Her new show and why her guest role on ‘Grey’s’ was one of the ‘hardest things’ she’s done
By Lie Shia Ong
Sarah Chalke has been making TV audiences laugh with her characters on “Roseanne” and “Scrubs” through the years. Now the actress is back with a new comedy called “How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life),” which premieres on ABC on April 3.
Chalke plays newly-divorced mom Polly who takes her daughter Natalie and moves back in with her mom, Elaine (Elizabeth Perkins), and stepdad, Max (Brad Garrett). Polly doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with her parents when it comes to raising Natalie. Elaine and Max are eccentric and have a more hands-off parenting approach, whereas Polly tries to be the perfect, organized mom.
MSN TV spoke with the actress about her new show and also about her guest-starring role on Thursday’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” The episode, which raises awareness about Kawasaki disease, is something very important to Chalke, because her own son was diagnosed with it at age 2.
MSN TV: Your fans are so excited to see you back on the air with a new show. What can they expect from “How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)”?
Sarah Chalke: I’m so excited about it. We had the best time filming it. With that cast I feel so damn lucky. I fell in love with the script. First of all I fell in love with Claudia [Lonow], who is the writer and creator of the show. It’s extremely funny, and I met her first. It’s about her life, and it’s her true life story. I play her. What I loved about [the show was] that it made me laugh out loud and it also pulled at your heartstrings. I love that balance it had between being really funny and also really drawing you into these people’s lives. I loved Claudia and I loved the script, and then they hadn’t cast anyone else at that point, and you never know who you’ll get to work with. And then that was just such a huge bonus. It’s been an incredible cast to work with. Brad is one of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with. Elizabeth is amazing. I was a huge fan of hers from “Weeds,” and I couldn’t believe it when they were offering her the part.
… and then Claudia’s background is stand-up and her parents co-owned the Improv, and so she grew up in the stand-up world doing stand-up herself around a lot of stand-up comedians. So Brad Garrett is from stand-up. She hired Jon Dore as my ex-husband, and he’s from stand-up. Joe Wengert who plays my boss is from stand-up … and so it’s just one of the funniest groups of people I’ve ever worked with and hung out with.
For your character of Polly, did you also draw upon your own experiences as a mom to develop her personality?
Totally. It’s one of the parts I’ve played I can relate to the most. When you have a kid it kind of changes the lens through which you see the world. You just want to be the best mom to your kid. That’s really the driving force for Polly. She’s just trying to figure out, “How do I do this, and how do I be this great mom for my kid?” She’s also trying to figure out how to have a life in terms of going back to the dating world and finding a job. So yeah, it’s definitely cool to get to play a mom.
You mentioned working with Brad Garrett and Elizabeth Perkins. People will also remember you from your “Roseanne” days working with Roseanne Barr and John Goodman. Which set of parents would you say are kookier? Elaine and Max or Roseanne and Dan?
[Laughs] That’s a great question! They are very different. One interesting similarity between the “Roseanne” show and “How to Live …” what was neat about the “Roseanne” show working on it at the time is that it really pushed the envelope and sort of tackled some interesting subjects and that was sort of Roseanne herself saying “I want to tackle this. I want to have the first lesbian kiss on television. I want to have this. I want to deal with x, y, z.” It was neat to see where the show went when we were filming “How to Live …” and the different topics they would tackle.
We did this one episode on what it’s like to try and raise a kid together when you’re divorced. [My daughter] Natalie starts saying, “How do we do this? Why can’t we do things all together?”
We also did this episode where I try and set up my ex-husband on a date because my daughter says, “Well you’re dating, and I want daddy to be happy too.” So I try to set him up and it kind of ends up backfiring. It was fun to sort of see the different directions that they took, and I felt a couple times it reminded me of working on the “Roseanne” show in terms of the show pushes the envelope.
Any funny behind-the-scenes stories you can share with the fans from filming?
There were definitely times working with that many stand-up comedians in one room where we just can’t get through takes. I’ve never laughed harder. When I start laughing and it was late in the day, and you’ve worked a lot of hours, you’ve had too much coffee, there were times where I had to say “Brad can you not say that one line? Because I can’t get through the take.”
We just had the wrap party, and it was the longest gag reel that I’ve ever seen from any show. It was just constantly people losing it, losing it, losing it. [Laughs]
It was a ridiculously fun working environment. It’s the best for doing comedy because when you’re having the most fun is when you’re most creative.
It’s not that uncommon for grown-up kids these days to move back in with their parents. Now that you’ve done this show, do you have any wise advice for people who may be experiencing those living arrangements now?
What I loved about the show and how they put it is, Claudia always said between her and her parents they make one responsible parent. Polly, because of the mother she did have, she wants to be the mother she never had, but because of the mother she did have, she has to go to her mother and get her help. I think what lies at the bottom of this is yes, they have very different parenting philosophies. Her parents have this much more laid-back philosophy. They take Natalie to the Hawaiian Jazz Festival, and they actually lose her by accident. Polly is much more trying to do the helicopter parenting style and micromanage everything and be sort of this type A perfect mom, and she realizes she’s not and that’s OK. At the bottom of it they all really care about each other and that it takes a village to raise a kid, and they’ve got a pretty cool village.
You’re also guest starring on the episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” this Thursday, and I understand fans should have their tissues ready.
It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was a big decision to do it. At the end of the day the scales just tipped in terms of just going through something like that and feeling like we got lucky and our son is OK. He got the treatment late. It was really important to me to raise awareness because there is a treatment you can get to save your kid’s heart, but you only have a 10-day window to get this treatment. It’s basically called IVIG. It’s a high dose of immunoglobulin, so they get this IV 12-hour drip that is a product that’s made from 10,000 people’s blood that’s been donated. It makes heart damage not happen.
It was really scary to do. I was nervous about what the experience was going to be like to walk onto the set and hold a kid who was made up to look like my son did. It’s very visual. You get this high fever and everything goes red. You’ve got these red blood-shot eyes and red tongue, red throat and red hands and feet. So I was nervous about what the experience was going to be like.
It was interesting the morning I started — and it was literally 5 in the morning and I had jumped out of the shower to go to work — and I had gotten this email from my Kawasaki doctor, Dr. Jane Burns, who’s one of the world-leading expert researchers on the disease. I didn’t know her during our experience. We found her since. She said one of her Kawasaki patients’ mother had emailed her, and her son had been cast to play my son. It was complete coincidence. They cast one of her triplets, and they had had KD a year ago. No one knew. The casting department didn’t know. It was just a total coincidence. I just felt like it was a sign and it was meant to be. The chances of that happening are zero. It’s been a powerful experience already and it hasn’t aired yet.
… I have had such an overwhelming response from other parents saying, “Thank you for raising awareness about this,” or “I had KD or my kid had KD or my kid died of it in my arms. Thank you for doing this.” Obviously it was a tough decision to do it in the first place, but I feel like that’s been a really great thing to have that response from parents. But really the drive behind doing it was how do we raise awareness for something that needs awareness? It’s rare. People don’t know about it. It’s treatable. It can save a kid’s life. What can we do? … My Kawasaki doctor told me if we do an episode about it, the show will save a life.
There’s something called the KDFoundation.org and which is a great website, and it’s the website that saved my son. It’s where we had read the symptoms online and as a result kept fighting for him to get seen by a specialist. It laid out exactly what we had. The “Grey’s” episode called “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” what I loved about it is it gives a message whether it’s KD or whether it’s something else, fight for your kid. If you have a feeling, if you have this gut feeling, a parent knows. Just advocate for your kid. Don’t feel bad to go and get a second, third, fifth, sixth opinion because it doesn’t hurt.