When The Baby-Sitters Club first debuted, it was 1986. In those thirty-four years since then, so much has changed and yet many things have stayed the same. For example, we’ve had technological advancements and no matter how convenient most of them have proven to be, it hasn’t made all the trials and tribulations of being a young person suddenly easier. Developed by Ann M. Martin, The Baby-Sitters Club series brought the fictional, suburban town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut to life by shining a light on four young girls and their local babysitting service. Just like the girls local babysitter service, something that started off so small grew into something bigger spanning 213 books, spin-offs, graphic novels, and multiple adaptations and expansions.
As I mentioned in my interview with Momona Tamada, at its core, the story of The Baby-Sitters Club showed the importance of friendship and supporting one another, but it also showed the realistic ways in which girlhood and growing up was complicated without being condescending or superficial to the young people reading the books. As a response, it led to millions of young people reading them and having at the very least, one story where the characters and their circumstances were similar to something they were experiencing in real life but maybe didn’t see anywhere else.
In a lot of ways, The Baby-Sitters Club is like comfort food. Which is maybe why on the evergrowing list of 2020 bingo card prompts that have been thrown our way this year, the new The Baby-Sitters Club adaptation from Netflix managed to be one of the shining lights. “I think that the book series and the tv series are both very heartwarming subjects. The idea of this friendship and how they come together, it’s all very heartwarming which I think is very sweet and something that everybody needs right now which keeps them coming back,” Anais Lee who plays Jessi Ramsey says when we talk on the phone. “Also, the storylines are things that happen in real life so kids can relate to them which I think is really cool.”
Receiving love from critics, viewers, and those who grew up/are growing up reading the books, one of the strengths of the show is seeing how the girls get to be real and active protagonists in the show with storylines that don’t talk down on the young audience. “I think that they covered a lot of topics which I think is amazing,” Anais says about what the shows cultural relevance can be for right now. “Like with the character Bailey, that was an amazing story. It was so emotional cause when I saw that scene, it almost brought me to tears when I saw Mary-Anne stand up for her like that.” She’s referencing a moment in the episode “Mary-Anne Saves the Day” when medical professionals misgender Bailey because she’s a young trans girl and Mary-Anne advocates for her to ensure that she is properly protected and cared for while in the hospital.
While a standout moment in the show for Anais, she also mentions that she loved all the topics the show was able to explore in the first season and hopes for a season two so they can continue to cover some more. Fans of the books know that while Anais’ character Jessi isn’t one of the original members of the club, she’s an essential character to the narrative once she joins the series. In the books specifically, the character of Jessi gets to be the main focus of a number of significant storylines including living in Oakley, New Jersey in a predominantly Black neighborhood before moving to Stoneybrook where her family deals with racism for being Black and Jessi has to adjust to being one of the few Black girls in her neighborhood/school. Later on, in the book series, Jessi also learns sign language so she can better raise a young boy named Matt who is deaf.
[Jessi]’s very helpful towards other people. She loves helping other people and she’s very kind and sweet which is something that I love about her.
“She’s very helpful towards other people. She loves helping other people and she’s very kind and sweet which is something that I love about her. She really cares about other people and her friendships as you can see with her friendship with Mallory and even in the show when she just offers right away to help Kristy find Karen,” Anais reflects reiterating how special it is to play a character that is so caring towards other people.
“I love Jessi’s character so much because she was a lot like me; she was also a dancer and her personality is also a lot like me. She’s very driven and she has her eyes on the prize and she knows what she wants,” Anais talks about the character. “She’s always at ballet class because that’s her passion, that’s what she loves to do so that was something that I found really interesting about her character and even in the show, while she’s on summer vacation, she’s still doing summer ballet because she’s auditioning for the camp musical.”
To prepare for the role, Anais read a number of Baby-Sitters Club books to get a stronger sense of the character and quickly realized how similar the two were. “When I was reading the books, I was just trying to find little details of how she would react to things and even the little things, how she would stand and how her posture would be because I know dancers have very good posture, so I tried to take little stuff like that when I was performing my character. I definitely think reading the books helped a lot because I already knew a lot about my character before I started filming but once I started reading the books, I just knew a lot more about her personality and just how she reacted to different things and how she just lived.”
Anais has been Jessi Ramsey at least since last October when she first started filming for the project which also meant that since October, she had to keep her involvement with Baby-Sitters Club a secret until the show dropped in July. “It was really hard to keep that secret because I was so excited about the show and it was kind of this other part of my life that I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody about which was really hard but once the show finally came out, I was so excited because then I could finally share all of my set stories and post all of the cute pictures that we took on set and I could finally say that I was friends with the girls. When I wasn’t announced, I couldn’t post pictures with all of the girls because then people would probably connect the dots but it was so amazing when it finally got announced and I could finally post about it,” she says about keeping the news to herself all this time.
Admittedly, it was effective. When news broke in March about the adaptation including images of the original members, social media immediately flooded with excitement seeing the girls followed by speculation and hope that we’d get to see Jessi, especially for those whose first or earliest experiences reading about a young Black girl in a young adult book was through Jessi.
“I am so grateful to have this role because I can be a role model to so many younger kids, kids my age, or even people older than me and I think that is so amazing. I am so grateful to have this role and be a part of this amazing television show,” Anais reflects about getting to be a part of the show as Jessi. “I’m so happy that I got this opportunity to play this role and Jessi means a lot to me because it’s a character that I love so much.”
I am so grateful to have this role because I can be a role model to so many younger kids, kids my age, or even people older than me and I think that is so amazing.
We don’t see much of Jessi and Mallory in the show just yet although the season finale sets it up with the hopes of us getting to see more of the two girls with a second season. “We wanted to make sure that you could tell that we actually were best friends which I think came across very well,” Anais starts when I ask her how she and Vivian Watson made the most of their screentime and what was most important to them to show. “Vivian and I are actually best friends in real life and we bonded instantly when we first met each other because we were in all the scenes together so we spent a lot of time together and on the weekends when we were not shooting, we would hang out 24/7 because Mallory and Jessi are an iconic friendship duo so we wanted to make sure that you could actually see the chemistry through the camera.”
Hopeful of a second season, Anais says she’d love it if the show could explore more of Mallory and Jessi while also adapting the book Jessi Ramsey, Pet-Sitter. “I love animals so much and she gets to pet sit dogs, cats, snakes, hamsters, birds, and so much more. I think that would be so cool to do because my sister [Mirabelle] a few years ago filmed a Nickelodeon pilot and she got to work with a bunch of animals and I thought that was so cool to do and I wanted to do that so I think that’d be a really fun episode to do.”
She gets excited to briefly talk about her own dog, Emerald, and while she’s done a commercial with a different dog before, what excites her about the idea of doing Jessi Ramsey, Pet-Sitter is potentially getting to work with a bunch of animals at the same time as an animal lover.
Jessi and Mallory look up to the Baby-Sitters Club before being a part of the club because of their rep in Stoneybrook. Mallory has gotten to see first hand the capabilities of the girls in the club since they’ve babysat her and her siblings, Jessi, on the other hand, is still getting used to Stoneybrook and meeting everyone so her understanding of them comes from Mallory. “I think when they get accepted into the club, they’re so excited because they love babysitting too because Mallory is the oldest out of a lot of siblings so she babysits them a lot and Jessi, she has younger siblings–they weren’t in the show but hopefully, they will be next season–and she gets to help babysit them a lot so when they’re a part of the club, they get to babysit other kids, which is very cool,” Anais explains describing Jessi’s reaction to the Baby-Sitters Club as ‘starstruck.’
Similar to how Jessi has such a strong appreciation towards the girls, Anais has such a strong appreciation towards the girls off-camera as well. “I think something that was really cool for me was how the entire main cast were kids because all the other shows that I’ve worked on it was a majority of an adult cast so this was one of the first shows that I worked on that I got to work with kids my age so we all became best friends. You can definitely see the chemistry that we have on tv because we’re all best friends in real life, we were best friends then, we’re best friends now and we text every single day,” she says. “When I was watching the show, it was really emotional for me because it made me realize how much I missed all of them so much. Especially the ending scene when we all scream, ‘Baby-Sitters Club.’ That was so heartwarming to me because I miss all of the girls so, so much. So it was really emotional.”
The girls originally planned that they would have been able to spend this time as the show rolled out to spend together physically, but all of that has turned virtual now. “I know that it would’ve been really cool to do press and interviews together in person but I still think doing them over Zoom is still equally as fun and I can’t wait until the quarantine is over and we can go outside again and we can see each other,” Anais muses adding towards the end after sharing their original plans, “I can’t wait to see all of them again because I do miss them a lot.”
Besides acting, dance has been such a significant part of Anais’s life. Doing ballet since the age of two along with her twin sister, at this point, it’s just something that’s a part of her. “The discipline in dance, I have applied to my normal life because you have to be quiet during dance class, you often can’t talk. Also your posture, people tell me that I look like a dancer because of my posture because I always have to stand up straight during dance class. And it’s that stuff that I apply during my normal life and also sometimes I find myself just standing in fifth position.” She recounts an instance of this, “I remember I was talking to somebody once and he told me, he said, ‘I can tell that you’re a dancer because you are standing in fifth position right now,’ and I laughed because I didn’t even realize it, it was just normal for me,” she laughs. “I always just point my feet whenever I walk and so things like that, you can definitely tell that I’m a ballet dancer.”
I love dance because I can express myself in different ways. In acting, I can do it through another character, but in dance, I can do it through movement in my body which is really cool.
Along with ballet, Anais has done hip hop, jazz, and a little bit of contemporary which she wants to do more of. “I love contemporary because it’s kind of like ballet but freer. It’s less strict, so I would love to do more contemporary classes definitely.” Getting to do different dance styles, she says, has taught her different things. “There’s different types of dancing so it’s like different headspaces that you’re at. I love dance because I can express myself in different ways. In acting, I can do it through another character, but in dance, I can do it through movement in my body which is really cool,” she says.
For dream dance roles, she says Clara in The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. “I’ve done The Nutcracker a few times at my dance school and at the time I was not old enough to play her but I think that would be really cool to do,” she shares hoping that with ballet being so important for Jessi, hopefully, the show will give her and the character the chance to play these roles.
Until then, Anais has been keeping up with her dancing through TikTok along with her sister. “I love scrolling through my For You page or Following page and discovering new dances from amazing creators and I love learning the dances. My sister and I will go out on the balcony and get dressed up and we film a dance video and the dances are so catchy and they’re not super hard so I can learn them in a few minutes which is really cool because, in dance classes, it’ll take weeks to learn a dance, but with TikTok, it’ll only take a few minutes,” she says. “I’ve found new music through TikTok as well. I’ve found some of my favorite artists through TikTok which I think is awesome because it opens your mind to new possibilities and new artists and dances I didn’t know of before I started.”
Two artists that Anais discovered through TikTok that she says are her favorite artists now include SZA and Rex Orange County. “I love them so much and I found them through TikTok because there will be dances to their songs or just videos to their songs so I’ll check them out on Spotify and I’ll say to myself, ‘Wow, I really like this music,’ and then I found a new artist,” she says excitedly.
Anais and Mirabelle have also been keeping busy choreographing their own dances on there as well something they’ve been doing since they were little but now that they’re teenagers, they’re excited to get to post their choreography online. With her sister as one of her best friends, she’s expressed before that it’s a dream of her to get to do a project where the two get to play twins. “I would definitely want it to be a comedy show because I love comedy shows. Or dramedy, which is drama and comedy,” she says when I ask her what she’d want the project to look like. “I love shows that have a mystery to them but also a funny side to them and I’d love to work with my sister because I’ve never gotten to work with her on a project where we’ve played twins before so I think acting with her would be really fun.”
“We’re working on some awesome things right now that we can’t say anything about just yet but I’ll be super excited when I can finally announce them,” she says as we start to wrap up and I ask her about what the rest of the year looks like for her right now. “And even though like corona happened, 2020 has still been a pretty good year for me because, during quarantine, I got to focus on myself more and train a lot more. I started taking care of my hair and skin and I found new fashion sense,” Anais reflects. “I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to do that without quarantine.”
Season one of Netflix’s The Baby-Sitter’s Club is now streaming.
(photo cred: Sarvey T. Rector)