Sarah Spills Her Secrets
Sarah Chalke has a very special — well, okay, weird — talent: She can write with her "freakishly long finger toes," as she calls them. It's a skill the 32-year-old Scrubs star honed growing up in British Columbia, where, she says, "I used to pass notes with my toes in class. I never got caught."
Chalke is, in fact, pretty handy with her feet. She was a part-time ski instructor until age 16, when she landed the part of Becky Conner on Roseanne. And she has done her share of three-day hikes through the Garibaldi Belt, a range of volcanic mountains north of Vancouver. "By the end, you have so many blisters you don't want to put your hiking boots back on," she says.
Chalke isn't the type to sit still — at least not for long. She even talks at breakneck speed. When she auditioned for the role of Scrubs' Dr. Elliot Reid, some of the character's traits instantly struck a chord. "[The script] said, 'She moves and talks at a faster pace than normal humans,'" Chalke recalls. "The feedback I'd always gotten on auditions was 'slow down,' so it was fun as Elliot to get to go with it."
This is the eighth, and possibly final, season of Scrubs. And Chalke is busier than ever. She appeared on several episodes of How I Met Your Mother last year, and this spring she stars in Maneater, a Lifetime Original miniseries about a Hollywood It girl who is determined to marry the hottest producer in town. She spoke to FITNESS after demonstrating her toe-writing abilities by giving us an autograph. The signature was shaky, and the heart she added for a flourish looked a little like a squashed bug. But, hey, you gotta love a girl who gets her feet dirty.
FITNESS: You've described yourself as klutzy, yet you can write with your toes. Sure you're not exaggerating?
Sarah Chalke: I have torn the ligaments in my left ankle seven times. The first time was during a college psychology class that took place in a huge lecture hall. My leg fell asleep, and when I got up after class to ask the professor a question, I rolled right over my ankle and fell flat on my face in front of 400 or so people.
FITNESS: Okay, you are klutzy! Is that the most embarrassing thing you've ever done?
Sarah Chalke: Omigod, no. I peed in my Brownie uniform right in the middle of class when I was in kindergarten. That was high on the embarrassment scale. More recently, I lost my engagement ring. It happened after an acupuncture session that left me kind of out of it. I was wearing the ring when I went in, and then about three hours later I realized I didn't have it on. One of my friends helped me retrace my steps. There we were, crawling on our hands and knees on Ventura Boulevard looking under cars, peering into grates. We never found it. Luckily the ring was insured and my fiance, Jamie, was unbelievably understanding about the whole thing. This [she holds up her new emerald-cut diamond ring] is engraved with Je t'aime on one side and Jamie's cell phone number on the other.
FITNESS: What's your funniest fitness moment?
Sarah Chalke: One time I was out for a walk, stepped on a pinecone and wrecked my ankle. Another time I did it when I tripped while hiking with my dog. It was never for an extreme sport, which would have at least given me a good story.
FITNESS: Did you play sports as a kid, or were you watching from the sidelines?
Sarah Chalke: All I wanted growing up was to be on a sports team, any sports team. I tried out for the volleyball team, but I didn't make it, even after I went to volleyball camp. I ended up doing the two most underattended sports — shot put and racewalking. I actually made it to the state finals in racewalking, which may sound really nerdy but is very demanding physically. People throw up all the time. In the tenth grade, I finally made the basketball team. I spent most of the season on the bench, but I had a uniform with a number on it.
Her Favorite Moves, Motivation Tricks, and Guilty iPod Pleasures
FITNESS: What's your favorite workout routine today?
Sarah Chalke: I love Xflowsion, a combination of martial arts, yoga, and power dance. There's so much variety that an hour and 15 minutes just flies by and you never get bored. It incorporates a lot of yoga, which improves your flexibility and your strength, and then you get to do boxing. That's my favorite part, because it's such a great release. I feel so much stronger now, and I definitely have lots of energy.
FITNESS: Any other get-fit tricks?
Sarah Chalke: I like to hike with my chocolate Labrador, Lola. If I can't squeeze in a workout any other way, I'll hop on the treadmill at home. Actually, if I need to study lines or get ready for an audition, I find it easier to learn on the treadmill. There's something about movement that helps get everything going.
FITNESS: How do you stay motivated?
Sarah Chalke: I have to mix it up. I can't go to the gym or I get too bored. So I'll hike and do yoga. I also listen to my iPod. My fiance has great taste in music, so he makes mixes for me. Listening to cool new songs keeps me going.
FITNESS: Fess up: What's the goofiest song on your iPod?
Sarah Chalke: "Baby Got Back." That's because for the parents' night show at my twelfth-grade graduation, my friends and I all wore spandex tights with G-strings on top, stuffed our butts with I can't even remember what, and lip-synched and danced to that song. I think all of our parents were very proud. Now whenever I listen to it while I'm exercising, it makes me smile.
FITNESS: Your workouts are clearly paying off — you've worn some pretty skimpy outfits on Scrubs. Did you ever say, "I'm not wearing that"?
Sarah Chalke: I've sported bras in pretty much every color of the rainbow. The wardrobe department buys them one size bigger and then adds a little help with a chicken cutlet [aka padding]. In one fantasy sequence they put me in a sort of naughty-nurse outfit. In another I wore a burlesque dance outfit. It was a black corset with a bustle in the back, fishnets, high heels, a feather boa, and lots of fans. The crew dared me to walk down the street in that outfit to get a coffee at Starbucks, and I did it because I can't turn down a dare. But this is Los Angeles, so nobody cared.
FITNESS: On which of these shows would you be a real contender: The Amazing Race, Survivor, American Idol, or Dancing with the Stars?
Sarah Chalke: The Amazing Race. I absolutely love to travel. My two sisters and I were brought up with the notion that a trip is not really a vacation unless there's a chance you might come down with something like dysentery.
FITNESS: Which show would you get booted off in the first round?
Sarah Chalke: American Idol, definitely. In fifth grade, our choir teacher asked my sister and me to just mouth the words because we were so off-key.
FITNESS: After playing a doctor on TV for eight years, would you be able to perform the Heimlich maneuver in an emergency?
Sarah Chalke: I really hope I'm never in that position! It's crazy, but I haven't even taken a first-aid course. I have, however, been Heimliched myself — twice. Once was in Thailand, where I choked on a lemongrass shoot. My fiance did the Heimlich on me. The other time was on a set in Canada. I was eating a mixed-green salad and a piece of red cabbage got stuck in my throat. One of the camera grips did this really hard motion on my rib cage without pushing up, which is what you need to do. I remember thinking, "Oh my God, this is not how I thought I was going to go down, choking on a piece of organic cabbage in the middle of nowhere!" Then the head of craft services, who doubled as the first-aid person, ran over screaming and said, "Stop, you're going to crack her ribs!" On her second try, just like in a cartoon, this spitball goes flying out.
Sarah on Her Eating Habits and the Hollywood Diet
FITNESS: What's your worst health habit?
Sarah Chalke: I drink coffee and tea at temperatures that are way too high. Sucking down scalding hot beverages is just not a good idea.
FITNESS: What's your best health habit?
Sarah Chalke: Wearing sunscreen every day. Right before Scrubs was starting, we lost my aunt to melanoma and my grandmother to cancer. It definitely made me feel a little less invincible. My aunt was the healthiest person I've ever known. She meditated and did yoga and was a vegetarian her whole life, but she lived in Sri Lanka for 10 years and was always in the sun. Now my whole family is just OCD about using sunscreen.
FITNESS: Are you the kind of celebrity who nibbles two celery sticks and calls it dinner?
Sarah Chalke: No! I was raised to eat good-for-you foods, but we often had pie or ice cream for dessert. So that's how I eat now — I love really, really healthy stuff followed by a really, really naughty dessert, like pumpkin pie. Dark chocolate is my favorite. I sometimes make hot-chocolate soup, which is basically a thick bar of chocolate melted and topped with whipped cream.
FITNESS: What foods are always in your refrigerator?
Sarah Chalke: Eggs, apples, peanut butter, and fresh berries. In my drawer there's dark chocolate, and I have an entire cabinet of different kinds of teas.
FITNESS: Would you eat differently if you weren't in Hollywood?
Sarah Chalke: I would like to say no, but I think the answer is probably yes. There are definitely pressures in this business to look a certain way. I believe you have to try to find a happy medium and put your health first. I don't even own a scale, actually.
FITNESS: If you could place your own personal motto on a bumper sticker, what would it be?
Sarah Chalke: "Life's uncertain; eat dessert first." I can't take credit for that quote, but I really believe in it.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2009.