Empty Nest is now on Laff TV! To celebrat
There's never a dull moment when talking with Golden Globe nominated actress and activist Park Overall, who played Nurse Laverne Todd during the show's run. In this interview, Park tells us about her fight to ensure that Southerners were portrayed well on screen, the illness that sometimes made her "extraordinarily difficult" and the time Bea Arthur left her speechless!
Empty Nest Online: I'm interested to know your casting process. Was Laverne conceived as being this Southern spitfire or was that something you were able to help flesh out once you got the part?
Park: I went in for a part on another sitcom, and there were two people in the room. One was Fern Champion, a very famous casting director, and the other was a man. The man asked me to read the part a different way, I did, and that was that. A couple years later, it turns out that man was Paul Witt, of Witt Thomas Harris Productions [the team behind Empty Nest], and Paul's wife, Susan Harris, had written the part of Laverne for me. So when I went in to audition, I was the only person there. I adored Paul Witt. He was the greatest. And he could handle me.
ENO: I once heard you say that about him in an interview, and you referred to yourself as "extraordinarily difficult" during Empty Nest. What did you mean by that?
Park: I was unwell. I had come down with Epstein-Barr, and no one knew. I'm diabetic, too. So I didn't know I was sick. And I was also busy defending Southerners' integrity, and that was hard. The writers often went for the cheap joke, because they weren't Southern, and they didn't know. And I wouldn't have it.
ENO: As someone from Appalachia myself, one of my favorite things about Laverne, and your portrayal of her, was seeing a strong Appalachian character who wasn't just a joke or a stereotype. Was that something you had to fight hard for?
Park: I had to fight very hard for that, and thank you. I fought to keep her with some integrity. I think I won, but I made it hard on everyone. I wasn't well, I didn't know I wasn't well, and it was exhausting.
ENO: As I've talked to others, they've always mentioned your love of roller skating around the studio lot. Why roller skating?
Park: You can't put me in a cold studio and expect me to sit around, waiting for something to happen. I was going insane, so I got me some skates. And they let me skate. It saved me. I also got pretty good at it! So they were very kind to let me skate around the lot.
Here's one of my favorite stories. We taped at Ren-Mar Studios, a lovely, intimate studio, and there were always animals around because of [dog trainer] Joel Silverman and other shows. I got to meet an orangutan. I hate to say it, but the orangutan is boring. It's a very boring monkey. Well, one day there were these other monkeys - maybe spider monkeys, I don't know, little skinny monkeys - in the back of a pickup truck in a cage. So I skated over there with a cup of coffee in my hand and was right up in there with those monkeys, and one looked at me, and I looked at him. He looked to the right, and I looked to the right to see what he was looking at. He looked to the left, and I looked to the left. Then he looked to the right, and I looked to the right, and he stole my coffee! He grabbed it right out of my hand! I felt so stupid - monkey see, monkey do!
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