It’s been just under a year since ABC Family’s little show with the big heart, The Fosters, first aired, and already it’s a huge part of the cultural conversation, part of the zeitgeist really. The series, about a mixed race family headed by lesbian moms raising biological, adopted, and foster kids, is one of those shows at the fore of a new kind of television in which LGBT representation is seamlessly folded into a larger narrative. Even among pioneering series like Grey’s Anatomy, Glee, Pretty Little Liars, and Orange Is the New Black, The Fosters stands out in terms of its realistic, grounded LGBT characters. And the relatability of The Fosters is due in large part to 39-year-old new mom Sherri Saum, who plays lesbian mom Lena opposite Teri Polo’s Stef, on the show.
While veteran actress Saum had appeared on shows including the frothy Sunset Beach, One Life to Live, Rescue Me, and HBO’s critically acclaimed In Treatment, she’s become something of a breakout in her role as the level-headed school administrator, wife, and mom Lena, often playing foil to Polo’s more impulsive Stef. But even as the arbiter of many a Fosters’ family problem, Saum imbues Lena with a heartbreaking pathos. It’s nearly impossible to avoid tearing up whenever Lena has a scene with the family’s newest adoptee, the young, questioning Jude (Hayden Byerly).
Beyond her killer acting chops, it’s well documented that Saum and Polo’s professional relationship has developed into an enviable friendship that makes them endlessly fun to watch both on and off the show. Last month they appeared at the GLAAD Awards in Los Angeles, where a very pregnant Saum (she gave birth to twin boys just this week), laughed and teased Polo as her acting partner and friend joked on the red carpet that she was indeed the mother of Saum’s babies.
With The Fosters second season premiering in just a few weeks on June 16, SheWired chatted with Saum for a brief 10-minute interview in which we squeezed as much as we could in about GLAAD’s recognition of the show, Saum’s deep, abiding friendship with Polo, their racy make-out scenes, and Lena’s maternal instinct with Jude.
SheWired: Last year when you attended GLAAD the show had yet to air. What was it like returning to the even now that the first season has aired?
Sherri Saum: It’s just like Teri was saying when we were there… It’s a feeling that we are doing our job correctly – that we’re hitting the mark because we are trying to represent people. There are people who are honoring us and it’s a really satisfying feeling. I wouldn’t expect an organization like GLAAD to just give free passes to any show that just puts a gay person on the air. I feel like it’s really meaningful.
One of the most fascinating things that has come out of The Fosters is your friendship with Teri. It shows on camera and when the two of you are interviewed together. How did that connection happen?
It is so unexpected. I’m pretty introverted and cautious when it comes to meeting new people. I did not know Teri prior to the show. She’s just like a bull in a china shop. She just comes at you full force. She’s so honest and so real and so out there. I was like, “Whoa! How is this going to come together?” I was like the opposite, but it was one of those magical things where she is so funny, and she’s so honest, and she, 99.9 percent of the time, takes the words right out of my mouth – what I’m thinking. And she’ll just say it – whatever it is. I love her for that. She speaks for all of us. She’s fearless.
We just evolved. It wasn’t just instant. It was an evolution and that’s why it feels to me – so genuine and organic. It wasn’t just like this Hollywood, “Oh hi, we’re going to be great friends.” It was just a slow burn of, “this girl is hilarious.” She just makes my day. I love her.
Now that you've returned to set to shoot season two would you say that your friendship with Teri contributed to even more of a shorthand between Lena and Stef?
Oh definitely. We found our rhythms together. We felt this gradual yin and yang happen between us. She pipes up; I’m like her wingman. She sets up the joke, I kind of pull the trigger on it. We just go that way, and it goes that way across the board, whether we show up at an event and she’s wearing something exactly like mine but in a different color. We just have this really similar thing, but we’re also really different, so it works.
Stef and Lena moments really resonate especially for viewers who aren’t that teen demographic. Are there many more great moments between them in season two?
Oh most definitely. The writers and producer are acutely aware of keeping us balanced. It’s an ensemble show, but they’re making sure that the moms find their time and they’re keeping it realistic. We’re not going to be able to be lazing around in the bathtub with bonbons every episode – which would be nice – but definitely, we find our time. We make it known too. Enough with this, that, and the other… We need to go lock ourselves in our room and just be us for a while, and they get that fully.
There was a scene in season one when Stef finally gets on board with Lena wanting to have a baby, and then things get really racy for ABC Family…
Did it surprise you that they went there with the moms?
Yeah, it kind of did. When we’re doing a scene like that it just feels natural. Generally I dig this girl so much, and I trust her so much, and we do have so much fun, but the kissing thing… We did our thing and we kind of stopped ourselves even before they cut, and they just kept going, “One more, a little more, if you make it a little…” It was so unexpected that they were trying to make more of it. I was really impressed actually that they don’t cut as soon as we come together for a kiss.
I do have to say to qualify that though – I was just about to pull her shirt up and they cut that out. I was a little disappointed in that, but maybe next time.
I’m sure Stef and Lena fans would love that. There’s one other relationship on the show I’d like to talk about and that’s Lena’s close bond with Jude. I think I tear up just about every time there’s a Lena/Jude scene.
Can you talk about that evolution of that relationship?
I think I (Lena) naturally have a soft spot for anyone that feels a little lost or confused. I just feel like Jude is dealing with so much and my maternal instinct is just zeroed in on him. The other kids have kind of come into their own, they’re kind of doing their thing and Jude just has a lot to figure out. Even though Callie’s been great and kind of a substitute mom figure for him I feel like Lena’s really filling that place in his heart. He’s kind of filling that place for me because I’ve never really had someone who needed me quite so much.