Katie Leclerc has just landed her first series starring role, but already, she shares something with “Glee”-ful Emmy and Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth.
Both have Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear disorder that impacts the person’s balance and hearing … and can worsen over time, with severe hearing loss a possible outcome. In Leclerc’s case, the condition is informing her part as a deaf teen who’s one of two people “Switched at Birth” on the ABC Family drama by that name that premieres Monday, June 6.
“I’m just now hearing about people I have looked up to who also have Meniere’s,” Leclerc tells Zap2it in a clear, steady voice that doesn’t indicate the disease at all. “Heather Locklear has it. I had no idea. It’s very unpredictable, and a lot of people are misdiagnosed because the symptoms are so tricky. The makeup artist on our set has Meniere’s as well, so it’s more common than I ever knew it to be.
“The great thing about this role,” Leclerc adds. “is that I have the opportunity to make people aware of it. There’s a cochlear implant coming out in the next five years that, hopefully, will combat Meniere’s disease. It’s a problem with inner-ear fluid retention, so that may help. Anything that can make people feel more comfortable is great.”
Previously seen on “Veronica Mars” and “The Riches,” Leclerc gets to work in “Switched at Birth” with another actress who has coped with loss of hearing: Oscar winner, and continuing player on NBC’s “The Celebrity Apprentice,” Marlee Matlin. She has a recurring guest role as a friend of Constance Marie, who plays the woman stunned to learn Leclerc’s character actually isn’t her biological daughter.
“I’ve been a fan of hers for years,” Leclerc says of Matlin. “She’s such an advocate for the deaf community. Having the chance to meet her and joke around on the set with her, I’ve found she’s just such a warm, loving person who has this incredible ability to make everyone feel comfortable. And besides all that, she can act her way to an Oscar!”