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May 20, 2023   Jennifer   Interviews

Christina Applegate isn’t mincing words: She “was quitting” acting prior to landing her role on Netflix’s Dead to Me.

“Let’s be honest. I was like, ‘I’m done.’ I didn’t want to do it anymore,” the Emmy nominee tells EW on the latest episode of The Awardist podcast, crediting Dead to Me creator Liz Feldman for seeing her for more than what she was being offered.

On the final season of the “traumedy,” as Applegate says costar Linda Cardellini described the show’s genre, Applegate’s Jen and Cardellini’s Judy deal with the escalating police investigation into Steve’s (James Marsden) death. If that wasn’t enough, Judy is battling cancer, which she eventually finds out is terminal, and Jen is shocked to learn she is pregnant by Ben, Steve’s twin brother (naturally, James Marsden). Through it all, Jen and Judy’s friendship never wavers — they are the epitome of “ride or die.” In fact, they ride together to Mexico, where the two spend a few days together before Jen wakes one morning to discover that Judy has — seemingly — left to spare Jen the grief of watching her friend die.

While the series has wrapped and viewers (mostly) know what happened to the two characters, Applegate isn’t as certain about what fate awaits her. Five years ago she was ready to quit the industry because of a lack of good roles coming her way; now, she is more worried about her professional future because of MS, which she learned about while filming season 3 of the show. While the production made accommodations, their kindness, she says, set the bar “pretty high” and she’s hesitant to think any others “would have that kind of understanding.”

Below, read portions of our interview, where Applegate reveals whether she has any unfinished business with Jen, how the show became an escape for her, whether she still finds comedy difficult after years of starring in comedic shows and movies, her inspirations, and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you have any unfinished business with Jen?
CHRISTINA APPLEGATE: No, ’cause Judy’s gone. There is no Jen without Judy. The unfinished business is really being able to hang out with Linda and Liz and James and Sam [McCarthy] and Luke [Roessler] and [Diana-Maria Riva] and Brandon [Scott] and Valerie [Mahaffey] and all the people that were part of it, and my crew. That’s sad always, to leave that family. But when you have a family that’s that tight and that has gone through what we went through the last season — we still are incredibly close. Linda and I check in at least a couple times a week… she’s one of my best friends in the world.

Knowing you had received your MS diagnosis before this season, were you scared about what you would be able to do?
The show was written a year before I had any symptoms. We had done the table read for this during the pandemic. So way before now, looking back, I’ve been having symptoms for probably five years. Very, very unnoticeable and weird little things, like my leg would buckle or something like that, even on set. And I was like, oh, I’m just tired. It wasn’t until January of 2021 that I started to feel numbness in my feet. And when I got back to the show, my doctor had told me it was just peripheral neuropathy, and it was definitely not MS. So I was pushing and I’m like, I can’t believe, like…why can’t I walk? Something really weird is going on. And the production was like, you need to go figure this out. And it wasn’t until we were almost a month into shooting that I found out I had MS…. I went home after work on a Monday and my doctor said, “I have to talk to you.” And they said I had MS, so I had to call production and be like, yo, dudes, this is not what we wanted to hear at all. And we took a week off. [Laughs]

And then I came back to work, and then it was getting harder and harder. It was the middle of summer and heat, which is something I didn’t know makes your symptoms incredibly worse. Slurred words, not being able to walk at all, shaking of hands — everything was really bad. And someone on set had a family member who had MS and said, “You can’t be in heat.” And I was like, “Well, no one told me this.” So then it was about finding the balance of making sure the set was really cool and that I had breaks. And my soundman, Mitch, would hold me up when we were doing any scene in a doorway — those things really happened and happened every single day. If you could see the dance that it would take to get me from my trailer down the steps to my wheelchair with my cane, and then they had a little backpack with my stuff that I needed, and they’d drive me through the set in my wheelchair. I’d get up, they’d show me where I had to walk, and I was like,” I can do the walk three times. That’s it.” It really became kind of choreographed at some point, but it took a bit to get there, for sure.

So through all of that, obviously you’re processing it, dealing with it, learning, those kinds of things…
I couldn’t deal with it at all. I had to work. [Laughs] I’m still working, working 12 hours a day. And it wasn’t until we stopped [that] it hit me as hard as it has.

Did you find it hard to be funny through all of that?
I found that to be my repose, really. I found the moments where we didn’t have to feel, that Linda and I could just be silly and make moments that made people laugh — whether it was on the set or the viewers, it didn’t matter, just made us laugh — those were my repose. It was my break, it was my breath.

You are one of those people who understands delivery and tone and timing, and not everyone’s got that. Do you find comedy, in general, easy because of the many years you’ve done it?
No. No, no. [Laughs] It’s way harder. In order [for] comedy to be effective, you have to do all the same work that you would do if you were doing Hamlet, if you were doing anything else. You have to have all the discipline and the work that you would do for anything else. And then you have to find this weird place where you twinkle above the noise, you twinkle above reality. And if you go too far, you’re into sketch. But if you can hit that pocket… it really is like science. I don’t know what it is for anybody else, but for me, I know when I’ve waited two more seconds to deliver something the way that I have to deliver it, I can feel it fall flat. … When you watch Spinal Tap, for years people thought they were actually a band. That’s brilliance. People were like, “Oh, this band, they did this weird documentary…” I remember when it came out when I was a kid. And they’re like, “This band, they’re really ridiculous.” And to know that it was these American dudes improving. That’s genius. That is comic splendor as far as I’m concerned.

I was going to ask who you take inspiration from. That’s an amazing example.
That’s in my top five favorite movies of all time. I have a very strange eclectic top five. Do you want to hear them? And you’ll kind of know who I am: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Sophie’s Choice, Spinal Tap, and All That Jazz.

Is there one thing that strings them together for you?
Insanity. [Laughs]

You had loose ends to tie up and land the plane with this third season, but also put these characters in a spot where hopefully you feel good about where they are — and maybe leave some things up to viewers’ own interpretation about what is up with Judy there at the end.
I always think that Judy took the boat out to a taqueria down at this one little island, and then she got marooned there and she can’t get back. But she’s still alive. That’s how I deal with it. [Laughs] That’s my loose end.

When I spoke with Linda, she had thoughts about it — she didn’t really know if there is a truth to Judy’s ending because you never know when she is and isn’t telling the truth. Which I’m sure kept you on your toes acting against that.
Acting with Linda Cardellini is a dream come true. And anybody who has the opportunity or the pleasure of getting to work with this incredibly angelic, lovely, passionate, traumatic, amazing human being, they should write in their diary about it. Because they’re lucky, lucky human beings. For my experience, Linda and I just lived them. It’s like the whole thing about subconscious and Stanislavsky and how you are taking part of you and you are taking part of this that has been written in this character, and you’re sharing those things to become what you then project onto the screen. And that’s where you tap into your own crap and your own heart and your own broken heart and your soul. But it can’t just be all you ’cause there is a vision there. And I think that Linda and I… when we were Jen and Judy, we were Jen and Judy. I don’t even know how to explain it. Well, the last season, it was so difficult for me. I was kind of going by the seat of my pants with everything, with every moment. But we never rehearsed, we never did anything. It was like, let’s just s— out the words and see what happens…. These were two people on the edge. You can’t plan every move because the moves are going to change…. The two of us just dove in very blindly a lot of the time and went, let’s just see what happens. And when that happened, that was when the scenes were the best.

When the idea for the show first came to you, was there any kind of bigger message or theme that was presented with it, or was it more these two women and this horrible thing that happens and their worlds collide?
It was just unlike anything I had read because it wasn’t speaking to any genre. And also, Liz was giving me a chance to do something that no one really wanted me to do — people want me to do what I was doing. And this was a beautiful amalgamation of both things and really tapping into my own darkness, which is not hard to tap into. It’s pretty much right under the surface of my skin. [Laughs] … I liked that we didn’t know what it was going to be. I liked this challenge of, wait, what is this? And then Linda came up with calling it a traumedy. So not a dramedy. Traumedy is a little bit deeper.

Something you just said is so interesting: Had you felt, at that point in your career, like you were in a certain box?
I was quitting, dude. Let’s be honest. I was like, I’m done. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to just hang out with my daughter. I was like, I’ve missed too many drop-offs and pickups. I’ve missed too many moments. I’ve missed too much. And I was in the process of kind of going, maybe I’ll just stop this game. Well, that’s a good manifestation — you asshole, Christina — because now I’m currently going to have to stop the game. But, now my daughter, she’s 12, so she hates me. So there’s that.

So do you really think this is it? And if it is Dead to Me, it must have been a good way to go out.
Best way out, man. I’ll never get a job like this again. I’ll never have a character like Jen Harding in my life. I’ll never have a Judy Hale in my life again. It just doesn’t happen very often. Even though I was struggling in the last year of doing it, it was still magic. And not because of our work. I’m not sitting there [playing the] big violin of my career. It was the moments, it was the experience of being with these people that I really, really truly loved and doing something that I was proud of.

Source: Entertainment Weekly

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