When Netflix’s adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club premiered last year, it was immediately hailed as an utter delight; a clever, surprisingly progressive comfort binge, the kind of show that parents who remember devouring the young adult books created by Ann M. Martin in the ’80s and ’90s could enjoy with their tweens.
Of course, a huge part of the show’s appeal is its winning young cast, each one of whom is a star in the making. There’s not a weak link amongst them, but it should come as no surprise to old school BSC heads that Momona Tamada has emerged as one of the new series’ standouts. The 14-year-old Vancouver native plays club VP Claudia Kishi, art enthusiast, style icon and, as one of the few fully realized Japanese American characters in pop culture when the books were first published, an inspiration to a generation of young Asian Americans. The character is so influential that Netflix even released a documentary short, The Claudia Kishi Club, devoted to her.
That’s a lot for a young actress to live up to. Luckily, Tamada seems to be coping just fine with her newfound status as a role model. Armed with her trusty chunk of rose quartz, she joined GRAZIA on Zoom to discuss The Baby-Sitters Club’s second season and the challenges ahead for Claudia.
I saw an interview in which you say that you always have a little rose quartz with you when you do interviews. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I actually don’t know anything about rose quartz besides the fact that people are all about it. So, why do I need some rose quartz in my life?
It’s one of those basic, staple crystals that really helps, you know, clear your energy. I definitely recommend it.
The Baby-Sitters Club premiered last summer and has been so well received by critics and fans. What has that been like for you? How has your life changed?
I don’t think I expected any of this to happen as quickly as it did. It’s so fun to interact with fans. I think it’s important for me to still be myself around those people. I don’t think I’ve changed too much because of all this stuff that’s been happening. It’s been something to adjust to, for sure. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
There’s a pretty significant moment with Mimi (Takayo Fischer), Claudia’s grandmother, in the trailer for Season 2. Fans of the books can probably guess what that’s foreshadowing. What can you say about that and how it affects Claudia?
I think this season is definitely a big character arch for Claudia. In the first season, I think we were able to see the strengthening relationship with her family as a whole. We also see how important her grandmother is to her. So, in this season, I was really able to explore a lot more and really think about how she would overcome these hurdles. Because, you know, Mimi is such a big person in her life. It’s interesting to see how [Claudia] deals with everything. I’m excited for fans to see how everyone deals with different problems.
In Season 2, the club has two new younger members, Mallory and Jessi. Mallory in particular looks up to Claudia a lot. What’s that like for Claudia?
I just want to say, filming with Vivian Watson who plays Mallory was just so much fun! I think everyone will really be able to see how talented she is and get to see our chemistry. It’s so interesting to play with the different dynamics of their relationships as well. And for Claudia, I think, maybe she’s just not used to having someone who’s continuously expressing how much they look up to her. Being the individualist, as she calls herself, it’s something that she has to learn how to deal with. She really makes a beautiful realization in the second episode about Mallory, and it helps her grow as a character.
Claudia is a younger sister, and she kind of getting to experience what having a younger sister can be like.
Exactly! I think it gives her a better understanding of how Janine might feel.
Claudia also has a new role model in her sister Janine’s friend Ashley. Why does Claudia look up to Ashley?
Similar to Claudia, in a way, she’s very much a bold person. She’s unapologetic about herself and about what she wants. Her character is kind of an influencer type person. I think that was an interesting route to go, because I think she has so much good in her. I really do understand why Claudia looks up to her. She’s just so cool and kind, and I think that’s one of the messages: kind is the new cool.
I feel like there’s a theme of role models for Claudia this season. Which is interesting because I think the character herself is a role model for a lot of fans of the books. Do you consider yourself a role model now? What does that mean to you?
It’s something that I’ve grown to wrap my head around. But I do realize that I am kind of a role model for other people, and that’s so crazy for me to think. But I think it’s also important for me to understand that so I’m, you know… How do I put this into words? I am being a good role model. If I was unaware of that, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish as much as I want to over social media and just in general. I’m really grateful to be seen as a role model. Because there are so many people I looked up to as a kid, and whenever I think of having role models, I’m always like, What do I want to see from those people? For me, it’s seeing them as a real person. So, I love doing Instagram Lives and getting to know my fans. That’s something that I’ve always wanted from my role models. So, I’m learning how to navigate this new path in life.
Netflix released a short documentary, The Claudia Kishi Club, around the time that the first season premiered. It was all about how influential the character has been for a generation of Asian Americans who grew up reading the books. I assume you’ve seen it. What did you think? Were you aware of how influential the character was before you were cast?
Growing up, I actually did read the books, so I did have an understanding of how influential Claudia was — and all the girls, really. I did have a general understanding of how important she was. But I don’t think I really saw or felt the full effects of it until I listened to the stories of others who looked up to Claudia growing up. Also, [The Claudia Kishi Club] — I did know that that was happening, but I didn’t get to see it until it came out to the world. It was great for me, I think, just to fully understand how big of a character Claudia was. Because it didn’t feel real when we were filming. I think everything clicked into reality when I saw what fans were saying and how big Claudia has been in their lives.
For a show aimed at young people, The Baby-Sitters Club is surprisingly progressive — the cast is diverse, there are LGBTQ parents and transgender kids. How does it compare to the kind of TV you grew up watching?
Growing up, I really didn’t really find people that I could look up to as much [on American and Canadian TV]. I always found that in things that I would watch in Japanese. There were other girls that looked like me. There’s something about that that just feel so connecting, in my opinion. So, having the opportunity to be a part of a show that includes things that maybe people didn’t have growing up is something that is just so incredible to me. I’m really just so thankful that I’m able to express all these stories and be a part of something that’s so inclusive and diverse for the younger generation to watch. And even the older generation as well!
I don’t think the books aged the characters much past 13 or 14 years old over, I think, hundreds of books. But with the success of the show, this is a character you could be playing for at least a few more years. Do you know if there have been any discussions of how the show might move the story and the characters beyond the books as you and your co-stars get older?
I haven’t really heard too much about the path the show is gonna go. That’s up to the writers. Whatever happens, they’re gonna just nail it. I’m so confident about that. But that’s one of the interesting things about film and TV for me. Obviously, you’re growing up and a TV show definitely takes a lot more time. Hopefully, if the show does continue, we can play with what happens as [the characters] grow older, because obviously they’re going to be facing different problems in their later teen years compared to their early teen years.
The Baby-Sitters Club books were first published in 1986, so if they were happening in real time, I think Claudia would be about 47 now. I was thinking about what 47-year-old Claudia would be like in 2021.
That’s a good question. Her life and career could go on so many different paths. I definitely see her as a fashion designer, living her life with her best friend Stacy in New York. I can see that for her for sure. She has such a gift artistically, so I think that’d be something she’s pursuing, for sure.
This spring, I saw a video you made with Netflix for AAPI Heritage Month highlighting some resources where people can support Asian American communities. Of course, the US has seen a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic. If you don’t mind, I was hoping you might share what it’s been like for you to see that happening over the past year or so.
For me, it was like, I was just hurt that we had to let it grow to a point where so much happened. Unfortunately, deaths were involved. That was something that was eye-opening to me, and shocking. I think it was good to allow people to learn more about it. I learned more about the rise in AAPI hate crimes. And like I mentioned, the platform that was given to me through BSC, it was really important for me to use. So, while we were filming, I think, was when a lot of the AAPI hate was at its peak. So, myself, Kyndra [Sanchez, who plays Dawn in Season 2] and Malia [Baker, who plays Mary Anne], we actually did a big fundraiser on Instagram Live where we made artwork. It was so great to have them with me, and we were actually able to donate quite a lot with the art that we made. I was just so happy. It brought a lot of joy to my heart for sure.
I feel like there’s this stereotype of actors who play doctors thinking they can give out medical advice or actors who play lawyers giving out legal advice. So: do you think of yourself as a childcare expert now?
I will say, I did learn a lot from BSC in general, just the conversations that we have. I would say…yeah! I love being with kids, so it’s not just from being on set. But, sure, Claudia, all the girls, have taught me a lot. I’m pretty confident in my baby-sitting skills!