By Julio Martinez
A Special Kind of Family Mix
Taking a break during the filming of the ABC Family series, The Fosters, – where they play adopted fraternal twins, Mariana and Jesus Foster, respectively – Cierra Ramirez and Jake T. Austin, are only to happy to blurt out their ethnic roots. Ramirez giggles, “I am Mexilumbian: Mexican and Columbian, all Latina. I don’t speak Spanish. I know it’s a disgrace to my last name. My parents spoke fluently but while I was growing up they wanted me to be totally English speaking. I regret it now.”
“I’m all over the place,” says Austin, who is bilingually fluent. “I’m half Puerto Rican, a quarter percent Polish, English and Irish. Yeah, it’s diverse. In the show, Mariana and Jesus are supposed to have a Spanish mother, but everything is so new. I don’t know how developed in the language we are supposed to be. When the show starts, we speak broken Spanish, but it’s hard to determine how fluent until they see where the show is going.”
Both actors exude an exuberant certainty that they are involved in a landmark television project that is very special and important. Ramirez affirms, “What attracted me to this role, to this project in general, was definitely the fact that it dealt with issues and topics that aren’t really on television right now. And there’s nothing on same sex marriage – well lesbian couples raising a family and taking on foster care. So I just love that this project incorporates different roles that can get people to talk about and hopefully relate to and identify with.”
“I am really happy that the role of Jesus feels very grounded,” Austin affirms. “It seems very relatable. My lack of knowledge for the foster care system definitely intrigued me, just to the story overall. I wanted to learn more about that and wanting to do more background homework. And having auditioned for the show, not knowing anything and now standing two weeks into production, I’ve been able to learn a lot more. Just having the opportunity to work on a series again, and to have that consistency that allows me to also grow as an actor is invaluable. A lot of things come along with it but more so to just do a character like this.”
Both Ramirez and Austin bring impressive credentials to the series, which premieres Monday, June 3 (9pm) on the ABC Family Channel.
Ramirez, who is also an accomplished singer, made her first TV appearance when she was 10 year old in Showtime at the Apollo. Ramirez is signed to Temper Music Group and currently recording her debut album. She enjoyed a recurring role on The Secret Life of the American Teenager and co-starred in the 2012 feature, Girl in Progress, garnering an ALMA Award for Favorite Movie Actress Supporting Role.
Austin is a five-time Young Artist Award nominee, best known for his role as Max Russo, the youngest of three wizards on the Disney Channel original series Wizards of Waverly Place, and as the voice of Diego, the 8-year-old animal rescuer on the Nickelodeon animated series Go, Diego, Go! In 2012, Austin guest starred in the long-running NBC legal drama, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Since The Fosters is still in the embryonic stage as a series, neither Ramirez nor Austin has a clear idea where their characters are going or how the shows will be shaped. However, each has a kind of wish list. Since Jennifer Lopez is one of the show’s executive producers, Ramirez hopes there might be an opportunity to display her vocaltalent, perhaps with Lopez making a guest appearance. “That would be awesome,” Ramirez exclaims. “We could have a little Foster musical. I originally got into acting through singing and I think the writers are aware. That would be really interesting if they kind of wrote that in and I would love that to happen.”
Austin is just open to wherever the show takes his character, but when asked about the future, he is looking far beyond. “I’m hoping to be a part of a new wave of artists that really changes the way content is viewed or hopefully – just to become a new wave. I’m looking into producing, directing and I’d love to step behind the camera and all across the board – investing, film finance, producing. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself. But definitely, I think that’s where the future of the industry is – creating your own content, not just being somebody for hire.”
The Fosters, executive produced by Jennifer Lopez and her production company Nuyorican Productions, tells the story of the Foster family, a lesbian bi-racial couple – played by Teri Polo and Sherri Saum – who raise biological and adoptive children together. Created by Peter Paige and Brad Bredeweg, the series also features Danny Nucci, David Lambert, Hayden Byerly and Maia Mitchell.