After nearly a decade playing Callie Adams Foster on the groundbreaking The Fosters and its spin-off, Good Trouble, Maia Mitchell bid a teary farewell to her chosen American family on this week's episode of the LGBTQ-centered series she executive produces. Mitchell was in her late teens when The Fosters, about lesbian moms (Sherri Saum and Teri Polo) raising biological, adopted, and foster kids dropped on what was then ABC Family (now Freeform). A dramedy with a big heart from creators Peter Paige, Joanna Johnson, and Bradley Bredeweg, during its five-season run, The Fosters showcased critical stories about queer families, a broken foster system, immigration rights, sexual abuse, and trans identity. Mitchell and her on-screen sister Cierra Ramirez (Mariana) brought that energy with them to lead Good Trouble's ensemble cast in a series about a diverse group of young people at the Coterie (a downtown Los Angeles communal living space) navigating life, love, and careers.
"There were a lot of parallels between what was being said on the screen and the conversations I was having in the makeup trailer, you know? It's scary for me, personally, to walk away from something that's so successful and has been such a constant in my life and such a family," Mitchell tells The Advocate about her final days on the set of the acclaimed spin-off.
The decision to exit Good Trouble is a by-product of the pandemic. The former star of the Disney Teen Beach movies hadn't returned to her native Australia for 18 months to see her family during lockdowns, and it took a toll, she shares.
"I had always planned to move home when Good Trouble would eventually end. I'm always quite homesick. [It's] something I've always struggled with. I'm so lucky that I was on a show like The Fosters and then Good Trouble that had such a sense of community and family there. So that's really gotten me through," Mitchell says. "But during the pandemic and especially the shutdown, when we weren't seeing each other on set every day, I didn't have that kind of family. And I really struggled with my mental health. I just knew that I need to be with my family as soon as I possibly could."
On-screen, in an episode aptly named "Kiss Me and Smile for Me," a lyric from the elegiac folk song "Leaving on a Jet Plane," Callie, a lifelong activist, has taken a job as an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C. Her moms, Stef (Polo) and Lena (Saum), visit to bid farewell to their daughter, as does Callie's brother Jude (Hayden Byerly). The rub is that Callie hasn't found the heart to tell Mariana that she's leaving. Once the news is out, Callie's final episode is loaded with tearful goodbyes to her family and friends that Mitchell says were nearly impossible to shoot while trying to hold it together until her big goodbye speech. An especially affecting scene unfolds during the middle of the episode between Callie and Malika (Zuri Adele), her Coterie mate and a Black Lives Matter activist.
"That was the last scene that I filmed," Mitchell says of the scene in which their voices quiver a bit as Malika gives Callie a going-away present and they bond over their shared passion for advocacy.
"Then my second-to-last scene was with Cierra [their final goodbye scene]. That was a cruel scheduling situation," Mitchell says.
After five seasons of The Fosters and just over three of Good Trouble together, the women who grew up together are truly a family. Mitchell was already back in her native Australia for press interviews, and she assures that she and Ramirez talk every day. But shooting the final episode with Ramirez proved challenging in terms of getting the job done.
"[Callie] is compartmentalizing everything until the [going-away] speech. ... I wanted to cry all the time. But then everybody else around me was crying in the scenes, and Cierra would not stop," Mitchell says. "I had to literally tell her, 'Go into the other room. Do not come near me. I cannot look at you.' When she cries, it breaks me. I cannot look at her without crying myself."
Good Trouble premiered in early 2019 and introduced an ensemble cast that featured queer characters and several queer actors, including Adele; Sherry Cola, who plays the lesbian stand-up comic Alice, who also manages the communal living space; and Emma Hunton, who plays Davia, a teacher and body-positive influencer. Riverdale's Tommy Martinez broke ground as Gael, one of TV's first bisexual Latinx male characters. Pose's Hailee Sahar recurs as his trans sister Jazmin. And the series has included nonbinary characters played by Daisy Egan and River Butcher, to name just a few of the LGBTQ+ characters. It's no surprise that the series, from queer creators Johnson, Bredeweg, and Paige (Johnson continues as showrunner) would center LGBTQ+ people, especially considering The Fosters' commitment to carving a path for others to follow.
When Mitchell and Ramirez became the veteran TV stars of their ensemble cast, they took a cue from Polo and Saum and led without hierarchy, Mitchell says, crediting Johnson, Polo, and Saum as women she admires.
"This is an ensemble -- we're all equals," she says of the Good Trouble cast and crew.
For Mitchell, her journey with the franchise has created a chosen family on-screen and off that centers LGBTQ+ folks.
"We've had so much support from the LGBTQIA community on the show, I think they've kept us going..." Mitchell says. "Especially at the moment where trans rights are being threatened, it's so important that our shows and our media are reflecting what is real and what people are going through and what people look like and to be a part of that. It has been probably the biggest honor of my life."
When Mitchell returned to her hometown of Lismore in New South Wales, she found herself once again in the position of advocacy work, and this time it was personal. Many in her community in Australia, including some of her family members, lost their homes and businesses in a catastrophic flood the week before her press day for her departure from Good Trouble.
"I'm shattered for Lismore. Having your family and friends fleeing through flood water, trapped in their houses with flood levels rising, stranded on roofs waiting to be rescued, to be now confronting a cleanup that has to be seen to be believed. Heartbreaking. All while facing a potable water, food and fuel shortage crisis and power and reception outages," Mitchell wrote on Instagram. "News coverage is slowing, the government is offering little to no support, people are still stranded and we're now facing a housing crisis."
To learn how to help the people of Lismore, Mitchell has included a link to resources on her Instagram page.