ABC Family’s little show with the big heart, The Fosters, returns for its second season tonight, and part of what lends so much down-home realness to the series about lesbian moms raising biological, adopted, and foster kids, is veteran actress Teri Polo as one half of the mom couple.
Fans of the wildly Meet the Parents movies might hardly recognize Polo, 45, in her role as Stef Foster, a San Diego mom and a cop by day. Beyond Polo’s preternatural acting ability, imbuing her Stef with a relatable way of speaking and a concerned mom persona that could make every kid watching wish she were really their mom, Polo has fully embraced her secondary role as ambassador for the LGBT community, shouldering a responsibility to tell the story of these lesbian moms and their kids with as much honestly as possible. She’s also become a fixture at LGBT events like the GLAAD Awards, HRC events, and the L.A. LGBT Center’s An Evening with Women.
While Polo’s sincere portrayal of Stef offers so much to fans of the show, she’s also happy to discuss something she’s gained from working on the series – a really close friend in her costar Sherri Saum. The pair has insane chemistry on and off the screen, and their friendship is a testament to women working with and supporting one another.
SheWired chatted with Polo at a press junket on the Warner Bros lot where The Fosters shoots. She discussed her LGBT fans and how the show has resonated for people, her deep, abiding friendship with Saum, and some sexy scenes that fans can look out for in season 2.
SheWired: When you took on the role of Stef, did you realize how important it would be for LGBT people?
Teri Polo: I can’t say that I was aware of any other responsibility except doing the best I could. I knew when I walked into the room, to meet the director and producers for the first time — I knew that it all just clicked. It was just like I just slipped into the skin and felt just so comfortable with this role. More comfortable than I’d ever had in the past 27 years. But I don’t think that I realized how much it would mean to people. I mean, I’ve been in Ikea and had this beautiful transgender woman come up to me and hug me in tears and say, “Thank you so much. This is my story. I’m married and you are doing my story right now. I can’t have children so we are fostering and adopting.” She was shaking. She was just like, “I’m so grateful.” And, you know, I have people coming up to me at the grocery store and Target and crying, and saying how much it means to them. Getting the GLAAD Award was like that validation that we are actually achieving what we set out to do. Being recognized by the very people that we are trying with all of our hearts and souls to do justice to, to portray, to honor.
Polo with Sherri Saum and producers Bradley Bredeweg and Peter Paige
One of the great things about the show is you and Sherri play lesbian moms, but the sexuality is just so assimilated and normalized. It’s not the point at all.
Yes. Exactly. When we started out shooting the pilot, our whole theme was, Here’s a family of foster children with different backgrounds, different races, and we’re a family. Some are fosters, some are adopted, and some are whatever. Oh, and the moms are lesbian. But here’s the family. It wasn’t to beat you over the head with it. It wasn’t, “We’re going to preach to you.” It just was, it just is, and I think that was really very easy for people to accept to and relate to.
Your friendship with Sherri is a beautiful extra that has come out of the show. Can you talk a little bit about how that friendship has evolved?
No! I can talk a lot. There’s no little bit when it comes to that. I, in 28 years, never related to another actor or actress as I have with this person. She is one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met as a human being, much less working with as an actor. She’s just humble, and kind, and smart, and funny, and loving, and generous. And she is just an amazing actress. It’s seamless. It’s as if we have been a couple for 10 years. And since she had the babies I text her everyday.
Have you met the babies?
Yeah. I was her first visitor at the hospital and I text her everyday, “How are the little Kings?” because Kamar’s last name is de los Reyes, and so I call them “the little Kings.”
When I interviewed Sherri following the GLAAD Awards in April, I asked her about that scene after Stef gets on board about Lena having a baby, and there’s a pretty racy make out scene. Were you surprised that ABC Family went there?
You know, it’s really weird, I guess it just becomes second nature that it doesn’t even occur to me. It just is. You go and you play a part where you’re making out with a man; you’re having sex with a man, and there’s just no difference. I don’t think it aired yet, but there is more coming up. There’s some clothes coming off, and that’s good. It’s good. That’s what it is. When two people love each other, they have sex, they take their clothes off. So it just is.
I love Stef’s kind of folksy way of calling everyone a pet name. Are those affectations in the script or are they your own?
Yeah, it is me and they really have to bring me back, because I’m that way with my kid. Everything has a handle to it and everything has a “love,” and a “babe,” and a “sweets,” and a “sugar butt,” you know. But then there are some things that we’ve coined. What was it in the pilot? “Miss Thing” for Cierra [Ramirez, who plays Mariana], which they now write for. They write it in. Like “Miss Thing” and “love” because I always call my kids "love," and it just comes out. So they’ll write it in. And then they’re like, “We’ve written you a 'love,' now take the rest of it out.” But they’ve been incredibly collaborative and respectful of when I say, “You know, as a mom, I just don’t like the way this is worded because it sounds a certain way. Can I try it this way or whatever?” And they’re incredibly collaborative and open.
What’s up for Stef in the second season?
Ah, let’s see… What’s up for Stef? She has her suspicions. Anna [the twins' biological mom] has gone missing and she has her suspicions that perhaps Mike might have been involved in the disappearance, so she becomes a little...not obsessed, but very, very concerned with that. Just as to the ramifications it might have on the family. And dealing with, yeah we’re married, but that doesn’t put a cocoon around your relationship. You still have to deal with the ins and outs, and dealing with a baby that Stef was not necessarily 100 percent on board with. But she wants Lena to be happy. So dealing with that and then just the everyday teenage B.S. like, “What are my kids doing?”