Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Interview: Elizabeth Perkins on How to Live with Your Parents, and Living with Diabetes

I've been talking about it for months, and tonight, the time has finally arrived: the premiere of the new ABC comedy "How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)" at 9:30/8:30c. The series stars Sarah Chalke, Elizabeth Perkins and Brad Garrett. I knew I was going to love the show just by the previews, and watching the first episode on the press website only solidifies that love. The show is a perfect chaser for "Modern Family," with smart humor, excellent writing and pretty much flawless acting. OK, OK — enough gushing. A few months back, I spoke with series star Elizabeth Perkins about her new show, and also her journey of living with diabetes.

Celebrity Extra: First off, I have to tell you how much I love your new show, and especially your character, Elaine.

Elizabeth Perkins: I seem to really score good roles. I have to be honest: There’s nothing ordinary about Elaine, and I love it. I don’t take ordinary roles. I sort of gravitate toward the odd ducks, and she’s definitely an odd duck. It was really nice to do this after being on "Weeds" for as long as I was, and playing the character I did, because she was so mad and dark and angry and bitter, which was fun, but Elaine is just filled with positive energy and life. For her, the glass is always half-full. There’s always a positive outcome to everything, and she’s completely nuts — and it’s wonderful. I’m having a ball. She doesn’t sensor anything she feels or says. She puts her foot in her mouth, and she’s completely unaware that she has. That’s been a real treat for me.

CE: Like the scene where you're all eating dinner, and she tells the family what part of a male's anatomy tastes good with peanut butter on it?

EP: Yeah, and she doesn’t even think about the fact that her granddaughter is sitting right there. We already filmed all 13 episodes, and we had a lot of fun. I’m just crazy about Brad Garrett, who plays my husband. He and I work together so well. Sarah Chalke, who plays my daughter, it was one of those times where — usually when you do a show, there’s always one person that you kind of go, “Oh God, that’s the one.” And we didn’t have “the one.” We just had a great group of people, and it’s so rare that that happens. Everybody was really positive and really likes the show and was having a really good time. The time just flew by, and that’s very rare. Hopefully it transfers onto the screen.

CE: I've always loved Sarah Chalke's comedic work, especially in "Roseanne" and "Scrubs."

EP: I know; I just love Sarah. She’s such a kind person. She’s very much like her character, Polly. We just get along great as mother and daughter. I’m a little bit too young to play her mother, but we sort of covered that in the show by saying I had her when I was a teenager, which would make sense. It’s just television, so I guess you can get away with it.

CE: What do you like about the show; what sets it apart from other comedies?

EP: What I love about this show is you’ve got three generations of people living in the same household, mostly because of the economy, which is happening all over the country. Children are moving back in with their parents because they can’t afford to live on their own. And what I love about that is it’s wacky in the way that real life is wacky. So many things happen in real life where you say, “Oh God, if you saw that on TV, you’d think ‘That could never happen.’” But it does happen. And it’s naturalistic. It’s not this big style of sitcom acting, which really bothers me too.

It’s funny in a character-y way without being so plot-driven. It’s more about the relationships of these people and what it’s like for the grandparents, the kids and their kids. Polly has a 6-year-old daughter, but she also has an ex-husband who’s always sniffing around, and he’s hysterical, played by the stand-up comedian John Dore. And it’s just very realistic and true to life, and it’s the situations that we find ourselves in that are funny, as opposed to setting up this whole big plot point.

CE: Off the top of your head, what's a funny situation on the show that really had you laughing?

EP: Well, there’s one episode where Brad Garrett accidentally eats something that has drugs in it, which has happened to a member of my family, not knowing that somebody had made a certain kind of brownie. We have a situation like that on one of our episodes, which is just hysterical to me. That’s what happens when you’ve got different generations in the house.

CE: On a personal note, you were diagnosed with diabetes only a few years ago. I know you are very active in getting the word out about diabetes, especially late-onset diabetes, like you had. What made you decide to become so active in promoting diabetes awareness?

EP: I was finally able to open up about it, starting with my family, and it was just a huge weight off my shoulders. Just being able to talk freely about it with the people closest to me really helped me to manage my own feelings about having it, and to learn to manage it better with that kind of support. Once I was able to do that, I realized how important it was to help educate other people.

What I love about this campaign is I’m partnering with Sanofi US on the Diabetes Co-Stars Campaign (diabetescostars.com). It raises awareness of diabetes and their co-stars, meaning, the people who help and support them on this journey, which can sometimes be really, really overwhelming. When I was first diagnosed, I learned pretty quickly that my husband — who I call my co-star — was vital in helping me to manage it successfully. It became a family effort, and it was a necessity for it to become a family effort. We had to learn to cook differently. I had to learn to exercise more, and to do the right kind of exercise. I have less stress.

I’m insulin-dependent. I had to learn how to manage insulin, to be aware of some of the few serious possible side effects. What I discovered was that it wasn’t something I could do alone. I really tried to do it. I’m a very strong woman and determined to do things on my own. Once I reached out and shared it with my co-workers and my friends, and said, “Hey, I’m struggling here,” I was able to manage it 10 times better.

That’s why joining the Sanofi US on the Diabetes Co-Stars Campaign was really important to me. We’re making a documentary, and we held a nationwide casting call to find other co-stars who are out there helping people with diabetes live better and manage their condition better. This is a celebration of those people. My husband is my co-star, and I’m very proud of him. He’s my best friend. There are 26,000,000 people who have been diagnosed with diabetes, and they need help. It’s not something you have to be doing on your own.

CE: Before your diagnosis, what made you realize something was wrong? What were you physically going through?

EP: Everybody’s symptoms are different; that’s the nature of diabetes. For me, I’d lost a lot of weight; I was fatigued; I was constantly thirsty; I was constantly hungry; I had blurry vision. For a long time, nobody could tell me what was wrong. I have Type 1 diabetes, which is sort of the lesser-known diabetes. It’s what they call Juvenile Diabetes, but I was late-onset, diagnosed in my mid-40s.

They weren’t looking for diabetes. I’d always had fasting blood tests in the morning, so my numbers weren’t high. And it wasn’t until I went in for a late-afternoon blood test after I had eaten my lunch that I presented with very high blood-glucose numbers. So people should get regular blood tests to check for it, because there are close to 7,000,000 people, they estimate, who have undiagnosed diabetes. It’s a silent killer. If you don’t feel well, get a blood test. Like now I think, why didn’t I check for diabetes first, but a lot of doctors will say, “Oh it doesn’t run in your family.” It doesn’t run in mine either. So, it’s something to watch out for, particularly right now with the kind of numbers we’re seeing.

CE: Of course, you want to raise awareness with your campaign and the website (diabetescostars.com); what else do you hope to accomplish?

EP: Well, I think to raise awareness about the amount of numbers we’re seeing of people coming down with diabetes and to educate people about the power of support. Maybe you educate others about diabetes. Or you support a family member or friend who has diabetes. Or you’re living with diabetes and want to thank someone for helping you stay active. For me, the documentary is really about what it’s like living with diabetes, the power of support, and how that can really change your life. It’s not something that you have to be in alone. It’s amazing how many people will reach out once you open that door. Once you say, “I have diabetes, and these are my struggles,” it’s amazing how many people it can touch. That’s really why I became involved.

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