On a beautiful summer afternoon in Los Angeles at John Paizis’ Performing Arts Studio West, the cast of TV’s Born This Way met up with David S. Zimmerman, an ABILITY contributor and founder of Meet The Biz, and actress Jamie Brewer of American Horror Story. Later in the conversation, the cast’s families joined them as they talked about life, love, and the up side of having Down syndrome. David Zimmerman: I have to say your show has become one of my favorites. In fact, I binge-watched the first season last week. Jamie Brewer: We both did.
David: I cried! I laughed!
The Cast: Awwww.
David: I identified with a lot of stuff that was going on.
Jamie: Same here.
David: You guys seem so honest and open. Elena: What was your favorite thing about it, David?
David: It’s hard to say because there were so many things I liked. It’s more than a show. It’s like a movement. John (A K A J.T.): I think it’s because between Cristina, Rachel, Megan, Elena, Sean, Steven and I, we’re like a big family. We love this show. We’re always there for each other, in good times and bad times… We would sit down and talk about what bothers us the most. I feel like I’m the one to give advice to everybody.
David: You said “family.” The show makes the audience feel like they’re part of the family, too, doesn’t it?
Jamie: It does. I really liked that about it. And I really liked when you guys were in the bowling alley.
David: Omigod the bowling alley!
Rachel: I broke 100 for the first time.
Sean: I broke 600! (laughter) [Bowling’s highest score is only 300.]
David: I thought we might play a word game, where we’ll say a word—
Jamie: —And you say the first thing that comes to mind. Okay, first word: independence.
Sean: Loving. Elena: Romantic.
David: Okay, let’s see: love.
Rachel: I know what love is.
David: What is love?
Rachel: It’s when you have this spark in your eyes. Sparkle, sparkle!
David: And that spark connects you with someone else?
Rachel: Yes. Elena: Like you could spread your wings and fly.
John: I would say family, because we’re always there for each other, including Cristina, who’s getting married.
Cristina: I would say that marriage means someone will always love you and care about you a lot. They will always stay with you, ask you out, and really love you the way you are.
David: Show us your ring. (Cristina shows her ring to cheers.)
Jamie: That’s gorgeous!
David: It is.
Jamie: And Elena has a poetry workshop! Elena: I do!
David: I would love to hear some of your poems. Elena: You should come to the open mic night!
Jamie: I want to go, too!
David: Let’s do it. But first, let’s finish our word game.
Jamie: Another fun word: fashion.
David: Megan, you have a clothing line, don’t you?
Megan: I do.
Jamie: What inspired you to get into fashion?
Megan: When I graduated high school, I started a family business, a tie-dye company, where I’m making my own clothing.
David: I saw the episode about it, and I seriously felt like I wanted to hand money through the TV screen and say, “Can I have that one?”
Jamie: Yeah, I wanted one of your scarves.
David: Okay, this question is for everybody: What do you want most at this moment?
Cristina: For me it’s hanging out with my mom.
David: I love that. Rachel, how about you?
Rachel: What I want the most in my life is my mom and my dad. I really love my parents a lot, and me and my mom are really good friends. I love her so much.
David: Watching your connection with her, I related it to me and my mom. I just got back from a little vacation with her, which really touched my heart.
Megan: To be honest with you, some day I want to get married and have a baby.
John: I want to be able to do more new music. I want another season of Born This Way. My TV family means a lot to me. And maybe I want to get a spinoff from the show.
David: It would be amazing if Born This Way was nominated for an Emmy.
Jamie: Yes. Here’s hoping it goes eight, 10 seasons.
John: More like, 20,000 seasons! (laughter)
David: Steven, what do you want the most at this moment?
Steven: I want to be able to express myself…
Jamie: And Sean?
Sean: Actually, at this moment I’m feeling love for my mom, and for my friends here, all of them Downs. And someday, I’m gonna marry my girlfriend.
Jamie: We see a lot of animals on the show. What are some of your favorite pets?
John: I like dogs.
David: How about you, Sean?
Sean: My favorite animals are the baby elephant and the baby chihuahua.
David: I’d love to see a combo of those two; that would be interesting! (laughter)
Steven: I kind of like the wolf.
Steven: Because my high school was the Northwood Timberwolves.
Jamie: Ah, that makes sense.
Cristina: My favorite animals are my two cats.
Rachel: Cat girl!
Rachel: My favorite pets were my two cute dogs, Chloe and Dolly, but Chloe passed away. When I put Dolly, my little Maltese, in my arms, she kisses me. I love her so much.
Megan: I have so many pets in my life. My dog just had puppies, after I told her, “Please don’t get pregnant.” (laughter) It’s really hard to give up all those puppies.
David: How many did she have?
Megan: Four. On Halloween night.
David: Wow! Let’s go in a different direction: What would be the one change you’d make if you were President?
Rachel: I would change how people get jobs. And stop so many people from breaking the law.
Steven: I would like to change the way we socialize with each other, and talk more about equality.
David: What does equality mean to you?
Steven: That we all get to have equal chances and equal opportunities.
John: For me, if I was President, I would like mothers and fathers in the Army to be reunited with their families, because a lot of their kids don’t see their father and mother for a very long time.
Cristina: At the school where I work, some people don’t have enough money; they don’t have clothes, or school supplies. If I was President, I would want to help people.
David: That’s beautiful.
Megan: If I was President, I would want the world to have more peace, and for innocent people to stop getting killed.
Sean: If I was President, I would stop the bullies.
David: I don’t get bullying. I’m all about love. You all show so much love on the show. Each episode, I seriously got a healing.
Jamie: Healing and dancing at the same time! Especially when there’s a certain song on there.
David: Oh yeah! Jamie and
David: (singing) “Shake Your Booty Booty!”
David: We were dancing to it in the dressing room before we came out here. (To John) And you have a second album coming out now.
John: Yes. I’m working on it.
Jamie: Are there types of music that energize you?
Steven: Hard rock, but also some movies I like because they can look at the stuff that’s going on in the world. Like the movie Spotlight. I never knew about that whole [sex scandal] with the church.
David: That’s an amazing film that really brings something to the forefront that we need to address. Hmmm. I’m curious, how do you all deal with your fears?
Cristina: When I was a child, my babysitter closed my door and I found out that I was scared of being in the dark. But I kept growing up, and now I don’t feel fear.
David: I have to say, I still leave my door open.
Rachel: I sleep with a nightlight because I have a fear of the dark myself. Another fear is crowds and loud noises. When I am in a crowd, I take baby steps and I get through it.
David: (To Sean) Is there a fear that you have?
Sean: I don’t have any.
David: You just go for it?
Sean: Yup. Go with the flow.
David: I love that.
Jamie: It seems that in a lot of episodes, we see you guys in the kitchen, cooking. What are some favorite foods that you like?
Sean: Bean burritos.
Steven: Yup, bean burritos.
David: Those can be powerful! (laughter)
David: There is this taco truck where I live that makes the best chicken burritos. We should go get some one of these days.
John: I love chicken. If my mom brought home some KFC, the whole box would be gone.
Cristina: I have one question for John. One time Rachel got a particular food that you didn’t like.
Rachel: Calamari. Yes. That’s my favorite.
Cristina: But John said, “I’ve lost my appetite.”
John: I take that back. The fried squid was good, but the squid with the ink was nasty. My favorite saying from That’s so Raven is “ya nasty.”
Rachel: My favorite word is “snap.” Like (snaps while moving hand across face).
David: How about you, Megan?
Steven: Megan says the word “cool” all the time.
Megan: There’s a family word we use that I like better than “cool”—”legit.”
David: Why “legit”?
Megan: It means good.
David: It’s all good.
Jamie: Who said that sometimes their favorite word is “diva”?
Megan: Me. I’m the diva on Born This Way, and John is the rapper.
Sean: My favorite word is “lovecakes.” (laughter) How about you, Jamie?
Jamie: All of you guys know that for me it’s “admiration.”
David: I like “love,” but also “plethora,” just because I like the way it sounds and feels when I say it. (laughter)
Jamie: Here’s a word we all love, “family.”
David: Yes! There you go!
Cristina: My favorite words are “romance” and “sexy.” (laughter)
David: What does “sexy” mean to you?
Cristina: I do have a fiancé, Angel, and that’s why I choose that word. I’m such a lucky girl that I met him and he’s in my life… In the past I was single, but now I’ve found a person that I really love into my heart.
John: The word “sexy” for me means when you walk like a diva.
David: J.T. I think that should be one of your next songs: “Walk Like a Diva.”
John: Okay! (laughter)
Jamie: And every one of the girls can walk the catwalk to your song.
John: I’m gonna write a song called, “Walk That Walk.” It’s gonna be a rap—
David: I love it.
John: It’s gonna be for all the females and males who walk that walk. You betta walk it! (snaps)
David: You know, I was driving today, and I was thinking about the title of your show. We’re all born the way we’re born, and we all live our lives. We’re all in the same boat that way. Cast: Yeah. Yeah. We’re born this way!
David: And we’re all so beautiful in our own way. We have our wonderful qualities and gifts.
Megan: When I started this TV show with these friends here, I said: They are beautiful people, inside and out. I look at their faces right now and I think, “Wow, we’re doing this together.”
Rachel: Thank you, Megan!
John: We’re all in this together, right?
Jamie: Sean, how did you feel getting on that plane that time to go see your mom? Were you excited, nervous, scared?
Sean: I was scared. I never sat on a plane before.
David: You know what’s interesting about flying and riding your bike and doing all these things that happen in Born This Way? It circles back to the audience watching it, and they identify with it because we all had those feelings the first time we did those things.
Steven: It’s called “challenges.”
Jamie: Yeah. And we all fall, right?
David: And when we fall? Cast: We get back up.
Sean: Okay, I’ve got one for all of you—Let it go.
David: Let things go and move forward?
Rachel: Move forward, yes.
John: Some people with Down syndrome, Autism or whatever disability, if their parents love them as they are they will be okay. Love makes the difference. When I was born my mother loved me, and was glad she gave birth to me. On Born This Way, it shows the public the talents and the dreams of young adults with Down syndrome. We’re still people. We are here. After Jamie and David’s conversation with the cast, their families arrive and join in the conversation:
David: I want to thank you again for being here. When I walked in today I was a little star struck. I was like, there she is! There he is!
Jamie: It’s a huge honor for us.
David: One of the questions I want to ask of the families is: What can the show teach people about Down syndrome?
Rachel: I want to teach people that people with Down syndrome can do anything… I also want to inspire people who have Down syndrome. This will never stop me. I love being who I am.
David: Steven, what do you want to teach others about Down syndrome?
Steven: Don’t be so in a box. Express yourself, be creative.
Jamie: One of the key words I’m hearing is teaching others and advocating for them. I think about what you and your mom went through, Sean. Sandra (Sean’s mom): I want to teach people that every life has value. It doesn’t matter what you’re born with, everybody has a purpose, and every single person has the opportunity to change the world…
Jamie: Thanks Sandra. Parents, how would you teach others to advocate for children with Down syndrome? Joyce (John’s mother): I think the public could accept them more and see that they’re just like everybody else. We all have challenges, we all have desires, we all have dreams… Like John says, “Don’t just stare at me and walk by. Say hello or give me a smile. I’ll smile back. You don’t have to make a big deal of it. Just accept me as I am, without limitations, without discrimination, without judging me.”
John: I see different faces, from Steven, Megan, Cristina, Elena, her mother, my mother, father, sister. Every face we have on this TV show means so much. People can see our different lives and how we live… We’re all a family. We respect each other and we’re here for each other. We’re always gonna love each other. And it’s really powerful that with Born This Way, people can see that. Don’t give up on us because we have the same dreams as you.
Mariano (Cristina’s father): I want to add something to what J.T. said about differences. One of the things that I hope comes across on the show is how different they all are. A lot of times people lump everyone who has Down syndrome into being one kind of person, but they all have their own personalities. And to the families who have very young children with Down syndrome, this new generation has a lot to look forward to. This is a very interesting journey. It takes you in many, many different directions. I’m hoping that that message comes across loud and clear.
Laurie (Rachel’s mom): The most important thing is that the show educates people. I’ve dealt with so many questions like is my daughter gonna hurt me? Is she violent? I hope that this show will teach people [to let go of their fears]… What has helped me the most is getting feedback from other parents-to-be [who get a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis] and still decide to keep their baby because they’ve seen our show. That’s been very, very, very encouraging to me.
Sandra: For people who don’t have a family member with Down syndrome, the show offers opportunities to see that everybody with Down syndrome or any disability can be very capable, and not to prejudge them before actually seeing the talents each possesses… Sean’s drama teacher wanted him out halfway through the year because the play was coming up and he didn’t think Sean could memorize a lot of lines. I explained that Sean would be happy being a rock onstage, he didn’t need lines, but he still didn’t cast Sean in the show. He was the only member of the drama class not cast. When his fellow students found out, they had a little fit. They advocated for him, and he did get a part at the last minute. But he wasn’t allowed to go into Musical Theater or Drama II the next year. And that was because the teacher told me, “I have to spend my time with the students who are going to make it in the industry.”
David: Oh, geez! No! That’s bull!
Sandra: I actually sent that teacher an email a couple weeks ago. I wanted to let him know that Sean was in the cast [of Born This Way], and that only six shows received the TV Academy Honors Award [for significant social content], and Born This Way was one of them.
David: I love that! Dave (Steven’s Father): I have two kids, Steven and Amanda. They’re both amazing, and they’re both talented. It’s been wonderful to see both of them grow and become young adults. Hiromi (Elena’s Mother): I’d like to add that they all have feelings. They get hurt. I often see that people think that people with disabilities don’t feel things, but they do, very deeply.
Jamie: I’m curious about something. Hiromi, how did Elena get into Taiko [Japanese traditional drum]? Hiromi: She likes the music, and feels it in her body… I wanted her to stay connected to her Japanese heritage.
Jamie: A question for Mariano: What traits do you see in Cristina that you and your wife have? Mariano: Cristina takes after my wife in her beauty, and she’s very extroverted like me.
Cristina: How? Mariano: You like talking to people, going places, you’re not shy. That’s like me. And you’re very beautiful, smart and organized like your mom—thank God!
Jamie: Sean, where did you get the passion for golf?
Sean: Actually, I taught myself.
Sandra: He has natural athletic ability that was definitely inherited from his Dad.
Sean: And I’m deaf.
Sandra: In one ear, but you didn’t get that from either of us—although your father sometimes acts like he’s deaf when I’m talking! (laughter)
Jamie: Laurie, what are your most treasured memories of Rachel?
Laurie: Oh, she’s just sweet. I call her my sweetface, that’s her nickname. She’s loving. She’s always happy. She makes us laugh.
Rachel: I love you, Mom.
Laurie: I love you too!
Jamie: [To John] From which side of the family did you get your love for performing, your Dad or your Mom’s? Joyce: His father loved to dance. He was dancing when I was pregnant.
Joyce: And John, from three years old, was dancing. [To John] You would dance to anything on the radio, but by the time you were six, you really had some moves.
John: When I was six, I got my dancin’ from my sisters.
Joyce: Oh, yeah, they were dancing. His outgoing personality he got from me. He loves to talk and will talk all day long. Other times he’s kind of quiet.
John: I spend a lot of time around the house rapping. I love it.
Dave (Steven’s father): I used to ride bikes a lot, not much any more, but it was hard to teach Steven to ride, because once he got bigger he was pretty heavy. And if he leaned over, there was no way I was gonna be able to catch him. So having that class he went to on the show was great. They had special equipment to help him learn how to ride.
David: It made me want to buy a bike again and get back out there. Well this was great. [To Jamie] Thank you for doing this with me. (Applause)
Jamie: Let’s all think Emmy Award!
David: I sure hope so. I want to see all of you on that stage.
Everyone: Woo hoo! Yes!!!!!
Editor’s Note: Shortly after this interview, Born This Way was nominated for three Emmys.