I recently had an opportunity to chat with actor Sean Berdy of ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth” that airs on Tuesdays at 8/7c!
Sean Berdy was born to perform and has never let his deafness get in the way of him following his passion for entertaining. His first stage as a young boy was his parents’ bed where he put on shows for delighted family and friends alongside his younger brother Tyler, who would handle DJ and lighting needs for the events.
At a young age, Sean also became fascinated by magic, honed his skills in the art, and shared with his brother, Tyler the top award for young magicians at the World Deaf Magicians Festival held in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Sean received his first big break in acting when a casting call went out for a young deaf actor for The Sandlot 2, the 2005 comedic sequel to The Sandlot. Sean’s formal acting career was launched, and he went on to play roles in films including The Bondage (2006), The Deaf Family (2007), and The Legend of the Mountain Man (2008). In addition to Sean’s film career, he has been featured in numerous public service commercials.
In between filming engagements, Sean toured the country performing with highly acclaimed musical groups. His inspired dance rendition of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” performed entirely in American Sign Language was a tremendous hit among his deaf peers. Sean was named Mr. Deaf Teen America. In this role Sean was asked to make public appearances across the country for one year.
Sean plays Emmett Bledsoe, Daphne’s sweet but protective best friend. His mother Melody (Marlee Matlin), is best friends with Daphne’s mother, Regina. Emmett is deaf and attends the Carlton School for the Deaf along with Daphne. He has a passion for photography and can be often found taking pictures or riding his motorcycle.
Sorcerer Radio: How has being on Switched at Birth changed you? Now you’re pretty well known.
S. Berdy: Well, being on Switched at Birth is a great honor because the show portrays authentic deaf characters, not the characters that we in the Deaf community have often seen in television. I’m born into the Deaf community, but raised in the hearing community as well; and, I think this show is unique in showing authentic deaf characters and authentic deaf perspectives from deaf characters. So, I think that is amazing and an honor to be a part of. The two girls on the show, Vanessa and Katie, they’re wonderful, aren’t they? I love them.
Sorcerer Radio: Have you felt like you’ve changed at all, though, from your newfound fame?
S. Berdy: No, I don’t feel that I’ve changed. I do feel that being successful in portraying a deaf character as realistically as a deaf person lives today is something that I’ve always wanted to do; and, I’m thrilled to be able to do it. But, it hasn’t changed me. I wouldn’t be well known if it wasn’t for the fans. But, certainly they wouldn’t love me if I changed and I’m always going to be Sean Berdy.
Sorcerer Radio: What do you find is your biggest challenge in bringing this character to life on screen?
S. Berdy: There are many types of challenges in life, of course. But, one challenge towards approaching this character is speaking, the idea of should Emmett speak or not. I, Sean Berdy, speak pretty well, not perfectly; but, I grew up using my voice.
Now, when it comes to the TV screen and having Emmett speak, I have to rehearse to make sure his lines are understandable and so forth. That’s a challenge because I’m not a perfect speaker by any means. But, to make sure Emmett’s voice is understood on the television show is something that I’ve worked very hard at, you know. We worked very closely in terms of the writers and the producers to make sure that Emmett speaks for a reason and that it’s still authentic and that he’s true to his character and that the audience would see that.
Sorcerer Radio: What is the biggest difference is between you, Sean Berdy, and your character, Emmett.
S. Berdy: As I mentioned a little bit, Emmett Bledsoe is a very, very deep thinker and he thinks that he knows everything about the world; how the deaf world works, how the hearing world works toward the deaf people. He’s very passionate in terms of his art, his passion for photography and so forth. He is maybe not so in touch with everybody else and their feelings, but he’s very introspective. He’s the James Dean of the Deaf community.
That’s very different than Sean Berdy. Sean Berdy is dancing in front of the mirror at age two for his parents, making his parents crazy running around the house singing and dancing and jumping around and joking. I’m a comedienne in real life. I’m always goofing around; I’m outgoing and I talk with everybody, especially through Twitter these days. But, Emmett? Wow! He’s very limited in the people he chooses to share himself with.
Sorcerer Radio: If it were up to you, what sort of adventure would you want Emmett to have this season or even next season?
S. Berdy: I would love to see a big concert, have Guitar Face play a huge concert and become a hot band; and, there’s Emmett Bledsoe playing drums, the deaf drummer for this big rock band. That would be wonderful. I’m going to have to talk with the writers and try and tell them to take Guitar Face on the road. We’ll see about that one.
I have to tell you, I’ve been practicing drums a lot. I grew up playing drums a bit when I was a kid, and then I stopped. When I came on to this show, they asked me to play drums. I said okay, I’m back. I rehearsed for the one episode, the first episode we did where I just played a song. I rehearsed every day for a week.
When we came out to shoot it, I realized after I saw it, when it was edited down it was down to just a few seconds of TV time. But, I’ll tell you what—I never put more work into 30 seconds of screen time than I did working on the drums. But, I’ve been playing the drums and I’m ready for Guitar Face to rock the crowd. So, I would love to see us in a big arena somewhere. That would be cool.
Sorcerer Radio: How young you were when you started playing the drums; and, are there any other musical instruments you play?
S. Berdy: Sure, you know I love to talk about the drums and music. I started playing drums when I was probably six and played a lot until I was about ten or eleven years old. So, I guess five or six years where I played. I had a drum set at home and I would just bang on it. I’d even go on the Internet and study basic beats and so forth. During my teenage years, I stopped playing, but when I got on the show, they asked me to play and I was ready for it.
People ask me how do you play. Do you just feel the vibrations? You know, deaf people have a variety of ways that they can feel the rhythm. Obviously, I feel the beat, but I use my hearing aids; hearing aids that I’ve worn since the day I was born, truthfully. I grew up using hearing aids and I had speech therapy and so forth, and that helped me to develop a passion for music and helped me to develop my drumming talents. To be honest, without my hearing aids, I wouldn’t be able to play the drums. But, I don’t play any other music instruments.
I do love to interpret songs in American Sign Language. You know I just did a version of Hero by Enrique Iglesias that I put out on YouTube and it’s had thousands of hits already. I think that people are just transfixed when they see a song rendered in American Sign Language. I’m going to perform that song, actually, at Downtown Disney’s event, SIGNin’ in the Street March 17 and 18. I hope everyone can come out and see the event and you’ll get to see Sean Berdy signing live.
Sorcerer Radio: Well, you just brought up your event at Disneyland. I was actually wondering if you could talk a little bit more about what you and the rest of the Switched at Birth cast will be doing when you’re down there.
S. Berdy: The event, SIGNin’ in the Street, is in Downtown Disney, March 17 and 18. That’s a Saturday and a Sunday; a huge event that includes many, many different performers, deaf and hearing. Kickoff event is March 17 at 1:00 p.m. Fans can come out and see the cast, Switched at Birth, for a Q&A, autograph signings, very cool interactions with the fans. Also, guest star Marlee Matlin will be there. She obviously plays my mother, Melody on the show.
They’re also screening two episodes, episodes 21 and 22, as I call them. They’ll be at the theater there. Go out and see that; and, you can get a sneak preview of 22, actually, and there’s a lot of drama that in so-called final episode.
They’re also giving out things at their tent. I’ll be performing Hero in American Sign Language both nights, which I’m thrilled about. You know performing live in front of an audience like that is wonderful. You can find out more information online, I’m sure. Google Downtown Disney; SIGNin’ in the Street is the name of the event; and, I’m looking forward to seeing all you people out there.
Sorcerer Radio: How did you settle on Hero as the song that you’ll be performing?
S. Berdy: Why did I decide to perform that live, or why did I decide to make the video that I put up on YouTube?
Sorcerer Radio: Why did you decide to use that song specifically for the video and the live performance?
S. Berdy: Oh, okay. I’ll tell you why. A lot of people have asked me that same question and why did I pick that same song. I mean, first of all that song is world famous and extremely popular because I think the lyrics are so concise and so powerful and so direct.
I thought why don’t I just add American Sign Language to this beautiful message and make it as concise and as heartfelt in my language. So, I worked very carefully on translating the song, as simple as it is, as beautiful as it is to find an authentic translation. That song worked for me at that time. I may have new songs that I translate in the future. Who knows?
Sorcerer Radio: You have inspired a lot of people to want to learn sign language. What advice would you give someone who wants to learn ASL and how would they get started?
S. Berdy: I would love to give a little bit of advice because I have so many friends who are professors at universities and colleges all across the country who teach ASL classes. I’d strongly encourage anyone to look up their local university or college and see what ASL classes they provide. Usually, you start with ASL I and work your way up to ASL IV. Anytime you can interact with deaf people or the Deaf community, I would strongly encourage doing that.
I have seen an up swell of students in the ASL classes around the country and in my professor and educator friends out there are telling me it’s partially because of the show. So, that’s a thrill.
Be sure to tune-in to all-new episodes of ABC Family’s Switched at Birth on Tuesdays at 8/7c!
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