Maia Mitchell on “The Fosters’” real life family dynamic on set

On The Fosters, Maia Mitchell plays Callie Jacob, the tough cookie foster kid, just looking for a place to belong.  She finally finds that safe place with foster moms Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum) and their brood. Nineteen year old Maia was a successful actress in her native Australia, before coming to the states and stepping into her starring role on The Fosters.  I recently had the chance to speak to Maia, who is delightfully sweet and wise beyond her years. Here she talks about tonight’s episode of The Fosters, her closeness to her cast and what it’s like being part of a ground breaking show.

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AfterEllen.com: Last week’s episode was an intense one! We finally get to meet the infamous creepster Liam and really see why Callie is afraid of him.  This conflict follows Callie into the next episode, The Fallout. Here she is finally starting to maybe feel a little bit safe, and now this.  Can you tell us a little bit about what Callie’s headspace is like, kind of what’s going on in her mind at the moment?  

Maia Mitchell: So yeah, basically Callie’s whole complex is that idea of feeling like she’s home. The Fosters are definitely challenging her whole mentality that she’s been very calloused and very hardened by her experiences. She doesn’t let people in because she can’t afford to. So Lena and Stef have really started to challenge that and she’s really kind of starting to settle in and feel like she’s in a safe environment. Then Liam comes into town and it throws her completely off and she’s kind of reminded. It’s this sad reality for Callie that she’s not safe, and she hasn’t been safe.

There are just so many demons for Callie that are all involved with her whole experience with Liam. I mean it’s all going to come out, and you’re going to find out. Basically she’s being forced to face and deal with some really huge issues that she hasn’t even been able to dig real deep and work through. There’s a lot going on for Callie in the next episode.

AE: Are we going to start seeing Callie reach out to her foster family for guidance and help?  We know she’s going to be connecting with Brandon, but are we going to see her try to connect more with the rest of the family?

MM: That’s the biggest thing for Callie. There are all these nuances where she doesn’t feel like she can open up because every time she has opened up, or she has been honest about something that has happened to her, she’s been put in juvie or sent to another foster home.  She learned from experience to not tell the truth and that the truth is only going to make her life more difficult.

Brandon is definitely a huge part of helping her kind of come to that point where she can feel comfortable talking and approaching the moms and opening up a little bit. I think she feels very safe around Brandon. There is something very safe and loving about their connection to where she knows that she can trust him. It’s an unspoken understanding. I mean he’s a huge part of her opening up.

AE: You play Callie with such a wonderful combination of being so guarded, yet so vulnerable.  Cheers to you on that.

MM: Thank you!

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AE: You get a sense that there is a lot of camaraderie on set. Is it kind of like being part of a whole new family?

MM: Yes! It absolutely is. In a very different way to what you are seeing on screen–the dynamic between us on set is very different from what you see on screen. Everyone is definitely a family. Teri Polo (Stef) is like my crazy big sister. I love her. Sheri (Lena) is like the mom.  She’s the momma hen. David (Brandon) is my buddy, he’s awesome. Cierra (Mariana) is like my little sister. We just have the best time.  She’s so cute. Jake (Jesus) is like a little brother. Hayden (Jude) is the cutest little boy in the world. We give each other such a hard time. There is definitely a family dynamic. We’ve all gotten to a place where we can be honest and open with each other. If one of us a bad day, we know not to kind of [Laughs] push it.  We are all very in tune now.

AE: There has never been a show like The Fosters, and you guys are certainly breaking new ground and the impact is already being felt.  How does it feel to be a part of show that is changing people’s mindsets about what it means to be a family?  What has fan response been like on your end?  

MM: You know, it feels pretty good. [Laughs] It really does. Before we were doing more episodes, like in the pilot process. I come from a family that is kind of typically structured. I grew up in an area, which is quite open, and a lot of my friends have two moms or two dads, so to me it’s not an atypical family structure at all.  I never really thought twice about that when I read the pilot, it wasn’t part of my consciousness. Then we shot the pilot and we started getting One Million Moms and all these blog sites making a big deal that it was two moms. Then I felt like, “Oh wait, that’s kind of true.” There have been shows that feature gay and lesbian couples but with those shows it’s always kind of a running theme. I feel sometimes it’s thrashed to death. I think what the value of our show is that it’s presenting this family in the same light that we would present any other family.

It’s a family drama like any other family drama. It’s not a show about two moms. It’s a show about a family.  And the fact that it’s on ABC Family which is you know is a network that is so widely distributed and connected to so many homes, it’s just so cool. And families are watching it together and kids who may not have watched the other shows with the gay parents are seeing this, seeing a teen drama with two moms. It’s making that more of an open, regular occurrence, than a kind of featured thing. Do you know what I mean?

AE: Absolutely, and ABC Family has been a fantastic ally to the LGBT community and families alike. The Fosters is in a perfect place on ABC Family. Have you gotten any responses from kids and families like the Fosters? Or just people saying, I never thought about a family like this and this show has changed my mind. Do you get fan mail and feedback like that?  

MM: What’s been great and really lovely to hear is people being like, “I’ve never seen two moms, or I’ve never seen a lesbian couple like Lena and Stef and they are so cute.”  Stuff like that, because they are, their chemistry is insane.   So reading those tweets where people are discovering it for the first time and really appreciating the relationship between Stef and Lena as being very loving and very equal has been pretty amazing actually.

My fans from Teen Beach Movie and The Fosters are quite young, there are a lot of young kids. It’s definitely cool to see them be opened up to this kind of family structure that they haven’t seen before and really accept it. Because I think that Teri and Sherri do an amazing job.

The Fosters airs Monday nights on ABC Family.

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