Dead to Me star Christina Applegate, Emmy nomination predictions, and more in EW's The Awardist
Why Dead to Me star Christina Applegate will 'never get a job like this again'
Interview by Gerrad Hall
Cover illustration by Becki Gill
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?
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.
Listen to our full interview with Applegate — where she discusses Married...With Children, Samantha Who?, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, and more — in the podcast below.
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Some Really Dramatic Emmy Nomination Predictions
Deception. Murder. Family dysfunction. Royal intrigue. Post-apocalyptic survival. This year's drama contenders really have it all — and with them, no shortage of outstanding performances. Here are some early thoughts about how the acting categories are shaping up. By Gerrad Hall
Outstanding Lead Actress
Melanie Lynskey, Yellowjackets
Sarah Snook, Succession
Bella Ramsey, The Last of Us
Emma D'Arcy, House of the Dragon
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale
Helen Mirren, 1923
A couple quick observations: 1) HBO is going to dominate this category; and 2) yes, I know, giving Helen Mirren a spot means Imelda Staunton would be the first actress portraying Queen Elizabeth on The Crown to not be nominated — and maybe it will be neither of them. One thing is certain, though: Melanie Lynskey will be the only repeat nominee from last year, and her chances of winning are even better since Zendaya — who's won this category for both seasons of Euphoria — isn't in the mix.
Outstanding Lead Actor
Jeremy Strong, Succession
Kieran Culkin, Succession
Brian Cox, Succession
Pedro Pascal, The Last of Us
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Paddy Considine, House of the Dragon
Oh, look, more HBO. Will their shows get at least five slots? The odds are in their favor. Kieran Culkin making the move from supporting to lead actor makes all the sense in the world — and he's delivering some of season 4's most memorable work. But three nominees from one show could complicate matters. And then, there's the severely underrecognized Bob Odenkirk, whose work on the last six episodes of Saul — the show as a whole, without question — is some of the finest you'll find anywhere. This might be a three-way race between Odenkirk, Culkin, and his onscreen brother and 2020 winner, Jeremy Strong.
Outstanding Supporting Actress
Jennifer Coolidge, The White Lotus
Aubrey Plaza, The White Lotus
Meghann Fahy, The White Lotus
Haley Lu Richardson, The White Lotus
Rhea Seehorn, Better Call Saul
Christina Ricci, Yellowjackets
Elizabeth Debicki, The Crown
J. Smith-Cameron, Succession
Do I really need to say it?
Outstanding Supporting Actor
Matthew Macfadyen, Succession
Nicholas Braun, Succession
Alan Ruck, Succession
F. Murray Abraham, The White Lotus
Jonathan Pryce, The Crown
Matt Smith, House of the Dragon
Giancarlo Esposito, Better Call Saul
John Lithgow, The Old Man
Given the strong material — and his delivery of it — on the final season of Succession, Matthew Macfadyen is a shoo-in for a nomination and very likely a repeat winner. And though his character stood no chance of winning the presidential election, Alan Ruck does stand a very strong chance of hearing his name called come nomination morning.
76th Tony Awards Preview
As if the Broadway community didn't suffer enough because of the pandemic, the ongoing writers' strike meant the Tony Awards — which traditionally are a catalyst for increased ticket sales each year for nominated and winning shows — weren't going to be televised. Maybe they'd even get postponed or canceled entirely.
Alas, the show will go on — albeit with an altered telecast that meets Writers Guild of America restrictions — on June 11 on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.
EW gathered some of this year's nominees — Wendell Pierce, Sara Bareilles, Amber Ruffin, Arian Moayed, Jeanine Tesori, Michael Arden, Josh Groban, and Lorna Courtney — for an upcoming roundtable discussion. Here's a preview of their conversation.
"When it comes to being the first African American to play Willie Loman, that should be an embarrassment. It's actually an acknowledgment of our ignorance and intolerance. It shouldn't be a badge of honor. There should be a badge of shame. Because I think about another group of men who, because of that ignorance of cultural prohibition, never got to play the role." —Wendell Pierce, nominated for Best Actor in a Play as Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman
"As a kid, I imagined myself on stage. So when I started working on Waitress and I was on the creative team and writing music, I was so off the map of anything I had ever imagined for myself that it felt impossible most of the time. But with this nomination, I'm so rooted in my childlike joy. This is the dream. This is the realization of singing into a hairbrush and listening to cast albums and imagining myself in costumes on stage." —Sara Bareilles, nominated for Best Actress in a Musical as the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods
"The thing about Some Like It Hot that really bugged me was how doofy Marilyn Monroe was. I was like, 'No corner of this woman can be an idiot. You can't be tricking ladies into bed anymore.' Once you put some support under her and she was a more honest human being, then it became very fun. It is odd when sometimes people honor things that are bad for them." —Amber Ruffin, nominated for Best Book of a Musical (with Matthew Lopez) for Some Like It Hot
"The thematic energies of Succession are pretty anti-capitalist, and the sentiments of A Doll's House have more feminist leanings. I thought of them immediately as different spiritual attacks on social norms and society. I'm an Iranian immigrant, and as I was reading the play, I could only think about Iran. To me, it was: How do I approach this play to tell the truth in a way that my family can get it — and Western audiences can get it as well? The reality is, the micro-truths of what men and people of power do to women all the time are more dangerous than the bigger, broader, Torvald-y things we've known for generations." —Arian Moayed, nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Play as Torvald in A Doll's House
"I write what I want to see, and as I age, I want to see female and female-identifying protagonists centered. I wanted to write Kimberly Akimbo for many reasons, but mostly because of my Nona who was taken out of school when she was 12 to cook. She always had this unbelievable glint in her eye because I feel like she always remained the age that she was when she was taken out of school. And I thought, isn't that a great way to look at the way that the world looks at us as women as we age and the way that we feel inside?" —Jeanine Tesori, nominated for Best Score of a Musical for Kimberly Akimbo
"A revival should be a true reinvention that we are looking through our current lens at our past in order that our future might be different. That's what draws me to revivals. I'm not as interested in entertainment as I am in examination." —Michael Arden, nominated for Best Director of a Musical for Parade
"When I do my first kill and people applaud, that's a strange, dark realization that the audience is with us. We've got them, but they may feel guilty about it on the ride home." —Josh Groban, nominated for Best Actor in a Musical as Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
"This is the 76th Tony Awards. Seventy-six years have passed and a lot has changed. What I love about our show is that it embraces inclusivity and diversity in so many different ways. So many people message me and my costars for shedding so much light and allowing them to see themselves in the people on stage. So, I don't believe that there should be gendered categories. I call myself an actor, right? So it should just be that." —Lorna Courtney, nominated for Best Actress in a Musical as Juliet in & Juliet
—With reporting from Maureen Lee Lenker
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