Sarah Chalke was just 16 years old when “Roseanne” changed her life.
Born in Ottawa and raised in North Vancouver, B.C., Chalke starred in comedian Roseanne Barr’s groundbreaking sitcom of the late-’80s and ’90s, sharing the role of the Conner family’s oldest child Becky.
“I had an incredible experience the first time around,” Chalke told reporters at the semi-annual television critics press tour in January. “I am so grateful to Roseanne for taking a chance on a kid from Canada.”
She’ll be back — along with the original Becky, Lecy Goranson — when the “Roseanne” revival premieres Tuesday on ABC and CTV.
“Roseanne” took the wholesome American family ideal and gave it an honest, and funny, working-class spin. Debt, disease and dysfunction became kitchen-table conversations.
The new, nine-episode 10th season finds Dan and Roseanne managing even more mouths to feed under the same roof, this time as grandparents. The hot topic around the table is Donald Trump, with Roseanne clearly in the U.S. president’s corner.
Questions about Barr’s personal support of Trump on Twitter dominated the cast press conference, which disappointing, said Chalke.
“If I had 20 minutes with Roseanne, there are so many other things I’d want to hear from her,” said Chalke.
She preferred to talk about the tight-knit set, the talented writing and production staff and how two actresses who played one character were both back on the show.
When she was approached for the revival, Chalke was told by executive producer Tom Werner and co-star/executive producer Sara Gilbert that she would be playing an entirely new character, a married woman named Andrea who hires Becky to be her surrogate.
It’s a rather ingenious solution to the problem of bringing the two actresses together in the one family.
“My answer right from the beginning was a hundred per cent yes,” said Chalke, now 41. She loves that her new character is both “unintentionally offensive” as well as “well-intentioned but controlling” — in other words, she’s still a true Conner.
Chalke joined the series in 1993 when Goranson chose to leave after five seasons to go to university. (The character’s departure was initially explained as her having run off to get married; casting logic later went out the window.) Hundreds of actors applied to be the new Becky. Chalke, then in Toronto working on the YTV series “Kids Zone,” sent “a grainy VHS tape down from Canada … the second that I heard about it.”
By her third audition, she had won the part.
“It was so early on in my career and my first big job and I was so young and a fish out of water,” said Chalke. “These people were just the most amazing comedians. For me, that experience was really about watching and learning and absorbing and being in awe.”
Chalke was a fast learner. She has enjoyed a robust career since “Roseanne,” starring for nine seasons as Dr. Elliot Reid on the NBC sitcom “Scrubs.” Immediately after “Roseanne” ended, she starred opposite Yannick Bisson (“Murdoch Mysteries”) in the Canadian western series “Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy.” There was a recurring role on “How I Met Your Mother,” plus recent appearances on the ABC series “Speechless.”
Goranson left “Roseanne” with an option to return, school schedule permitting. This she did, replacing Chalke through much of Season 8. The unusual role-sharing became a running gag on the series. Other members of the Conner family started greeting Becky-of-the-week with sayings such as, “Where the hell have you been?”
A one-off role on “Inside Amy Schumer” in 2016 brought Chalke and Goranson together in a spoof of their revolving “Roseanne” roles. The two had never worked together before because they were both playing the same character.
After the “Schumer” episode, Goranson and Chalke had dinner, “which was really fantastic,” said Goranson, “because I had a lot of questions for her and just wanted to know what her experience was like.”
Chalke’s answer: loved every minute of it.
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.