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Elizabeth Perkins talks Weeds, How to Live and dealing with her out of the blue diabetes diagnosis

 •• Her 2005 diabetes diagnosis “completely overwhelmed” her, but the Emmy nominee is feeling great these days and helping her fellow diabetics with a new documentary.

Elizabeth Perkins is always a scene stealer, and her performance in ABC’s “How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life)” is no exception. Elizabeth Perkins plays Elaine, the laidback, free-spirited wife of Brad Garrett’s Max, and mama to Sarah Chalke’s single mom Polly, who moves in with Elaine and Max after her recent divorce.

The comedy didn’t make the cut for the network’s 2013-14 lineup, but Perkins’s TV schedule isn’t likely to remain open for long. Yahoo! TV talked to the actress about “Parents,” about her new documentary, which spotlights a fresh take on how diabetics can approach their health issues, and about “Weeds” and how she thinks Celia deserved a big send-off in the series finale.

-Elaine is definitely one of the least grandma-y grandmas on TV…
Yeah, that’s why I loved her. I loved Elaine. I just think she’s awesome. I had been on “Weeds” for five seasons, playing somebody who was incredibly bitter and angry and down. It’s not easy playing somebody like that (laughing) week after week. When (series creator) Claudia Lonow showed me the script for “How to Live” with Elaine, I thought, here’s a person … the glass is always half full. She’s always going to find the positive. She loves life. She likes to eat it and drink it and taste it. That was kind of where I was in my life, too, so it was a perfect match for me. I get to play somebody who’s happy and alive and stimulated and just loves to laugh and thinks everything’s funny. You don’t get to see a lot of middle aged women like that on TV. We’re usually sort of cranky and controlling… this was really a great opportunity for me, and I get to work with Brad Garrett, who’s awesome.

– You two have great chemistry, like you’ve worked together before, even though you haven’t. Was that instant?
Oh, I love him. He’s just so easy. Yeah, we definitely connected. Like I said, everything’s easy. It’s like I’ve known him forever. He’s such a professional that you can do anything in the middle of the scene, and he’s never thrown, because he’s a standup. He’ll just catch the ball and throw it right back. He likes to have fun, and so does Sarah Chalke. She’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever worked with. It’s a really different environment for me than shooting “Weeds,” which was a very dark, sardonic show. This is like, “How much fun can you have?” It’s perfect, because it’s exactly where I’m at in my life.

– Celia was a fan favorite on “Weeds,” and it was disappointing that she didn’t reappear after you left the show, even to wrap up her storyline. Was there any discussion about having her return for the series finale?
They asked me to come back for the final episode, but it was, I think, just to sort of stand around at the bar mitzvah. I just felt like, no, Celia should die. I was actually also busy shooting a new show and couldn’t really have made it work. But, it just seemed like Celia deserved a better send-off.

I would check in from time to time [after leaving the show at the end of Season 5]. I always thought they were going to have Celia back. I always thought at least just to blow her head off or something, blow her up in a car or something. (Laughs.) I do think fans wanted some resolution with her. She was such a vital part of the show for so long that I was a little surprised that they didn’t do her in. I think they should’ve just blown her up or something.

-You mentioned the tone of “Weeds” versus the tone of “How to Live,” and how the ABC show is more in line with your personal attitude … as an actress, you obviously play all kinds of roles and characters, but does it make a difference with your health, with dealing with your diabetes, to play a more positive character?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Everybody’s diabetes is different. To be in an environment that’s supportive and happy, and we’re doing a sitcom… it’s a pleasure to go to work. It’s not exhausting me. Everybody is really supportive. I fully came out about my diabetes. I use my insulin on the set. I don’t retreat to my trailer, and it’s been a great experience on every level. It really supports exactly where I am in my life. Everybody on that stage is my diabetes co star, and that’s been profound. That’s been absolutely … it helps me manage it so much better.

– When and how were you diagnosed with diabetes? Was it a surprise diagnosis?
It was a surprise. I hadn’t felt well for a long time, but it didn’t present itself in the typical way of, “Oh, I have blurry vision. I have thirst. I’m losing weight.” It was a very slow build. Then it wasn’t until I had a routine blood test that we discovered my numbers were [high]. I’m just grateful that I was diagnosed before it really did some damage. But when I was first diagnosed, I was shocked, and I was overwhelmed, and I felt incredibly alone. I was on the set of “Weeds,” and suddenly I was going back to my trailer and injecting [insulin], and not really sure what I was doing, and was very sad and alone. I would monitor my blood sugar and take my medication alone, and I just felt really by myself and unaware.
It wasn’t until I really reached out to my husband (cinematographer Julio Macat) and asked for support, and opened up to other people living with diabetes… it just took a huge weight off of my shoulders. There’s so much that you have to be aware of, with diet and exercise, and stress, and taking insulin … allergies to insulin, which can happen, using it, and also stress, staying hydrated. So many different factors play into how you’re managing your diabetes. It’s individual for everybody. This is not just a condition that you can say, “Oh, you take this pill and then it’s [OK].” It’s a lifestyle, and trying to manage that on your own is overwhelming.

– Which ties in with the campaign, and documentary, “Strength in Numbers,” you premiered this month at the American Diabetes Association Expo in Los Angeles. The idea is that all diabetics can manage their health a lot more easily if they look to “diabetes co-stars” — be it family, friends, or other diabetics — for support. It’s an impactful film, especially since it highlights the tendency for people to want to ignore the disease.
Thank you. It was one of the reasons I teamed up with Sanofi US to work on the Diabetes Co Stars campaign. It was because it was very much a story close to my own heart. I was definitely in denial and overwhelmed and scared out of my mind when I was diagnosed. It totally came out of the blue for me. Learning to ask for support in helping you manage this journey is really in the forefront for me.

– Did you work with Sanofi US to develop the campaign?
It’s interesting. Like I said, this is very much my story, so when Sanofi US approached me with “Diabetes Co Stars,” I thought, “Oh, my God. I’ve been wanting to…” I don’t want to say “come out” and say that I had diabetes, but I’d been trying to find something to get my message across, which was, my husband saved my life, basically, by being my diabetes co star. It was absolutely the perfect match for me. When they said, “We want to make a documentary,” of course my husband and I, being in the film business, just jumped at the opportunity.

What I love about this awareness campaign is that not only are we supporting people living with diabetes, and those people who are helping them on the journey, but we’re also opening up a website where people can go and get support and find links. And when the documentary reaches 10,000 views online, Sanofi US is going to [double] their [donation to the Diabetes Hands Foundation] to $20,000.

I just think the more we open up this community, the more we’re going to help people manage this disease and seek the support that they need. Hopefully they won’t feel as isolated, because I know I did. I felt completely overwhelmed. The through line for all of this is asking for support. That was really the message we wanted to get across. There are co stars in your life. You just need to reach out to them. I just think it brings the whole community together, and I’m really, really proud of this awareness campaign.

“How to Live With Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life)” airs Wednesdays at 9:30 PM on ABC.


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