You’ve been watching Sarah Chalke light up your TV screen for twenty years on shows like Scrubs and Roseanne, and will probably continue to do so for at least 100 more (give or take). One of television’s most recognizable faces continues to take part in our favorite show, which is we can’t stop watching. Chalke is now back at work on her latest gig as the voice of Beth Smith, for the second season of Adult Swim’s animated hit, Rick & Morty. The actor chatted Paste up about the world of voice acting, along with memories of Scrubs, Roseanne and Degrassi High.
Paste Magazine: So, Scrubs has been in syndication forever. Roseanne can still be seen on plenty of channels. How I Met Your Mother, which you were a part of for awhile, is still a popular rerun choice as well. Do you ever get tired of seeing yourself on TV?
Sarah Chalke: (laughs) I actually don’t usually watch my own TV. I don’t have time. That’s why it’s really fun to do Rick and Morty, because you get to be an animated drawn lady. I feel, obviously, extremely lucky that I got to do Scrubs, and that’s one of my favorite jobs of all time. I have a friend in medical school, and she’s 26. Even her group of friends have watched it. It’s crazy.
Paste: Is voicing an animated character a freeing thing for you? To be able to play with your performance and play with your voice? Is it a different kind of freedom that you get, as opposed to having to be on-camera?
Chalke: Oh, totally. It’s such a different way to work. I really love it. That’s why I really want to do more of it. If you’re on set and you ask to do another take, you’re really asking 100 people and 100 crew members to do another take with you. Whereas in animation, you’re in a sound booth. Usually you’re not recording with the other actors. It’s different on every show, but usually you don’t. On Rick and Morty, we don’t all record at the same time.
So if you want to try something different, you can literally try a line ten different ways in a minute. It’s a really fun, creative, liberating way to act.
I actually did a kid’s Christmas cartoon for Disney. My son was three. He didn’t really know it was me at the beginning. We would be playing and he would really get upset if I would do different voices when we played. He’d be like, “Mom, talk in your normal voice.” He was obsessed with this cartoon. We had the stuffed animals. We were playing with them and I was doing the voice of Magee while we were playing. He’s like, “Mom, that’s not what Magee sounds like.” It’s like “You know what, it’s okay. I’m pretty sure it’s what she sounds like. Okay?” (laughs).
Paste: Is it a challenge to have to learn how to perform and emote using just your voice, not necessarily knowing exactly what the visuals going to be?
Chalke: That’s a good question. You totally have no idea usually. Sometimes you get full scripts. The Rick and Morty scripts are actually so brilliant. I love them. I get excited to read the new episodes that come out. Dan and Justin are ridiculously talented. The scripts are actually very descriptive, since it’s sci-fi. After we got to see the animation from Season One you get an idea of what it’s going to look like. You can kind of start to imagine it. But it is a different way to work where it’s kind of like just you and a microphone, and there’s suppose to be a giant monster chasing you and you’re just screaming. Or, some emotional scene where you’re suppose to be trying to tear up.
Paste: If you look back in time, there was probably a point where working on a cartoon was looked at as a step down for someone who has a name, like yourself. Then I think there was a point where it just sort of became like this trendy, “Oh, I’m going to pop up and be a guest star in this show” thing that all of the cool kids were doing. Do you think now animation has reached the point where it’s just looked at as as legit and respectable as anything else that you’ve done in your career?
Chalke: Oh, totally. I mean, for me it’s almost the opposite. It’s something coveted. I auditioned for this. I really wanted it—something like Rick & Morty that has such a cult following. I think TV and movies—it’s all changing. It used to be that there was no crossover between people who did movies and people who did television. Now television is so incredible with all the different platforms and a lot of incredible writers and directors coming to TV. I think it’s changed for the better across the board.
Paste: I know that you are actually in Canada right now. We all know that Degrassi High is coming to an end. My question is, are you okay?
Chalke: Am I okay? No one’s okay. No one in Canada is okay. I think it’s going to be awhile before anyone’s okay (laughs). But we have the reruns. We have the memories.
Paste: Speaking of memories, between Roseanne, Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother, what role do you think was your biggest leap as far as where your career was beforehand and where it ended up?
Chalke: I think for me probably the biggest growing experience acting-wise was on Scrubs. I started when I was 24. I just moved to Los Angeles. While I was on Roseanne, I was actually just commuting back and forth. I still lived in Canada. I just moved to LA two months before the Scrubs pilot. I feel like I spent a lot of my 20s on that show. Getting to work with Bill Lawrence and all the other actors on that show, I just learned so much every day—so much about comedy and timing. It was the first single camera show I think I worked on, and it was so different from working in front of a live audience. Definitely, each of them was such a unique experience.
Roseanne was my first job, really. I grew up in Vancouver. It was kind of like Hollywood North and there was tons of filming up here. But my first version of my resume was like every disease-of-the-week movie. If you can imagine like Moment of Truth, Stand Against Fear, Dying to Belong, My Mother’s Murder, Relentless, The Mind of a Killer AKA something. There was always an AKA because they’d start out as something and then come up with some other title. I was actually comparing these disease movies with another Canadian actress the other day. Both of our starts, both of our resumes are full of all of these. It was a great way to learn what it’s like to be on a set and what continuity means.
I remember the first time—I think I was 15—I was in a period piece, like a 1900s period thing. I bump into somebody and drop a bunch of packages and then I’m flustered and I’m picking up these brown wrapped, similar-looking packages. We get a second take. I remember the script supervisor coming up to me and saying “Okay, so on this word you picked up this package; but on this word you picked up this package; on this word you picked up this package. And when you dropped them, this one scattered over here; this one scattered over here.”
I remember thinking she was joking. I was like, “What are you talking about? I have to do it exactly like that a second time—pick up that package that looks pretty much looks like that package on this word, and this one on this word?” Yeah. It’s a learning curve at the beginning.
Chalke: Yeah, totally. School.
Paste: For those who may only know you from some of the TV shows we’ve discussed, what would be one thing that you would show people to say “Guess what? I can also do that!”?
Chalke: I got to do an off-Broadway play, which was really fun and really cool. It was a couple of years ago. But do you mean something that people can actually go and watch?
Paste: Don’t worry, we’ll assume there’s a bootleg of this floating around somewhere.
Chalke: It was called Modern Orthodox. I replaced Molly Ringwald because she was leaving the production, so I joined at that time. It was such a crazy, fun and terrifying and wonderful experience.