She wasn't always Darlene! The Conners star Sara Gilbert looks back on a lifetime of roles
In honor of tonight's third season debut of The Conners, we asked Sara Gilbert to look back at a lifetime of roles that led to her career-defining part as Roseanne and Dan's daughter on ABC. "The role came naturally to me," the 45-year-old actress recalls from when she was first cast in 1988. "There was a lot of crossover between me and Darlene."
Tales of the Apple Dumpling Gang (1982)
Gilbert started her career in a TV remake of the classic Disney film that starred Don Knotts. She knew she wanted a career in Hollywood by the time she finished kindergarten. "I was dying to do it. My sister and brother were both in entertainment and I was so determined to do the same thing. They would get gifts from working on sets, especially at Christmas. I wanted in on those presents."
Runaway Ralph (1988)
Gilbert starred opposite a very young Fred Savage in this ABC Weekend Special. "I remember playing his friend, or he was also at this camp. It was so long ago, before The Wonder Years. None of us really had any credits."
Poison Ivy (1992)
Gilbert recalls how "cool" her costar Drew Barrymore was in this psychological thriller. "I knew she lived sort of a fast life at the time. I was a teenager and that was intriguing to me to find out about all this world experience that she had. And then, she has so much heart. We hit it off right away."
"I wouldn't say I was very mature, although I thought I was like an adult, as most 13-year-olds do," recalls Gilbert of the moment she snagged the life-changing role of Darlene Conner. "Honestly, I didn't really love being in regular school, so anything that put me in a more creative environment was a plus."
High Fidelity (2000)
"Stephen Frears saw me in something else so he cast me," recalls Gilbert of the director, who picked her to play Anaugh Moss in the cult hit. "I was like, that is so bizarre that this huge director wants to cast me. He had no idea what Roseanne was or didn't recognize me from that at all. I remember being excited that someone liked something else that I did because I was mainly known for Roseanne."
Riding in Cars With Boys (2001)
Gilbert reunited with Barrymore in this relationship comedy helmed by the late Penny Marshall. "I remember meeting her and how she made me audition a lot of times. It wasn't an easy one to get. And then, you're just thrilled that Penny Marshall wants to work with you. She was such a character, so direct and funny. I just remember we had to do this big wedding scene that took days and days. She sat behind the camera and started getting fixated on the fact that people weren't eating enough in the background. So for days, she would just keep shouting, "EATING. EATING. EATING."
Gilbert played Dr. Jane Figler on the mega-hit for NBC. But her biggest memory of working on the Warner Bros. lot in those heady days? Avoiding the carts packed with gawking tourists. "I would hide," she recalls. "I just feel shy. Like, I don't want to take the experience away from anybody, but I always feel embarrassed for some reason."
The Conners (2018-present)
If anyone should know how to launch a successful reboot, it's Gilbert and her costars Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman. (It began as Roseanne in 2017 but was canceled after Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet. It was revived later as The Conners). As one of the comedy's executive producers, Gilbert attributes their good fortune to luck and "the audience wanting to see stories that haven't been told yet." "I would love to take credit for being able to make a TV show successful," she adds. "But so often there are elements outside of your control. You do your best and then stars align, or they don't."