At a press junket for ABC Family’s The Fosters on set at the Warner Bros. studio, Maia Mitchell, who plays troubled teen foster kid Callie on the series, deftly moves from reporter to reporter, back to set to shoot a scene, and then back to the junket. At 20, the Australian native is gracious and engaging while hopping back and forth between the acting and P.R. parts of her job.
But Mitchell’s consummate professionalism comes as no surprise considering she landed her first starring role on the Australian series Mortified when she was just 12 years old. From there she went on to star in the Australian series’ Trapped and Castaway. But her American fans know and adore her for her musical theater prowess in Disney’s beloved Teen Beach Movie, a nod to the musical teen movies that proliferated in the ‘60s.
On The Fosters Mitchell carries a heavy load, her character Callie’s story being the ostensible catalyst for the entire series, and Mitchell plays the confused Callie with humor and a whole lot of heart, often evoking tears from the toughest of viewers.
SheWired chatted with Mitchell on The Fosters set where she discussed LGBT representation, what her role has meant to foster kids, working with her idol Rosie O’Donnell, and whether or not she would do a musical episode!
SheWired: How did you find out about the role?
Maia Mitchell: I was in Australia. I was just visiting home. I read the script, and when I’m home I send tapes over, but you can’t often trust that they’re even going to see them. So I was like, "Well, I love this." I have a family member who’s a foster kid so that’s what I responded to. I just really responded to the character of Callie. I was like, ‘I can play this. I know I can play this. I’m just connected to it instantly. So I flew over and completely messed up my first audition.
How do you think you messed it up?
I was just out of it. You know how you sometimes you just have crap days. I just wasn’t connecting to the material at all. I was so angry at myself. I said to Scott, the casting director, “I’m so sorry. I know I messed up. I know I’m not connecting today but I love this role. Please bring me back. Give me a second chance.” And he did, thank goodness. So the next time I auditioned was in front of Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg and Greg [Gugliotta]. And it just happened. It worked. Then I did a couple chemistry tests. I chemistry read with David Lambert [who plays Brandon]. I tested with him and three other guys, and I had kind of figured that David would get it. We definitely had the strongest connection. And it was amazing. He’s a really great guy.
Did you have any idea when you signed on how important the series would be to people?
I honestly didn’t. I had no concept of that. I grew up in an environment that was… a lot of my friends had two moms, or two dads, or whatever, and so I have never really been exposed to anything other than that. In my mind that was kind of the norm. So I didn’t really realize that there was anything to prove, almost. I didn’t really get the kind of scope of how much of a difference it would make because I didn’t know there was a difference to be made.
But after a couple of episodes had aired I was like, “Oh, OK.” Now I get it because I look at all the different programming [in the U.S.], and it seems like the other shows that had same-sex couples and families were all comedies and kind of satirized the characters. I liked the idea that it was a traditional family drama about “nontraditional” families. So I think that after the show had started airing and we were getting that feedback I was like, “Oh my God. There was such a blind spot in our programming.” So no, I had no idea, and it’s just been kind of an icing on the cake thing for us.
Teri Polo, David Lambert, Maia Mitchell
Do you get a lot of fans who reach out to you because they are foster kids?
Completely, yeah. We’ve had a bunch of foster kids come through the set and that’s really good and really interesting. They are always very honest and give us really, really honest feedback, which we’ve worked into the show. We had a group come through while we were shooting in the first 10 episodes and they were sort of like, “You know, we get that, like Stef and Lena are great moms, but there’s a bunch of foster kids who don’t have that experience and we’d like to see the other side of that.” And so they wrote the story line with the Girls United and Rita and the group home. It’s definitely been an interaction that the writers are having with foster kids and with fans.
You mentioned Girls United. I have to ask about working with Rosie (O’Donnell). She is such a legend.
She is a legend. I was a fan before the show, and then I found out she was a fan of the show and I almost had a heart attack. I think I tweeted her when I found out that she was joining the show and she replied to me, and I almost had another heart attack. Then I saw her and I had a heart attack. She’s been really, really cool. Surprisingly, very grounded. Very friendly. Very hardworking. She will remember all of the crew’s names and will make conversations with the dolly grip and the lighting guys. She’s very, very, very cool. Very low key.
A scene at the Girls United group home.
Tell me a little bit about what’s happening with Callie for season two?
Season one finished up and she had found out she was about to get adopted and then finds out that her birth father is this Robert Quinn [Kerr Smith]. So she finds out that she’s going to need this stranger’s permission to be adopted by these women, who she loves. So that’s kind of a huge thing for her.
The season picks up and she basically is in the mindset that, “I don’t need a piece of paper to prove I am part of this family. I feel loved, I love them.” But where I think that stems from is that she doesn’t want to open that can of worms. That would mean potentially getting to know him and knowing more about her heritage, and she’s just kind of been through so much. She doesn’t want her past to be any messier than it already is. It’s so messy. She’s like, “Look, I am just moving past everything and I don’t want to dig back into that.” So I think you kind of see her dealing with that and going through the motions and kind of uncovering a whole part of her past that she wasn’t aware of. Is she going to open up to that? Is she not?
Mitchell with Hayden Byerly, who plays her brother Jude on the show.
Where would you like to see Callie end up this season?
That’s a really good question. As the show goes on I learn more as the story lines progress and I find out more about her past. I think I want her to be part of the family. I don’t necessarily know if I want her to get adopted because (whispers) I’m a closet ‘Brallie’ fan. In a perfect world — and this might be my teenage romantic — but I would love for her to feel like a part of the family and I mean, for me, families aren’t black and white. There’s no grid for how a family should be structured. So I think she could feel as connected to the whole family if she and Brandon were to be together as well. But right now I don’t think she should be worrying about that. She’s supposed to be figuring out her own stuff. She should be single. I don’t think she should be dating anyone right now. But in her future I want them to be together.
I have time for one more and I have to ask, would you do a musical episode?
It would have to make sense but I would do it if it made sense. But if they wrote it I’d have to do it. That could be really fun. I mean, I know Cierra would be down, David would be down, I’d be down. Teri Polo would be so down.