go off in the middle of a scene and I’m known for putting my phone in really strange places, so if it ever starts ringing from the refrigerator in a scene, everyone will know it’s me. I’m not alone, though; some cast mates had that happen. It’s embarrassing at the moment, but at the end of the day everyone can really laugh about it.
BC: How does Mariana compare to you in real life?
CR: Well, I’m definitely not as adventurous or rebellious as Mariana is and I’d like to think I’m witty but I know I’m not [Ed note: She most certainly IS]. So I can kind of live vicariously through her with her witty comebacks. But I would like to think that can I relate to her in the sense that she does get into some trouble, but at the end of the day she does have a very good heart. She has good intentions and her mind is in the right place. And that’s genuinely what I love about her. She’s 15, she’s growing up and she’s going to make mistakes but there are lessons learned. I am still growing and there are still lessons to be learned for me, so I can relate to her in that way.
BC: Can you tell us a little more about this upcoming episode and whether it’s going to have lasting effects on the family?
CR: Well, Mariana’s secret is going to unravel in this next episode so you’re going to see the consequences that come along with her coming clean and how the whole family is going to kind of…well, you’ll have to see. I don’t want to give too much away!
BC: Are you kept in the dark until right before you’re filming an episode or do you get to review the script in advance?
CR: Thankfully, they do give it to us pretty early, usually halfway through filming [the episode previous to it]. I love getting to read the script. I’m genuinely big fan of the show so I love reading what’s next and what’s going to happen.
BC: Which actress’ career do you admire and why?
CR: So, this is very cliché, but I would have to say Angelina Jolie because I admire every project she’s taken on and I admire her as a person off-screen as well. Everything that she does to give back to the world, I just think it’s so great. She’s such a positive role model to look up to. I love all of her roles. I don’t think there’s one role that she’s ever taken on that I haven’t been a fan of. I’d love to walk in her footsteps one day, hopefully.
BC: What do you hope to be doing in five years?
CR: It’s always been a dream of mine to become an executive producer. So I would hope to produce probably a project that I’m doing. I think it’d be really great to be on-screen and off. Or maybe just off. I would love to produce.
BC: Has Jennifer Lopez [a.k.a. executive producers of The Fosters] given you advice yet?
CR: No, actually. I haven’t asked her for any advice, but she’s just been so great to work with. She’s been very active and it’s a blessing to work with her.
Catch all new episodes of The Fosters Mondays at 9/8c on ABC Family!
Diana Denza is BettyConfidential’s contributing editor.
Photos courtesy of ABC Family