Jake T. Austin made a name for himself as Max Russo on Disney's popular Wizards of Waverly Place series, opposite Selena Gomez. Now the 19-year-old actor is making the jump to a different Disney network, where he joins the principal cast of The Fosters on ABC Family. Austin's character, Jesus, is a former foster kid who's been adopted, along with his twin sister, by lesbian moms played by Sherri Staum and Teri Polo.
SheWired editors chimed in on a press call with Austin to get the inside scoop on his character, his TV moms, and the groundbreaking nature of the show with its nonchalant focus on a so-called nontraditional family. The Fosters premieres June 3.
Question: This show is groundbreaking in that it’s featuring a same-sex household. What is it like to be a part of this show?
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’s it been like working with such great, veteran actors, like Teri Polo? Have you learned a lot from them?
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.
What sets The Fosters apart from any other drama series that’s on television today?
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 are you hoping the fans will be able to take from the show as far as the portrayal of the foster home aspect?
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.
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?
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.