TV audiences have been enjoying Sarah Chalke's unique bedside manor in the hit TV series Scrubs for years now, and Chalke is taking on a much different character in the new mini-series Maneater, which premieres on Saturday, May 30 at 9 PM ET on Oxygen. I was recently in on a conference call with Chalke and here's what she had to say about the new mini-series and a lot more.
I was wondering, what did you find challenging about your role?
Sarah Chalke: First of all, it was like a ridiculously fun job, we shot it in Scottsdale for nine weeks. I would say the most challenging part is she goes through such a transition over the four hours. She starts out like - she's kind of a gold-digger and she has the world by the tail, and then by the end of the four hours her life crumbles. So she sort of goes through a bit of a physical transformation as well, so of course with mini-series' that are filming on tight schedules you're going back and forth from the beginning of the movie, to the end of the movie, to a scene from the middle of the movie, and so we would have two and a half hours sometimes of wild hair and makeup to prepare for the scenes from the beginning, and then by the end I literally had on zero makeup. To the point where for the very last scene, I was like, "Can we just put like a tiny bit on, maybe like a little bit?" and they're like, "No, you get big, black circles under your eyes instead."
So, yes, there's so many different parts to the character, which was why I wanted to do it, and I think partly why it was a challenge and so much fun. The toughest part, too, was just bouncing around between the scenes where she's just so up and excited and to the point where she's going through some tough stuff.
I really enjoyed the movie. It was funny because it mostly stuck to the book, I enjoyed that, but I think the fashion was such a huge part of it. Can you talk a little bit about the fashion and your favorite designers? Did you get to keep any of that?
Sarah Chalke: The fashion was such a fun part, and I was actually drooling when I read the script, because you could tell already that the fashion was going to be an actual character in the movie. I loved that it stayed close to the book, too, because I love the book. I thought it was really fun. I devoured it in one sitting. I thought it was delicious. I think Gigi's such a great writer. Anyway, the fashion was so fun. We had the best time kind of putting together looks, and then tying in the hair and makeup looks to that. Some of the shoes were, I mean, I have a shoe obsession, that's my fashion problem, and some of them were so high, that I would put on a pair of shoes, and I'd be like, "Okay, I can wear these for a scene only where I'm sitting, because they were like 5 ½ inches and I couldn't walk. My favorite designers, Zac Posen and Monique Lhuillier, are two of my favorites, and I actually got to wear both of theirs in this. The purple dress actually that I wore for a big chunk of it was Zac Posen. Then the Monique Lhuillier was the wedding dress, and she's who I would love to do my wedding dress in real life. I actually had a bit of a trial run - where the similarities between Clarissa and I end is that we're both planning a wedding, but I met my fiancé through friends on a ski trip and she stalked hers and picked him out and planned a wedding before she even met him - but I hadn't tried on wedding dresses yet, so it was actually really fun to do that for the part, and I got to try on a ton of these beautiful Monique Lhuillier wedding dresses. I loved the one I got to wear so much that I asked the costumer, "What do you think if I get married in this one, and we find a different one for the movie? Another one of my favorite outfits I wore was a Fendi jumpsuit that was the navy blue one that was at the beginning.
Now, we watch your character do some crazy things to get attention from guys. Have you ever done any crazy things that you want to talk about or any advice you'd give to girls that are kind of like your character?
Sarah Chalke: Crazy things that I've done to get attention from guys? How many people am I on the line with here? I don't know if I can reveal that much. What have I done? The first thing that comes to mind is a crazy thing that a boy did to get attention from me, which was my fiancé. We went traveling very shortly after we first started dating. It was about four months in, and it sort of feels like the defining moment when I fell in love with him. We had been traveling all day on this bus and we were starving. We got to this town called Aswan in Egypt, and we went to go eat at this restaurant, and we had packed like one nice little outfit in the bottom of our backpack. We put it on and we go to the restaurant, and they said, "No shorts. You can't eat in shorts." My fiancé had these nice, clean shorts, and it was not enough. So, we went back to the room, and I was so hungry, I was going to cry. So, he said, "Give me your long, black travel dress and I'll put it on and I'll say it's a galabeo, which is a traditional, male Egyptian dress, and they can't kick us out." So we went back and he was there in this tight, sleeveless, long, black travel dress so that I could go and eat. I was like, "Okay, you've got me." In terms of things that I've done, I had a huge crush on this guy in college and he was really into biking, into serious cycling. We lived about an hour bike ride from the university we were going to, so one day he said, "Do you want to bike to school?" and I was like, "Yes, totally. That sounds great." And then I wake up ... and it's like one of those stereotypical Vancouver downpours, it's raining so hard you can barely see a few feet in front of you, and he was like, "Call me if you're still up for biking to school." I was like, "Totally, if you are, yes, it sounds great." So, then proceeded one of the most difficult hour and a half of my life, I'm cycling uphill in a torrential Vancouver rain downpour, as it can only rain up there, and all of that for this boy named Matt. In terms of the third part of your question, what advice would I have for girls out there, I would say that maybe not to do it how Clarissa did it, maybe to actually meet the person first and see if you get along before you actually call and book a hotel for the wedding.
I wondered, this Clarissa is stylish and a little fashionista, and you normally play these funny, off-the-wall girls. How was it doing this, besides the production differences, doing like a sitcom to this mini-series, where you get this lengthy amount of time, how is it playing this completely different character from what you're used to on Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother?
Sarah Chalke: You know, I think when you ever take on a new job, one of the things that you look for is, is there something in here that's challenging and different than what I've done before? That's what sort of makes it exciting to get up and go to work every day, and I really felt like there were a lot of parts of Clarissa that I hadn't gotten to do before. What I loved about the part and about the script, was I felt like the script was really funny and it was heartbreaking. I think that's a really great combination, because it never gets boring. I think that to have the opportunity to do all of that in four hours was really cool. I don't want to give too much away, but there's a lot of hard stuff sort of in the second half of the mini-series and it's fun to get to do that dramatic stuff as well.
I loved your work in this. It was fabulous. It was just so fun to get through. I was hoping maybe it would return as a series or something, have you heard anything about that?
Sarah Chalke: No. I mean, I don't know what will happen. I know that's sort of the direction that The Starter Wife went in, and I thought they did such a great job with that. I guess we'll just see how it does in a couple of weeks. But I think the set up of it kind of lends itself to that, just because you've got that close group of girlfriends, kind of like Sex and the City, and all the drama that they go through and share. I think the tough part would be not being able to go forward without Maria, but I think that they would figure out maybe a way to get her back in there somehow.
I wanted to know, once you sign on to day a project like this, how do you research it? Did you think of anyone that you've come across in the past in the acting career that maybe you could have patterned a little bit after?
Sarah Chalke: Yes. I mean, I think sort of living in Los Angeles, like I'm from Canada, and it's certainly not how I grew up, like somebody like Clarissa, she has the right hair, makeup, and clothes, everything's going to be great. We grew up in hand-me-downs, and we owned one hairbrush. So, it's a stark change to how I think a lot of kids grow up here, and definitely we see just living here, people who have lived their life very much like Clarissa.
As an actress, is it most fun to play the sort of wildish, gold-digger side of her life, or is it more fun to play the one where she's not having such a good time?
Sarah Chalke: You know, that's a great question. I think I would say the more fun to play part was definitely when she was having the plotting, scheming scenes with all of her friends. Judy Greer, Marla Sokoloff, and Noureen DeWulf and I, we all four got along great, we never met before, and I think that it makes such a difference, especially when you're during comedy if you all really get along and have fun together. So we just got lucky and we did, so those scenes we had a ball doing. The ones at the end were tough, but there's something about doing those that I really enjoy as well. I mean, I loved getting to play all the pregnant scenes, and the scene where she gets to hold the baby for the first time was actually one of my favorites to do. What I liked about it, too, is that they still sort of wove in some comedy towards the end, so that it wasn't all a downer. So, there's a scene where she has to step in for her mom's friend who can't do the singing and tapping part of the show, and that whole thing...when I say when you look at the script and you see what challenges are in there, definitely singing and tap dancing for me would be way up there, because I really can't sing, like I cannot. I was kicked out of the choir when I was in grade five - or the fifth grade as you say here in the United States, not grade five - by Mrs. McKennon, who would say, "Chalke girls can just mouth the words for this performance." My sister and I would literally be singing Christmas carols in a mall in a group of 10-year-olds and we'd be mouthing the words to "Here Comes Santa Claus." So, when I became an actor, all I wanted was to be Eponine from Les Miserables ... that was like my dream, and that dream got squelched when I realized that I couldn't sing. So, to have to get up there in front of 100 crew members, a couple hundred extras, and all the cast, and sort of do this singing and tap, I kind of assumed that I would sing poorly and tap poorly, because I was stepping in for Maria Conchita Alonso's group member who wasn't able to be there that day. So, I'm not supposed to be able to do all these things. So, I get up there and I said, "So, yeah, I can sing it badly, right?" And the director was like, "No, no, I think you should sing well. I mean, you don't have to tap perfectly, but sing well." I was like, "Oh no, actually, I can't." He was like, "Oh, I'm sure you can. I'm sure it's fine." I'm like, "no, no, I really can't." He's like, "Just give it a try. You're too hard on yourself." So, I get up there and I ..., and he's like, "Okay, yeah. I think you can sing badly. I think that makes more sense." To add insult to injury, I'm up there in these fishnets and these ridiculously tiny tap shorts, and I'm supposed to be nine months pregnant. So, I go up there in front of 300 people, and I'm feeling a little bit vulnerable singing and tapping anyway and then I lift my arms up and the way that the pregnancy belly was holding onto the shorts, my pants fell down. So, now I'm standing there with my pants around my ankles, and just tapping and singing. It was one of those moments where you go, "Wow. Is this really happening, or am I in a dream? No, this is really happening. I'm actually standing here with no pants on."
Gigi Grazer, who has been such a Hollywood insider, is sort of known for basing some of her characters on real people. Who do you think in this mini-series corresponds to actual celebrities and socialites, and especially, Clarissa?
Sarah Chalke: Who did Gigi base the characters on? You know, I don't know the answer to that. We'll have to ask Gigi. I actually had heard a similar thing, though. I was actually in a store buying with the costumer, we were getting clothes for the mini-series, and the costume designer told the person who worked there what we were shopping for, and they said, "Oh, the person who that book's based on actually shops here as well, so you're actually buying the exact same clothes she buys." So, I don't know the answer to that, but I'm very curious.
I go see Neil Flynn perform improv every Saturday night. Then I saw his series got picked up, so, I was wondering if you'd be up for guest starring on his new series any time.
Sarah Chalke: Oh my God. First of all, how funny is Neil Flynn? I have been to Improv at Olympic, too, and he's just fantastic. He is one of the funniest people I have every worked with. It's to the point where on Scrubs, the writers will write under the janitor's title, it will just sort of have his line, then in black it will say, "Or whatever Neil says." He just goes off on these unbelievably hysterical tangents, where if you're doing a scene with him it's really hard not to break. So, the answer is yes, with ...I would love to do that ... on the show, and I'm very excited for him that it got picked up.
I just wanted to follow up actually on Scrubs. I hear it's been renewed for Season 9. What is your involvement with the new season?
Sarah Chalke: It did get renewed for Season 9. I don't know yet what mine will be, but regardless, I'm so glad that it got picked up, because I think for us on Scrubs pretty much since Season 4 we really never knew the future. It wasn't ever something we really got to settle into some, you know, we're here for the long haul, and I think what happened as a result to that is it kind of kept everyone grateful, because we had the attitude of this could be it, let's just enjoy it. So, for me it was the best job I've had. I mean, I got it two months after I moved down here and so a huge piece of my LA experience and life has been on that show, and I think we just all felt really lucky to have that rare combination of enjoying your character and loving the writing, but also really liking the people you work with. I think for that to last for this long is pretty rare.
I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about how much the industry might have changed since you started doing this, because I know you started as a young actress when you did Roseanne and things like that. How is this a change from your perspective over the years?
Sarah Chalke: You know, I think it's changed so much. I mean, I think for me I feel lucky that I got to start up in Vancouver. I think so much of the industry and the work went up there because of the dollar and because there's great careers up there, and it was such a nice way to get started and feel like you got to kind of cut your teeth and start off without having to jump into the giant pool down here. I just commuted during Roseanne because I was still pretty young and wanted to finish school up there, and didn't live down here full time until right before Scrubs. I think it's changing so much, and I think it's probably changed the most in the past couple of years. I think that the economy and the strike, there have been so many factors that have affected it. I think it's really changed how television is made and pilot season, for sure. I think the way that reality shows is such a new piece of the puzzle getting introduced, that must be like seven years ago now. As much as I hate to admit, Project Runway I will never miss an episode and same with The Amazing Race, it does take such a huge chunk, reality shows in general, out of how many comedies and dramas get to be made, and that's a huge chunk of people with jobs in the city. So, I think it's definitely changing, the industry's going through those growing pains right now still more than ever.
You have great comedic timing. Is it something that you've worked at or have you always just had this natural ability?
Sarah Chalke: Well, first of all, thank you so much. That's a very nice thing to say. I feel like I have been so lucky to work with the people I've worked with. Roseanne was like my first job down here, and I just would sit there in awe of Roseanne, Laurie Metcalf, and John Goodman, and just kind of watch what they would do with the script from the Monday table read until Thursday tape night. I was so young and shy and felt a combination, I think, of so lucky to be there and jet lag, I think. So, I felt like much more of an observer than a participator in a sense at that time. So, it was so fun for me to, on Scrubs, to really get to ...especially since I was also replacing a character in the case, I mean, you sort of feel like you have to kind of step into a bit of a mold. Scrubs was such a different experience for me, because I really got to help create the character. I think that when you work in an environment where you feel safe and you get along you're so much more open to try anything and fall flat on your face and have it not work and get up and try something else, than if you're nervous or feel like it's a tense environment, and unfortunately I think that's sometimes the case. I think I got lucky that I got to have an experience on Scrubs that was really collaborative. So, I feel like I really learned a lot there. You know, it's sort of been something like I never really knew I wanted to be an actor until I grew up, and then I look back on like how we were as kids, and all we would do is put on like my parents' suits and dresses and put on plays and it was sort of our favorite thing to do from a very young age. My older sister and I, she was the one who kind of got me into acting. We tried out for this theater class, but it was also a performing group, and we were like 10 and 11, so you had to audition for it because wasn't just a class, you would be performing as well. So, they called and said to my sister, "Natasha, you got it." And she said, "Great. What about Sarah?" They said, "Yes, we don't want her." So, she said, "Well, then I don't want to do it," and she hung up the phone. They called back ten minutes later, and they were like, "Yes, we want you to be the lead, so we're going to take your little sister as well." So, she was like the lead princess in this play, and I was like a tiger wearing all black and a mask in the background, doing this weird movement back and forth the entire time. That's all I did, but I fell madly in love with it, with the acting profession.
So, from what I read, you are supposed to do six episodes of Scrubs when it comes back, and possibly, will you be going back to How I Met Your Mother again? So, if this does go to series, how would you juggle that, or would they wait for your schedule to clear up?
Sarah Chalke: You know, I actually don't know the answer to that. I mean, with How I Met Your Mother it was just originally supposed to be that one episode, and then because the writers' strike had happened and we hadn't gone back to Scrubs until the following week, and so someone else had fallen out of the part, and they said, "Do you watch How I Met Your Mother?" I said, "Yes, I love it," and they said, "Do you want to come tomorrow morning?" So, it was just supposed to be for a few days, and then it just kind of evolved into more. The creators of How I Met Your Mother, Craig and Carter and then Bill, the creator of Scrubs, were just really generous to kind of let me go back and forth for a little, which was very fun, but I didn't sleep for about five weeks. Then, I guess we'll have to see what ends up happening with Maneater.
Going back to Scrubs, I wonder if you could possibly give us your take on what was first presumed to be the series finale and ... and everyone else to say some things that the other reporters have been asking. Is it that you don't know you're involvement yet, or are you sure you will be back for a few episodes to introduce those new story lines for the new Scrubs set up?
Sarah Chalke: Okay. So, first of all, the finale and how it wrapped up, I think after the writers' strike we didn't know what was going to happen, and we thought maybe there was a chance that we might just end on some random, middle-of-the-season episode, and that would just be it for Scrubs forever. I think that after you work on a show for that long that would have been such a tough way to have it end, both storyline-wise and emotionally. I know that that's often the case, and sometimes shows just cut off at the knees. So, the fact that we got to finish out that season and do a couple more episodes and then do a whole eighth, felt like such a gift. This way Bill got to really end the show the way he wanted to, instead of the plug just getting pulled. For us, there was that part of it that was important, and I also think like after you've worked with the same crew for that many years and the same cast, I think to not get to have sort of a proper goodbye and a proper ending and kind of ramping up to knowing that it could possibly be the end, was really special. We got to do an episode in the Bahamas, which was sort of like a ridiculously fun weeklong wrap party. I love the finale. I'm a romantic at heart. I always thought J.D. and Elliot should wind up together, and Bill always said there was such different opinions in the writers' room and on the message boards. I was really happy with the way the finale ended. I thought it was really cool, kind of sort of getting to see a little bit into the future, and I love that all the guest stars came back. That was such a cool day. It was such an emotional week, being the last week anyway. I mean, even like the toughest grip, there was not a dry eye on that last night when they yelled, "Wrap." I think it kind of caught everyone off guard. When they called out like, "Series wrap on Ken Jenkins," "Series wrap on John C. McGinley," and they sort of ... people sort of finishing up their last scenes. It was really emotional, and then to have that day where you have this hallway full of guest stars that would come back, some of them who had guest starred like Tom Cavanagh, a bunch of times over the eight years, and Colin Hay, and then some that we hadn't seen since the first season, it really was a walk down memory lane, and it was a pretty cool day on set. The second part of your question, I actually don't know yet what I'm going to do, but I will very soon and you guys will be the first to know. Regardless, I'm just so excited that the show got picked up again, and it's going to go for another year. It's great.
I wanted to ask about Maria Conchita Alonso. She was such a fun and interesting choice for your mother. Could you talk about talk about that? Was there a backstory to that? Do you have any Latina in you?
Sarah Chalke: I don't, and that was something we talked about a little bit, actually, and they sort of went back and forth on is should we make some reference to the fact that maybe I don't have my natural hair color. You know, we all know so many people who have parents of different heritage, and sometimes you have one sibling that takes completely after one parent and one sibling who takes completely after the other. They were like, "Maybe, for the most part, you take after Gregory Harrison." I think really we all felt like Maria Conchita and I had sort of like a similar face shape, and that it was definitely possible that I was her daughter. I was so excited when I heard they cast her, because I thinks she's fantastic, and she lived up to every wonderful expectation I had of her. I mean, we had a ball. Just like from the first day of rehearsal, she's just this firecracker of energy and fun and she's just really creative and has great ideas. She is a singer and a dancer in real life, so she was like so excited to jump in with the singing and dancing for the tap scene, and was trying to teach me how to sing. I was like, "Maria, I really appreciate it, but I just don't know how far you're going to be able to get with me." We had a blast in scenes together. She's just really so fun and so talented, and I really felt like when I read the script, to me that was one of the most important characters being cast, because their relationship is so important. They have such love for each other, but such a contentious relationship at times, and so, I'm so glad that she was able to do it. Can I say one more thing? I forgot to tell you guys, too, yes, it's sponsored by Vaseline, and you can go to rulesforskinseason.com to see the webisodes that they made for Maneater, and there's a chance to win a great trip. So, very good.
You can watch Sarah Chalke in her new role on the mini-series Maneater, which premieres on Saturday, May 30 at 9 PM ET on Oxygen.