Ever since "The Baby-Sitters Club" premiered on Netflix, my (full-blown adult) friends and I have been in deep discussions of which tween-age member we relate to the most. (Which is, unsurprisingly, a thing.) So, presented with the opportunity, I had to ask Malia Baker, who plays Mary Anne Spier — the sweet, soft-spoken theater nerd-turned-self-assured director/star — which character she connects with most. In terms of style, at least.
"A mix of Dawn and Claudia," says Baker, over the phone, from her home in Vancouver. "I'll be a little bit of Kristy, if it's my day off and I'm just relaxing at home. But if I'm going out, more of a Dawn/Claudia vibe."
Throughout our conversation, the 13-year-old gave me strong Dawn x Stacey vibes, with some Claudia creative energy, via her charming, poised and thoughtfully expressive personality. Born in Botswana and raised in Vancouver, Baker only began acting two years ago, quickly booking spots on locally-shot shows like "The Flash," "A Million Little Things" and "Twilight Zone," before her breakout role in "The Baby-Sitters Club."
The 10-episode adaptation updates the original book series by Ann M. Martin to represent and reflect our lives in 2020. It incorporates topical storylines and diversifies the BSC management: California-girl Dawn is now Latinx and Mary Anne, whose mother passed when she was 18 months old, is biracial and being raised by her widowed dad, Richard (Marc Evan Jackson).
Overly-strict Richard only knows how to braid Mary Anne's hair into school-girl plaits, and still shops for her wardrobe in the child section. Mary Anne goes through the biggest arc, both in character and style, thanks to hair department head Florencia Cepeda and costume designer Cynthia Summers — so "my outside is matching my inside," she says. She finds her voice and stands up for her values, advocating for a young trans client, who's been misgendered by hospital staff.
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Behind-the-scenes, Baker enjoyed bonding with her cast mates, Momoda Tamada (arty style star Claudia), Shay Rudolph (sophisticated Manhattanite Stacey), Xochitl Gomez (social justice warrior/skater grrrl Dawn) and Sophie Grace (sporty BSC president Kristy) — especially over style. And the love is real.
"Fashion is a form of expression," Baker says. "We're all trying to figure it out. It was so much fun to see because you can see they express themselves fully, with all their individual amazingness. I love seeing them wear all these little cute things and we would compliment each other constantly — 24/7."
Baker took the time to share the meaningful natural hair message she suggested adding into the show, her first power suit experience and the haul she took home from set (hint: it's not all Mary Anne's) with Fashionista. Read on for highlights from our conversation. (P.S: The actor is also posting the best "BSC" BTS moments on her Instagram. My heart is so full!)
Mary Anne goes through a wardrobe and hair evolution to reflect her personality. What was it like to go through her journey to being more self-expressive through her hair and clothes?
I thought it was so much fun. Over the past couple of years, I've only come out of my shell. Mary Anne's such a relatable character for so many young girls out there who are still stuck in that little shell — in that little box — and can't really come out. When you look at Claudia, she has already found her way of expressing herself through her art and through her fashion, and it's something to look up to. Mary Anne finally finds her own way to do that in episode four.
How did your fittings change once Mary Anne started her style journey?
I remember my very first fitting. I went in and Momona had just finished her fitting. I saw all of Claudia's clothes and I was in complete awe because it was exactly how I had pictured it in my brain from reading the books. I loved it and I was fangirl-ing over her clothes. But then [laughs], I saw Mary Anne's clothes — with her little kid overalls and her wheel-y bag and her little pom-poms on her socks — and I was just like, 'Oh my gosh.'
It was definitely a new experience and it was definitely out of my comfort zone. But, near the end, especially in the wedding episode, when I got to wear that super fancy dress — it was like the fanciest dress I had ever worn — I thought it was really fun seeing how Mary Anne's style would be if she was trying to find herself through her clothing.
Mary Anne tells her father she doesn't want to wear her hair in braids anymore and she gets to try different styles, like cute double buns. What type of input did you have in styling your hair on the show?
Because I was not used to [seeing it] — and as many Black girls watching themselves trying to be portrayed on the screen [know], with the little representation that there is — I wanted to do a wrap with my hair because that's how most Black girls with natural curls do their hair when they're going to sleep. I know I do that. So, in episode eight "Kristy's Big Day," right before Mary Anne goes to bed, she is in her pajamas and she's waving to Kristy across the street and she is wearing this headscarf and I absolutely loved that. I was so excited for that to happen because I had never seen it on screen before. Yet, it is such a relatable thing that so many Black girls will be able to look up to.
That's so beautiful. You mentioned you had similar change moments in your own life. How did you experiment or evolve your style to reflect your self-expression?
I remember, I cut my hair crazy short — well not short short, but I cut my hair pretty short in grade three. My hair has always been down to my hips, but I cut it up to my ears. At that point, it was this little mini-fro and I just wanted it so bad. That was the most drastic way of expressing myself as I ever could and I really loved it during that little period of having it super short. Then there were little moments when I styled my hair in different ways, like high buns, or I did these little bangs once. Just little things. I mainly style my hair. Clothing wasn't my expertise, but I feel like I've definitely gotten better at it.
Momona told me she took home a pair of denim overalls. Did you get to take anything home from 'The Baby-Sitters Club' set?
At the end of the season, we got to take a few things from all of our wardrobes. So luckily, I didn't have to just stick to Mary Anne's wardrobe — I got choose it from everyone's. I took a few things from Dawn's and Mary Anne's. I took two sneakers from Dawn's wardrobe. They were pretty cool sneakers, if I do say so myself. These pink ones and Vans that have these designs all over the side of them.And some shirts and, actually, a pair of overalls.
I love the L.A. Times mini-profiles of you and the cast. What was your remote photoshoot from home like?
So, actually, I did a photoshoot beforehand, so I was so grateful to get that help because my mom and I were dreading the photoshoot because we did not know how to work a camera. Still don't. But when we were doing that, I found it was almost like a regular photoshoot, except that it was off a tiny cellphone. It was definitely a challenge, but we worked our way through it.
How did you prep, like decide on your hair and makeup and what to wear?
I find when you're trying to take pictures — any pictures at home — and you're trying to make yourself look all glam, whether it's for social media or for press, it's a lot of trials. A lot of trials and asking for permission from mom, like, 'Oh, do you think this is a good outfit to wear? Do you think this is good hair to wear?' A lot of trial and errors and it's definitely a long process. But in the end, the results are worth it and it turns out OK.
I love the orange pantsuit on you. Is it yours ?
Thank you so much. I loved wearing it. But it was not mine. It was something my stylist [Leila Bani] helped me pull. It was so cool because it was this collaborative little project that we did and it was such a new experience because I hadn't worn a suit before. It was definitely a power suit. 'Oh my god, I'm a boss now. I feel so assertive.'
How would you describe your own personal style?
I definitely say my personal style is more streetwear. It's pretty laid back, to be honest. I always like to do something with my hair to make it look like I tried a little bit harder than I did, whether that's a sleek high ponytail or this huge bun. But working with a stylist is so much fun. I value comfort over everything, so seeing people compliment my outfits is such a new thing to me. I was like, ‘Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.'
Where do you look for style inspiration?
Pinterest is a really good app to use that for. The ["BSC"] castmates and I, we love Pinterest so much. We make these little boards out of everything and some of it is style. I do that by collecting little images I love of different clothes and different shops near me that I should try out.
How was it, doing fashion-y things with the cast?
I found that the most fashion-y people out there were in this cast. I grew up in this very small town, so people here, they usually just wear sweatpants or black leggings and that's called "fashion" here. Seeing all these people actually wear different things, I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm actually allowed to do this now? That's so cool." Because I felt like I would stand out too much. But now I realize that standing out is OK and it's amazing to do so.
Going to the mall with those girls was so much fun because half of them are American and they have all these different stores there. But me and Momona have been here [in Canada] for such a long time that we didn't necessarily go into the stores that they wanted to. But we found some amazing things in the stores that they wanted to go into and it was definitely new and I loved it. I loved shopping with those girls. They're all off-duty models.
So how did working on this show help influence how you want to experiment and explore self-expression with style?
The first four episodes were the most I had taken [influence] away from. I feel super grateful to hold this advantage and leverage to be able to express myself in any way that I please. So throughout this whole experience, I found that I can do more fun things. It just shows me that I don't have to be in a box. This process is a journey and it is ever-expanding. I can switch it up from time-to-time, and I don't need to just land on one thing. My style goes from being cottage-core to streetwear, all the time, so we're all just trying to figure it out. I definitely am 100%. I can rock the sneakers. I can also rock the heel. It's so exciting to figure it out with these amazing girls who have already expressed themselves in ways that I aspire to be.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.