‘Cheers’: Carla Actress Rhea Perlman Explained Why People Are Always ‘Surprised’ When They Meet Her

by Jennifer Shea
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Actress Rhea Perlman is famous for playing hardened, cynical women, including Carla Tortelli on “Cheers.” But off the show, in real life, Perlman is delicate and elegant.

That’s probably why the actress always gets a startled reaction from people who first meet her, she told Entertainment Weekly in 1996.

“Everyone’s surprised when they meet me,” Perlman said. ”I guess it’s because I’ve played tough cookies for so long… It’s what I do best. I’m not sure I could pull off a genteel Southern belle.”

Before ‘Cheers,’ Perlman Was Part of the ‘Starving Actor’ Scene

The actress grew up in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn and studied drama at Hunter College. It was a little before 1970 when she first met her future husband, fellow actor Danny DeVito. He was playing a stable boy who spoke in monosyllables in an Off-Broadway play. Perlman and a friend hung out with DeVito after the show, and he and Perlman got along instantly.

In fact, they clicked so well that two weeks later, Perlman moved into DeVito’s Manhattan studio apartment. It was not an easy move for her in certain ways.

“He slept on the floor, and roaches would line up at attention around him. It’s like he was training them. He made a Super-8 short, following a roach around,” she told EW.

She convinced DeVito to start sleeping in a bed and switched him from “this weird macrobiotic diet” to “a lot of Entenmann’s cakes.” With her future husband successfully housebroken, Perlman just had to decide when she wanted to get married. It took her 11 years.

“We weren’t sure we wanted to settle down,” Perlman said. ”We were very much a part of [that] New York starving-actor scene.”

Perlman Is Shy, Discreet in Real Life

Off the record, Perlman let slip a few anecdotes about a “Cheers” co-star that nobody liked. It was an uncharacteristic moment for the otherwise poised and discreet “Cheers” star. But the shy actress, unlike the characters she played, instantly felt bad for talking out of school about a castmate.

“Don’t print any names,” she implored EW’s reporter. “I never would have said anything if you hadn’t asked.”

More recently, Perlman has starred in the 1980s throwback fantasy film, “Man & Witch,” alongside Christopher Lloyd and Sean Astin. And she played an eccentric magician in the film festival favorite “Marvelous and the Black Hole,” about a young girl who loses her mother and embarks on a fantastic journey.

Looks like Perlman has found plenty of roles that aren’t Southern belles since her “Cheers” days.

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