On Thursday’s night’s all-new Grey’s, former Scrubs star Sarah Chalke returns to medicine -- but it’s not what you think. Inspired by true events, Sarah plays a distraught mother whose son is very sick, yet can’t be diagnosed. She’ll get from much-needed assistance from Meredith, but will it be too late?
Wetpaint Entertainment chatted with Sarah about her emotional guest starring role and why every parent should tune into this week’s Grey’s Anatomy.
Tell me about this week’s episode. I hear it was a very personal story for you.
Yes, the story was inspired by my son, who was diagnosed with Kawasaki Disease. It was a very difficult time because Charlie was misdiagnosed a lot, and we fought really hard to get him seen by a specialist. We got the treatment on day ten-and-a-half, so it was on the late side. Thank god he’s okay. Every Kawasaki experience is different, but one common thing for KD parents is that they go through a lot of misdiagnosis. And the problem with it being missed is that it’s inflammation of the body, and it can damage the blood vessels in the heart. You can have permanent heart damage, which can lead to a heart attack. So that’s why this episode of Grey’s is called “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
So you play a mother who won’t stop fighting for her son?
Exactly! And what I love about how the writers wrote it is that it’s this single mom who just keeps having this feeling like something is seriously wrong, and she keeps getting sent home by the doctors. She’s like, “I’m not crazy! I’ve looked online and I’ve done the research. I just feel like there’s something more there.” It’s a real message for parents -- whether it’s Kawasaki or something else -- to fight for your kid. Don’t be afraid to get a second, third or fourth opinion.
On the show, Meredith is pregnant, so I’m sure there will be scenes between you and Ellen Pompeo that will really resonate for mothers.
Absolutely! I was talking to our Kawasaki doctor, and she said that they do a Kawasaki news story every year, and just by showing a photo of a kid who has KD, parents see it and end up calling in, so just having this storyline on the show will trigger a lot of things for parents. It will absolutely save lives.
This role is much more dramatic than what viewers are used to seeing you as. A lot of people know you from Scrubs, so has this been a nice departure for you to do something that’s a bit more dramatic?
It was, and it was weird to do it with something that is that close to you. It’s this weird combination of easy and hard. Usually, when you do a scene, it’s like, “I hope I’m able to cry when I need to cry.” You hope you’re able to draw on some emotions. But this was more of a case of “Will I be able to stop crying? When they yell cut, can I shut the faucet off?” So I knew it would be easy to access those emotions, and as a result, the hardest thing I had ever done. And it was. But sometimes the hardest things are the most rewarding.
You talked to creator Shonda Rhimes about bringing the story to life, but were you a fan of Grey’s Anatomy?
Yeah, absolutely. I think they do such a great job with portraying this kind of thing. They are very accurate and tell stories in such a compelling way. And they have such an incredible viewership and loyal fans, so I feel really lucky that they wanted to do it. It’s crazy because I was scared about what the experience would be like. Would I be holding a child who looked like my son? And then on my very first morning, I got an email from my Kawasaki doctor about one of her other patients, and they had been cast to play my son. It was a complete coincidence! They cast triplets, and one of the triplets had KD, and the mom didn’t know that it would be me at the time she accepted the part. It was this wild coincidence.
So for you, there was no other show you considered pitching this story to?
No, this was it. And it all happened really fast. It took me a really long time to be able to talk about it. I spoke at the fundraiser in November, and there were a lot of other parents who were talking about their experience, and they were so brave. I was really galvanized by the experience. I had never met anyone else who had been through it, and to hear their stories and to meet so many kids who weren’t as lucky as my son, who have aneurysms, or to meet parents who have lost their child to a heart attack, was really eye-opening. I thought, “We have to do something, and we can’t wait.” So that’s when this idea came up, and it’s so crazy how fast it happened! I pitched this in November, and it’s going to air now!
Well, once you get Shonda motivated, she just does not stop.
Totally! She’s a force of nature.
Tell me a little bit about this story. I know you’re going to be interacting with Meredith and her intern Jo in this episode.
They were both so fantastic and so supportive. Ellen is also a mom, so she gets what that’s like to fight for your child. She really related to that. And then obviously, her character, being pregnant and being a mom to Zola, she says, “I believe you. I’m going to be more tests.”
It’s all of those mommy hormones.
Yeah totally! It’s definitely an episode for the moms. You know, I think Meredith gets her anxiety because she understands how you would do anything for your child.
You’re also coming back to our TV screens on a weekly basis in How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life).
Yes! I’m so excited!
We’re excited too! I have to ask: Do you abbreviate that name behind-the-scenes? It’s a mouthful.
We just say, like the HIMYM crowd, HTLWTOSRASSSUQ. I actually don’t know it by heart. I should probably learn the acronym. Very frequently, I’ve said How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) very fast. That usually does the trick. If we’re talking about it amongst ourselves, some people say, How to Live... or How to Live With Your Parents... or How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)!
What can you tell me about your character?
I play Polly, who is actually based off our creator Claudia Lonow. It’s her life story. She had just left her ex-husband, and she showed up at her parents’ home and said, “I hope this isn’t a bad time for you because it is for me.” That’s actually the first line of the show. It’s the first thing that happens in the pilot. I love the idea of playing her, playing a real person. I can relate to being a mom -- I have a three-year-old. All Polly wants is to be the best working mom in the universe. She wants to be the mother she didn’t have, but because of the mother she did have, she doesn’t know how. So she needs her mother’s help. Between her and her parents, they sort of make up one responsible parent. I just loved the pilot when I read it. To me, the jokes were funnier and smarter than anything I had read. It reminded me of that feeling I got when I read Scrubs for the first time.
Catch the episode on Thursday, March 28, 2013, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.