Sarah Chalke’s hiatus from “Scrubs” was half over when the script for “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy” arrived at her door last year.
“The producers were like, ‘If we’re going to do this before you go back to “Scrubs,” you have to decide tonight,'” Chalke says.
Chalke said yes to the hurried 19-day shoot mainly because she remembered seeing Geralyn Lucas, the author of the memoir upon which the movie is based, on “Good Morning America” several years ago. She was struck by Lucas’ bold and likable persona.
Lucas’ memoir, which recounts her battle with breast cancer at 27, is written in a brash, comedic tone. The Lifetime script by Nancy Silvers follows suit. Director Peter Werner says Chalke was the first choice to play Geralyn because of her comedic chops honed on “Scrubs.”
“You could get somebody who is a great dramatic actress, but they would have to push to get the humor,” Werner says. “Sarah strained as hard as she could to make it not funny sometimes, and she couldn’t do it. That’s her energy.”
With only days to prepare, Chalke became ultra strict about diet, hoping to shed a few pounds and look a little less healthy before photography. The story would be shot out of sequence, starting with Lucas’ surgery, one of the more morose scenes of the film.
“Of course, you always have the hardest scene on the first day of filming,” Chalke says. “We did the mastectomy scene day one, morning one, first scene up.”
In preparation, Chalke also read Lucas’ memoir five times and kept it handy on the set. She got permission to add several lines of narration verbatim from the book. To get into character, Chalke also auditioned numerous shades of red lipstick. Lucas insisted on wearing it during surgery; she saw it as war paint.
Chalke formed strong opinions about Geralyn’s character during shooting, Werner says. In one scene, Geralyn goes to buy a bra, post-surgery, and notices that she’s lopsided. Chalke’s first instinct was to play it tearfully. They tried it that way, but Werner wanted something different.
“We actually shot it two ways,” Chalke says, “one where I was crying and one more like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m lopsided. This is totally ridiculous.’ We went with that. We really wanted to get across how strong Geralyn was.”