Jake T. Austin Interview – The Fosters

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The cast of The Fosters

The cast of 'The Fosters' - Photo Courtesy of ABC Family

Jake T. Austin transitions from years of playing ‘Max’ in Wizards of Waverly Place to a new role as ‘Jesus’ in the upcoming TV drama, The Fosters. Debuting on ABC Family on June 3, 2013, the new series finds Austin playing a twin who, along with his sister Mariana (Cierra Ramirez), has come up through the foster care system and now is happily a member of a loving household led by two women (played by Teri Polo and Sherri Saum).
 
And in support of the show’s upcoming premiere, Jake T. Austin participated in a conference call organized by ABC Family. Check out what he has to say about the show’s premise, his character, and what sets The Fosters apart from other shows:
 
How many episodes have you filmed so far of the season?
 
Jake T. Austin: “We’re midway through the production, so we’re about halfway through the amount of episodes that we’re going to be starting out premiering. The show premieres on June 3rd, so that’s when fans will get an opportunity to see the first episode.”
 
Given the show’s premise, did you have to do anything special to prepare for this role?
 
Jake T. Austin: “As actors, we did our homework, and we did some research into the foster care system; also getting to meet with some foster kids and people who had had firsthand experience and firsthand knowledge. The show picks up where I play a twin who had been through the foster system and [was adopted by the family five years ago]. He’s, along with his sister, living in a new traditional family home. So he’s moved on from the foster home when the series picks up.”
 
What are you hoping the viewers will be able to take from the show as far as the portrayal of the foster home aspect?
 
Jake T. Austin: “I’m hoping fans will be able to relate to the message, which is the definition of family doesn’t necessarily have to do with who’s in your family, but more so how you look at the relationship. More importantly, the show will hopefully shed light on some bigger issues and some larger topics that may be controversial to some.”
 
Twins are always supposed to have that special bond, so what did you and your costar do to kind of get that twin vibe going?
 
Jake T. Austin: “To fall into that, the cast and I have spent a lot of time together and we’ve built a great chemistry. So going into the series, we were just really looking forward to exploring new story lines and new avenues that our characters can take. But we’ve gotten along so well, and I think our relationship off-camera really plays into our performance.”
 
This show is groundbreaking in that it’s featuring a same-sex household. What is it like to be a part of this show?
 
Jake T. Austin: “It’s great to fit into this show, especially at a time when a lot of issues are being brought to light. And to also act as a voice for a lot of those issues and to portray a character that feels very real and grounded and someone that’s very close to me. It’s a blessing to be working at this time and just to be involved in the show like this that can bring and open the doors to so many new families, hopefully. That’s just what I’m looking forward to.”
 
What was it like working with the rest of the cast?
 
Jake T. Austin: “Working with the rest of the cast has been, so far, a great experience. Everyone’s learning from each other and everyone’s excited to see where the story line and where the show is going to take off.”
 
Can you give us a little more information about your character?
 
Jake T. Austin: “I play Jesus Foster, who is the brother to Mariana, they’re a set of twins who have been in and out of the foster system pretty much since birth. They’ve embraced the idea of welcoming new foster children into their home and they live under the same roof as a same-sex couple in San Diego. The show picks up in a time when Jesus is coming into his own as a man and also assuming a paternal role for his sister.”
 
What drew you to the role?
 
Jake T. Austin: “What drew me to the role of Jesus was the opportunity to tell a groundbreaking story, in my opinion, and to be a part of something that was so real and so relatable. It’s a blessing to be working at a time when jobs are slim and unemployment is rising, so I’m very grateful to be in the position that I am and also to shed light on some of the topics that we’re going to be introducing on the show.
 
For me, it’s just an opportunity to explore my depth as an actor and also to tell a great story.”
 
What sets The Fosters apart from any other dramatic series on television today?
Cierra Ramirez, Teri Polo and Jake T Austin in 'The Fosters'

Cierra Ramirez, Teri Polo and Jake T Austin in 'The Fosters' - Photo Courtesy of ABC Family

Jake T. Austin: “What sets The Fosters – aside from most content that’s out there is – in a world that’s seemingly driven by consumership and selling things to you, so to speak, The Fosters just wants to tell an honest story, using very relatable and real people and real story lines. We’re able to convey this message and share in the hardships that the family experiences, the triumphs that they feel at the end of the day, which is really where we see the story going: a story of ups and downs and really telling a tale that hopefully a lot of Americans can relate to. And also international folk.”
 
What’s it been like working with such great, veteran actors, like Teri Polo? Have you learned a lot from them?
 
Jake T. Austin: “Yes. Working with someone like Teri Polo definitely enhances your ability as an actor. It forces you to pick up on your craft and also engage in the story to your fullest extent. Being on set with people who are driven to tell the story and people who are excited to be a part of this adventure is really motivating. At the end of the day that’s what we’re trying to instill through the story.”
 
You’ve mentioned Jesus’ relationship with his twin sister. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How do Jesus and Mariana interact with each other and what is that relationship like?
 
Jake T. Austin: “Jesus assumes a paternal role over Mariana’s character. Both Jesus and Mariana have been in and out of the foster system since birth, they’re reluctant to welcome any new faces or any new members of the family into their home, at first, but ultimately find serenity and they find happiness in their new family. Through their misadventures and through their mistrials, they are able to build a closer bond as they enter that next phase into their lives, which is adulthood, which is where the series picks up.”
 
How would you describe the series?
 
Jake T. Austin: “I would say The Fosters is a relatable, grounded story about a same-sex couple raising foster children. It’s an hour drama that also features so many other elements.”
 
How hands-on is producer Jennifer Lopez with establishing the show and creating your particular character?
 
Jake T. Austin: “I do know Jennifer Lopez had firsthand say and handpicked a lot of the characteristics that are going to be featured on the show as well as incorporating her style and implementing her own flavor and charisma. The show will feature, I think, a new side – it’s arguably different, but it’s more controlled, in a way. But Jennifer Lopez has had a lot of control over style. It’s been great to have someone that you can emulate and be so involved in a series like this.”
 
Do you think the name of your character is kind of a metaphor for who he portrays in this particular series?
 
Jake T. Austin: “Jesus, in my opinion, is an instrumental character in the series. I think the aspect of religion does play a part, but it’s hard to see where they want to take that character.”
 
It seems Mariana wants to meet her birth mom but Jesus is more standoffish. Is that something we’re going to see in more episodes to come?
 
Jake T. Austin: “I think Jesus’ apprehension to meeting his biological mother deals with his distrust of the foster system as well as a lot of skeletons that he’s unable to release in his closet. Hopefully, as the show grows and as the character develops, audiences will be able to see that back story with Jesus. Hopefully we’re able to learn more about where they came from and how he deals with moving forward.
 
Right now it’s so early and it’s very fresh. For me, as an actor, to remember the pain and the hardships that foster children endure everyday is essential to me playing the character.”
 
What do you think is the hardest part about playing your character?
 
Jake T. Austin: “The hardest part about playing this character is, at times, to not get too comfortable. Although there are so many differences in our personal lives, Jesus and I feel very parallel and I feel very parallel to Jesus in similar ways. There are certain things about our personalities and our characteristics that are identical. So for me, it’s very easy to fall into the shoes of this character. But, as well, it’s hard to contrast and show differences.”
 
How was filming The Fosters different from filming Wizards of Waverly Place?
 
Jake T. Austin: “Filming Wizards of Waverly Place, at a time when I was younger, was very different from The Fosters. I think Wizards was instrumental in my knowledge of the industry and also it was my first live-action, major series. So having done that and then moving onto The Fosters, on a major network and also dealing with a different element to the industry, it definitely, in my opinion, improved my game and improved my performance. Drawing from the experiences I had on Wizards and learning from either mistakes or improvements that I was able to make throughout the course of the show, I’m able to take every experience I’ve had and put it towards The Fosters, which is more challenging, longer in length because it’s an hour drama, and it’s also different in the subject matter. So for me it’s, all across the board, a new way to express my talent.”
 
You’ve acted in both movies and television series. Is there one that you prefer over the other?
 
Jake T. Austin: “I don’t prefer movies over television. Any opportunity to tell a story, for me, is a great chance as an actor. Also to play different characters and to challenge myself as an actor is the most important thing.”
 
After spending so much time on Wizards, how easy is it, or difficult is it, for you to say yes to committing to another TV series that could last, again, another five years?
 
Jake T. Austin: “For me, it’s not so much the length of time that you’re forced to commit to something. I was more curious as to the direction of the show and if it was something I saw myself being a part of. Judging by where everyone’s head was at, it seemed like a great fit for me.
 
Right now, I can honestly say this is something I’m happy to be a part of. Although, whether this show goes for nine years or ten years, when you commit to something, it’s important you take everything into account, including the people, including the story, including things just outside of money. So for me, it was important to realize the magnitude of the opportunity and also to realize that the show could go longer than expected.”
 
Are you finding you’re now getting projects sent your way that are allowing you to show that you’re grown up? That you’re not just a little kid anymore?
 
Jake T. Austin: “My work as a child actor has definitely contrasted to some of the work I’ve done earlier. But I still consider myself so young and so eager to learn. Hopefully I start seeing more challenging roles that put my talent to the test. But I’m still early in my career and just eager to get more credits under my belt.”
 
There is what is known as “The Disney Channel Curse,” where young stars, such as yourself, come up and have great success with their shows, and once that show ends, they have a hard time transitioning to other projects and having the same level of success. How has that affected you, or has it affected you?
 
Jake T. Austin: “It’s been hard to remove yourself when everyone can put you in a box and say this is going to happen and, almost, depict your future based on what they’ve seen in past experiences with other people. Taking my life and everything that I’ve gone through into account, I don’t see myself as just a one-sided actor or just somebody of 15 minutes of fame.
 
To ensure more work, I feel it’s vital that you treat everyone with respect. If you go into everything with an eagerness to learn, which is where I see myself anytime I go on set. Anytime I step on set, for me it’s an opportunity of being at film school, in my opinion. I’m just eager to learn and hopefully people will read into that. I’m not so concerned with the impact that being involved with the Disney Family is going to have on my career. More so I’m concerned with the impression that people have on me as well as my dedication to the craft, which is something I want to prove through my work.”
 
Are you worried fans will always associate you with Max Russo and have a hard time accepting you as Jesus?
 
Jake T. Austin: “There are a lot of people on iconic shows like Saved by the Bell and Full House – certain sitcoms where characters have built that relationship and fans have built and grown alongside people for so long, they feel like they’re almost there. I want to embrace being Max to the fullest extent, because for me that was the inciting moment in my career. That has led me to so many greater opportunities.
 
So whenever a fan comes up to me and mentions Max, whether it’s now or 20 years from now, I’ll speak about it like I just stepped off set. That’s something that is very close to me and that’s something that I’m not ashamed of at all. Wizards, in my opinion, will always be at the fans’ disposal; people can always see it, people can always know where to find it. It’s nothing to run from.”
 
What was it like working with Selena Gomez?
 
Jake T. Austin: “Working with Selena Gomez was a blessing. Getting to do Wizards was a huge, instrumental part of my career, which is the series that Selena also appeared on. For me, it was just a huge part of my life and a huge chapter in who I am. Getting to work with Selena Gomez was definitely impactful and so much fun, because she’s so talented and she’s awesome.”
 
What are your thoughts about the success she is currently having with her career?
 
Jake T. Austin: “I think it’s great. It seems like she’s exploring new sides to her career that people didn’t expect. It’s just interesting to see where everything is going.”
 
Do you stay in contact with her?
 
Jake T. Austin: “We’ve tried to stay in touch, most of the cast. Some have been better about it than others. But with everyone’s schedules and with everything that’s happening, it’s hard to keep tabs. It’s hard, also, to find a time when we’re all in the same location. But we have kept in touch.”
 
You are the first-ever youth spokesperson for the Ronald McDonald House New York. How did that come about?
 
Jake T. Austin: “Being the first youth spokesperson for Ronald McDonald House had actually come to my attention at an event. William Sullivan, who is the chairperson at Ronald McDonald House, had presented me with the opportunity. Growing up in New York, and my mom being an oncology nurse, I just had extensive insight into what a lot of these patients endure.
 
My eagerness and my wanting to know more, I think, is what provoked me to get more involved. Visiting the house on numerous occasions for numerous events, building a relationship with some of the kids there – it really forces you to look at things from their perspective. The more time you spend in an environment like that, with such bravery and such courage, it makes you want to spend even more time there. That’s where my involvement came about. I was eager to help in any way possible and I was just grateful that they offered me the opportunity to be a spokesperson and a youth ambassador – the first youth ambassador, which I’m very proud to hold.”
 
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The Fosters premieres on ABC Family on June 3, 2013 at 9pm.

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