Malia Baker On Why Grown-Ass Women Are Obsessed With The Baby-Sitters Club

Photographed by Noah Asanias.
When Vancouver actress Malia Baker scored the role of Mary Anne Spier in the Netflix reboot of The Baby-Sitters Club she couldn’t have been more psyched. “Mary Anne is always the character I related to in the books,” says Baker, 14, of the shy, super-organised BSC secretary who was white (along with four of the other BSC members) in the original Ann M. Martin series. Nextlix’s decision to inject Stoneybrook with some much needed diversity is one of the things that excited Baker most about the project, which premiered last summer in the middle of the pandemic (and scored seven daytime Emmy noms). Season two (premiering on Netflix on Monday) will bring more feel-good stories about friendship, first love, and teenage entrepreneurialism. Here Baker talks to Refinery29 about why the show has been a hit with 20 and 30-somethings, her passion for activism, and having her first kiss (ever!) in front of the cameras.
Hi Malia. I’m calling you on a Vancouver number, so I guess you haven’t gone full “Hollywood” yet.
Ya, no Hollywood just yet. Vancouver has been home for the past 12 years and I am grateful that so many of the projects I’ve worked on have been filmed here, including Baby-Sitters Club. I’m actually about to film my first-ever project shooting out of Vancouver. It hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s pretty exciting.
Let’s go back to a few years ago. You’re a young actress, the world doesn’t know anything about COVID-19 and you get a call to audition for The Baby-Sitters Club TV show?
Pretty much. I grew up knowing the books. My mother used to say she was “such a Dawn” and I was confused about what she meant, but then I discovered the books and I fell in love with them. Mary Anne was always the character that I related to the most, so when I found out I might be able to play her I was so excited. I think I ran around my house like five times.
So you were always Mary Anne? You didn’t try out for any of the other roles?  
Yes. Mary Anne was written as a biracial character, so me being me, that was the role. It was my first big audition. I got a call from my agent saying I should send in a tape and then a few weeks later I got a call to go to L.A. They told us right on the spot that the group that I was with — we were going to be The Baby-Sitters Club.

I feel like now there are a lot of young BIPOC girls who can now look at us and say, 'oh, she acts like me and she looks like me.' I grew up watching coming-of-age stories that were usually blonde girls.

Dawn is played Kyndra Sanchez, who is also a young woman of colour. What does it mean to present a bit more diverse Stoneybrook?
Netflix really wanted to make this new cast diverse, which is one of the things I really applaud them on. The Baby-Sitters Club are such an iconic group and such relatable characters. I feel like now there are a lot of young BIPOC girls who can now look at us and say, “oh, she acts like me and she looks like me. I grew up watching coming-of-age stories that were usually blonde girls. Or at the start they are brunette outcasts and then they dye their hair blonde. When I would see characters that looked like me, they often had a rougher edge, or they were a criminal or something like that. Mary Anne is a shy introvert and Baby-Sitters Club is feel-good, it’s comforting, and I think that’s something young Black girls need to see.
You have been a passionate supporter of Black Lives Matter, including giving a speech at a protest. Yes, that was terrifying. And amazing. I grew up in a suburb in Vancouver that was predominately white. Like, 2,100 people and there were 10 Black kids. At the BLM protest a lot of us saw each other and it was like, I know you! 
You and your mother also started @hashtagsand. Can you explain what it is and where the idea came from? 
Last summer at the peak of BLM protests, I noticed how so many people were posting on social media. Everyone posted a black square for Blackout Tuesday, but then nothing really happened. It was back to bikini photos and dog photos. I think, for a lot of people, the intention was there but they don’t know what to do. The idea with @hashtagsand is to provide resources and to encourage people to take that next step. 
Do you see much progress in the entertainment world?
I think a show like BSC is a sign that representation and diversity is being taken seriously and I hope we can just move further in that direction. It’s about more than just appearance. There’s a scene in the first season where Mary Anne’s dad (who is white) explains how he never really knew what to do with her hair so he just left it in braids and then you have this powerful moment where she wears it down. The first acting job I had, I had to do my own hair because the hair and makeup person didn’t know how. Now I work with two stylists and it’s awesome. 
As well as being diverse, the BSC cast is age appropriate. When I was growing up, high school age characters were portrayed by 30 year olds. 
That’s still happening these days. You look at shows and you think, oh, you are definitely not 15. I think part of it is that they want actors to be able to work like adults whereas kid actors have time restraints. I think it’s really important to portray pre-teens as they are, so that younger viewers have a sense, of you do look like me. The other girls and I joke that we practically went through puberty while filming, which is the same as our characters. 
Right. Mary Anne is the first BSC member to get a boyfriend. Were you excited about that storyline? Nervous?
I was really hoping it wasn’t going to happen. When I first booked the role I thought, oh maybe they’ll block that out and focus on the friends in the club. Then I met the actor who plays Logan, Rian McCririck, and it was like, oh shoot. We hadn’t gotten the script yet, so I spent a full week trying to figure out what was going to happen. This was both of our first kiss ever and it happened on camera, so that was pretty nerve-wracking, but it ended up being totally fine.
I’m not going to ask if you and your co-stars “really get along” behind the scenes, because nobody ever asks men that question.
That is so true! I do think it’s funny that all of the actresses in “the club” (that’s what I call us in real life too) are very similar to their characters. We always laugh about that.
Momona Tamada, who plays Claudia, is also from Vancouver. Did you guys have a Canadian bond?
Oh totally. During filming I actually hosted Canadian Thanksgiving at my house, so it was the actors, the directors, producers. It was so much fun to share that. 
And little did you know a global health pandemic was waiting in the wings. 
Right. It’s so strange to think that now. We finished filming in December 2019 and we were so excited about what was next. 2020 was going to be our first press tour. We were supposed to go to New York. There were rumours about Comic-Con in L.A. and also London, but then…
I guess you didn’t get to do any red carpets?
No. We got to see the show for the first time before everyone else did. We all FaceTimed each other and that was really fun. We were all freaking out. On the night of the actual premiere, I invited a few family friends over and we watched it on my bedroom television.

My publicist was saying that her friends were all such fans of the show and they’re in their 30s... It’s so great to know that your art is being appreciated by so many people.

The show did get nominated for a bunch of Emmys. Congratulations! 
Thanks! I actually found out about the Emmy nominations on social media. I was on my phone and I read “The Baby-Sitters Club has been nominated for 7 Emmys” and I was like what?! Because of COVID it sometimes felt like the show was just like a home project that we worked on so this was a big deal. We didn’t get to go, but Sophie, who plays Kristy, won her first Emmy which was so great. She didn’t think she was going to win. We were all FaceTiming and she was like, “Nope, nope.”
Such a Kristy!
BSC was nominated in best children’s or family programming. I gotta say, I am well into adulthood and I watched the entire first season by myself with a bowl of ice cream. 
I was just talking to my publicist recently and she was saying that her friends were all such fans of the show and they’re in their 30s and they don’t have any kids. It’s so great to know that your art is being appreciated by so many people.
I totally agree. I feel like this is the comfort we all need while life has been so crazy over the past two years. The show is like a security blanket..
Your next project is something totally different. Can you tell us about it?
So this new project is called Caught In His Web and it’s about one of the first-ever sexstortion cases in America. My character Olivia is one of three teenagers who is stalked by an online predator. It’s a really special project and the people involved are just amazing.
Including Whoopi Goldberg!
Yes, Whoopi is a producer, which of course was amazing. We never met, but we did get to see her on Zoom while she was on a call with one of the other producers. We would be like, Oh my god, does Whoopi know who we are? We found out that she was the one who helped cast us, so that was pretty amazing. Like, yeah, Whoopi knows who I am.
Anyone else you’re dying to work with?  
There are a lot of directors who I would geek out about: Wes Anderson is very high on my list. He has made so many of my favourite films. Also Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay.
You obviously have good taste in entertainment. While everyone else is devouring BSC this month, what will you be devouring?
I’ll probably be watching New Girl. I could watch that show over and over again. It's more comfort. I love it.

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