As a show lives on year after year, I get used to interviewing producers and cast members and while it does become more comfortable and familiar during these interviews, there’s something uniquely special anytime I talk to anyone from ABC Family’s drama series, “The Fosters.”
In short, the cast is a family and there’s much love, support and good spirit between them all and I recently experience it first hand by sitting down with stars Teri Polo and Sherri Saum during the ATX Television Festival, which was held last weekend in Austin, Texas.
It was the day before their panel and the ladies talked about the devoted fans of the show and their characters as well as what's in store for Callie, Mariana, Jude and Connor as well as how the family handles Jesus being in boarding school. And, since it was perfectly fitting, we also talked about what the actresses have learned from their characters and what they've learned about love.
How are Stef and Lena doing in the new season?
Sherri Saum: I feel for Stef and Lena that our misfiring and our lack of communication, and our handling things on our little roadways is coming to like a critical mass here. We’re headed for something not good and you saw it in the end of last season how these things can manifest some problems. It’s going to be a continuation of that.
I know a lot of fans, especially in our LGBT community, are kind of coming down on us about, you know, 'Stef and Lena are fighting again, and I don't like this,' and 'They never can let the lesbians be happy.' You know, it just couldn't be further from the truth. These are things that every relationship experiences, no matter what. And I understand that the need for them to want a win for us but we're always going to work it out. They have to just stick in there. We're investing so much into these characters and we give it 100 percent and we want to earn their respect so they just have to trust.
Teri, what would you say about the challenges coming for Stef and Lena?
TP: Binging up the pilot, that seemed so long ago and yet it really wasn’t and to the fans it really wasn’t, and how far [Stef and Lena] have come, to a certain degree, it wasn’t. I think that in a different vein, one of the challenges is trying to continue to maintain the reality, the realness of who these characters are, of it being everyday life, of them being real and not becoming formulaic.
That's what is a really wonderful and amazing thing about this cast is that they are a bunch of incredibly talented young actors that really come in and give 100 percent every day. I think it's a challenge for the writers, absolutely, to continue to find fresh stories, even though everyday life is a fresh story. That's one thing Timothy Busfield, [who directed] the pilot, tried so desperately to do, was to base everything in reality and it be like we're just sitting around talking or you're just looking in as a voyeur at the life of a family.
Will we see that Jesus being away at boarding school affecting the family at all?
TP: The family has always been pretty good at dealing with one of the kids doing something that puts them out there so he’s gone but he’s still around and Mariana’s still there and that’s certainly a part of Jesus. That’s a lot to handle.
SS: Yeah, and honestly even though we miss him and we love him, and all of that, it’s like the one less person in the bathroom type of thing in the mornings. It’s like a little bit of a, “Okay. So we’ve got some breathing room in the house for a little while.”
Is baby stuff at all in the new season?
TP: There are real babies, actual physical babies in the upcoming season.
SS: There are mental babies.
I don’t know what a mental baby looks like.
TP: [nods to Sherri] She does. Let her tell you.
SS: Well, again, it kind of ties in with the Jesus situation because once there is a little breathing room in the house…we are moms who foster. That’s part of our makeup, that’s what we love to do so we have kind of the makeup of there’s always room, there’s always an open door…
TP: And the emotional ghost of Frankie is always present, always present. She always will be, I think, for a while and I think it’s lovely because it’s not something that goes away.
How is Callie doing in the new season?
SS: That girl can’t catch a break to save her life.
But she tries so hard…
SS: She does try.
TP: She meets up with this new character AJ and, of course, they make some bad decisions and get caught as usual, and she, over the course of the season, is coming to grips and coming to terms with her inability to control her own life. She may be a young teenager but she is a very old soul because of what she has been through. And she tries so hard to make good decisions [but] she runs into some big ramifications this season and how to deal with them.
She turns to Mariana and the moms for help and the Quinns are very much still in this season, they're part of her life you know. Sophia's part of her life and what she means to Callie what Callie means to her.
SS: She’s going to have some issues with Mariana that are very sister relatable, like real life, and I think as much as it’s probably going to suck, what happens between them, there’s got to be a part of her that’s kind of strangely, twistedly, grateful for that kind of problem.
Let's talk about Jude and Connor. I know Connor's Dad is still around and could learn a thing or two from Stef and Lena.
SS: He’s got a lot to learn and a lot to absorb with his son now identifying he’s gay and it’s nothing he ever anticipated would happen but he loves his son and that’s evident. He wants to be there and find his way through this new reality and still love his son through it and do the best he can so it’s kind of interesting to see him struggle and try to be what Connor needs.
What do you hear from fans and is it different from what you heard at the start of the show?
SS: I think at the very beginning there was such a rejoicing and such a celebration that this couple exists and this family exists and they’re kind of getting like, ‘Hey, we want this, that and the other in this order, alphabetically. We want it like this and we want it now!’ And ‘what the hell was that fighting between you and Stef? That’s some bull crap.’
TP: They’re very possessive.
Well, Lena did have some other woman kissing up on her last season…
TP: Trust me it was not a good day.
SS: We hired extra security on Warner Brother’s lot that day.
TP: I could’ve taken her with one hand tied behind my back.
You could have. I know.
TP: But I think Sherri’s right. There’s an element of rejoice and celebration and now it is a very possessive…they’re very…
TP: Very invested. To the point sometimes that they lose touch with the fact that Sherri and I are, really, not together. As much as I wish, we were.
SS: In all fairness, I lose track sometimes, too…
TP: I’m touching her a lot! It’s the first thing I did when I came in. I was like touching her legs, like look at this. Oh, she looks delicious.
SS: It should be a law that you need to touch her, so I don’t feel bad. I feel like it’s needed, it’s…
TP: The fans are stinking awesome is what the fans are…this show has done a lot to change people’s lives. They tell us that every day, ‘You changed my life. You gave me the courage, you showed me. I’m sticking around because of you,’ which is in some ways kind of frightening to feel that sense of responsibility but at the same time for me, Teri Polo, I personally feel as if they’ve changed my life as well in the amount of love and support, and interaction, and just overall love that they have given. I have never met a more supportive, loving, giving, caring community of people in my life and I am so honored, truly honored, to be a part of it, for them to love me.
What have you learned from your characters in the course of the series?
SS: The writers are so amazing. I mean, I want to steal some of the stuff they come up with for my life! I feel like I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness because I can be a real hard ass in my real life and I can just say, ‘Well, that’s it. Cut you off. Forget it.” I can just kind of do that. It’s just taught me that the worst stuff ever can go down and you can recover and you can forgive and you can go on from that and that’s really profound in my world because, like I said, I can hold grudges!
TP: What I’ve always said from the beginning is that I’ve discovered a lot about myself in that I can love another woman so deeply and completely, and it’s okay. I’ve never been in love with a woman before and I absolutely love this woman, working with her. I’m not allowed to give it away but one of the most moving moments you’ll ever see on “The Fosters.” We shot it yesterday. One of the most pure and genuine moments you will ever see, coming from her. It seriously got to a point where it was no longer Stef and Lena, I was so upset for her and thank God the scene called for me to grab her and hug her because that’s all I wanted to do is hold her. And they yelled, “Cut,” and we didn’t stop because she still needed to just let go of the emotion that she had to bring for the scene and I’ve learned that there’s all kinds of love.
There's all kinds of love and all kinds of different love. Love that an older woman can have for a younger woman without jealousy, without competition, without bad feelings, without all that stuff. Love and support for these kids. I have young kids, I don't have older kids and I've learned this love for these older children that I never had before that I'm learning how to bring some of my experiences into the family and they dynamic.
There’s been this give and take of love that I don’t think I’ve ever had in my life prior to this. It’s just been really grounding and really supportive and it’s just taught me a lot about love. It sounds so cliché and it sounds so general but there’s a lot of facets to love, it’s not just carnal, it’s not just lust, it’s not just, ‘Well, let’s be boyfriend and girlfriend’ or whatever. There’s a lot of facets to love in some many different ways, love or not love, gay, straight, lesbian, queer, what have you. It’s enriched my life immensely and changed who I am and the way I see things.
“The Fosters” airs Mondays at 8pm on ABC Family followed by the new docu-series “Becoming Us.”
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.