Christina Applegate began acting as a small child, but when “Married … With Children” premiered on Fox on April 5, 1987 as the nascent network’s first primetime show, she officially began her 35-years-and-counting career. After playing the iconic dummy Kelly Bundy for 11 seasons, she went on to other starring roles on television (“Jesse,” “Samantha Who?” and “Dead to Me”), in film (in the “Anchorman” and “Bad Moms” movies, most notably) and was nominated for a Tony for the 2005 Broadway revival of “Sweet Charity.”
For this work — and much more — Applegate, 50, will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Nov. 14. It’s the fulfillment of “a lifelong dream,” Applegate said, one born out of standing on the Walk of Fame while waiting in line as a kid to see movies on Hollywood Boulevard. “I remember going, ‘I want to have one of these!’” she recalled. “My whole childhood was like that — wow, these stars.”
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The ceremony will also mark Applegate’s debut in public “as a disabled person,” she said. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2021, and because of that illness, filming the final season of “Dead to Me” became a near impossibility: After all, she could barely walk. Yet “Dead to Me” — created by Liz Feldman, and costarring Linda Cardellini — will in fact premiere on Netflix on Nov. 17, after Applegate determinedly fought her way through filming the tragicomedy’s third and last season.
“Dead to Me” has always been about women’s friendships, and Season 3 of the show will reflect that more than ever. “It kind of became profound in its own sense,” Applegate said about bringing “Dead to Me” to its conclusion. “It was really Linda and I talking to each other a lot. Moments that were real.”
In a recent interview with Variety, Applegate discussed her career, working with MS, whether “Dead to Me” is her final starring role — and being a co-founder of the Pussycat Dolls.
I want to read you something that Adam McKay said about you when I spoke to him: “I look at Christina as a great example of a high-quality professional actor in the ’80s, ’90s, into the aughts and going into the later 21st Century — someone who can just do lots and lots of things. She’s reinvented herself, like, four times, and is a total pro.” You started acting when you were very young —
SAG member since 1975! Oh wait: 1976.
Exactly! So what are your earliest memories of acting, and more important, of wanting to be an actor?
This is what I grew up around. My mom was an actress, so I was always at her acting classes, or going on her auditions — it was always just a part of my life. It’s not anything that she even had me do, or wanted me to do. But then we got to a point where we didn’t have any money either. So, like, I brought in income.
One my earliest memories, I did a commercial, and we were all in pajamas, supposed to be sleeping — it was a bunch of girls. And I fell asleep! I fell asleep for probably two hours while they were moving lights, and all the kids had gone off to craft services, or whatever they were doing. And I slept.
I remember a crew member coming up to me going, “Well, I guess we know who’s going to be doing this.” That’s what he said to me — like, my comfort of being there, of being able to fall asleep on a set, and not hear all the noise. And that’s kind of where I’ve lived: I’ve lived on sets since then. And I’ve fallen asleep many a time since then!
You’re like a doctor — they can fall asleep in a second because they have to learn that skill.
One of the scenes that Linda and I did, we were in the hospital, and we both fell asleep.
When you got the role of Kelly on “Married … With Children,” it was literally Fox’s first primetime show ever, and then ran, of course, for 11 seasons. Do you remember what you were thinking going into that, and what your hopes were for it?
They had sent me the script to audition for it, and I just come off a cop drama. I was way more into drama; I was not into comedy. And I refused to audition for it. Refused! I was an edgy person. I was not fun to be around! I was not funny. They went ahead and shot the pilot with two other Kellys and Buds. They weren’t the fit that they wanted. They came back to me, and I said no. And they’re like, “Can we just send you the pilot? And if you like it, come in and read with a couple of other kids?” My mom and I were like, uccch! — like that. Literally, like we were, like, “Ucch, toilet humor!” We were seriously such snobs about it.
When we put it on, we did not want to laugh. And we ended up cracking up from the first scene on. I went in, and the first person I read with was Dave [Faustino]. And that was it.
During “Married … With Children,” you did a bunch of different other things, like “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” and you hosted “Saturday Night Live.” Looking back, what felt like milestones in your career?
I mean, “SNL” was so huge for me. I don’t remember the year, but I was young — I drank, because I would go out with Chris Farley and Spade and Sandler a lot that week. I’m pretty sure I was getting in bars? That’s all I know. Anyway, that was a huge deal for me — I am a child of watching that show.
And then the cult following of “Don’t Tell Mom” is so surprising, because the movie didn’t do well when it came out. I was so like, “I only want to do indies” — again, being gross. And here was this studio film, and I was like, “I’m selling out, man!” God, I hate that person; I’d do anything to do a studio movie these days. Now, that “I’m right on top of that, Rose!” is still something that people quote all these years later — 30 years later — freaks me out. But it hit a chord.
Other than what you seem to be describing as a terrible attitude, were you getting a sense for yourself of the kinds of things you did and did not want to do, acting-wise?
Yes. When “Married” ended, I took weird indies: I had red hair and braces in a Gregg Araki movie, like, I did stuff that I wanted to do that I’m happy no one saw. But it was what I needed to do, because if I had just taken what was coming to me at that time, I would have been stuck in Kelly Bundy-land. And that’s not where I wanted to be. That’s not who I was. And she needed to be put on a shelf.
I checked in with Sony yesterday, and she seems potentially to be coming off the shelf for the animated show that’s in development.
Yeah, we’re hoping that that works. Because all of us would like to be able to stay home and work. That would be nice!
Will it be set in the show’s future? Or will it be like “The Simpsons,” and the Bundys never aged? Do you know?
I mean, I sound like Bea Arthur at this point, so I don’t think we could go back to where it was. I think it’s probably going to be more them grown up. The guy who was creating it, [Alex Carter], is one of the EPs and writers on “Family Guy.” So it’ll come from that kind of perspective — it’ll be more Adult Swim-y, I think, than anything else.
I have to ask you about being a founding member of the Pussycat Dolls. What was that time of your life like in L.A.? And were you performing at the Viper Room every Thursday night?
It started because my roommate was Robin Antin, and we’d both dance in this Choreographer’s Ball that they used to have once a month at the House of Blues. I did a dance, and my best friend who was the manager at Viper Room was there. Robin had this group of girls come out — I wasn’t in it, at that point — and she came out and did this thing, and it was very burlesque-y, but no one ever showed anything. They were incredible. And my friend was like, “Oh, my God, that would so fit on our Thursday nights” — because it was a speakeasy night, so it had that vibe, you know? So Robin was like, “Oh my god, we’ve got to go down there, Johnny [Depp, who co-owned the Viper Room] wants to see us — you have to do it too.” I said, “OK!” We basically auditioned for Johnny, and that was it. We were there every Thursday for years.
It became such a big deal. It was sold out every Thursday, and you couldn’t even get in the place, it was so insane. And then people wanted to be in it — like, Gwen Stefani wanted to be in it. It became so big that we ended up doing a lot of shows at the Roxy. And we got Christina Aguilera, and people you cannot believe, they’re singing, and we’re dancing behind them.
And then the next thing I know, they’re a singing group, and it wasn’t the same girls! Carmit [Bachar] was the only one who ended up being in the singing group. I was in New York doing “Sweet Charity,” and my friend goes, “Listen to this song, you’re not gonna believe who this is!” And it was like, [starts singing “Dontcha”]. I said, “What’s that?’ He goes, “That’s the Pussycat Dolls!” I go, “What!?! The Pussycat Dolls is a dance group.”
But anyway. I’m so happy for my friend Robin, because she became a freaking mogul, man. Pulled up to my house in a Bentley a few years ago.
I rewatched your Emmy-winning portrayal of Amy from “Friends” The slap fight you have with Jennifer Aniston! So good. What was it like to win the Emmy for that?
I mean, that was another one of those ones: Like, OK, now I’m good.
It was amazing, because those effers worked three days a week, OK? Three days a week, for a million dollars a week. I was amazed that you could go to a job, and just work for maybe 10 hours a week. Of course, getting the Emmy nomination was such a surprise. I was like, “Wait, what? Are they sure? For this?”
I had known all of them individually for a long time, so it was just a really fun week. They just made it fun. And, you know, how could you not be happy, if you’re working three days a week in that environment?
I would like that myself.
I would like that very much! “Dead to Me” was not that.
You were still doing TV at that time — you were on “Jesse” for a few years. What were you thinking about balancing movies and TV shows, and what you wanted from that?
I never had a plan. I never had dreams, really. I just wanted to just keep working, whatever that meant. Of course, it was going to be stuff that I wanted for my personal self — for getting better and stronger, and pushing myself. And that, for me, has always been about the process, it’s never about the end result — never has been. Whatever is going to come is going to be the right thing for me to go do.
People go, “How is it that you’ve lasted this long?” And I always make a joke:
“Mediocre success!” Because I never got the brass ring — I just kind of stayed solid. And I think that’s why I’ve been around for 40 years now.
I would dispute “mediocre” as any kind of characterization, but I —
Oh, I’m self-deprecating.
“Friends” was right before you did “Anchorman,” playing Veronica Corningstone. When you think about the characters you’ve played, which ones do you think about the most?
Veronica Corningstone was an experience that gave me the confidence to improv, because I had never done that before. And that was so frightening. These guys — let me preface this by saying, the best men I’ve ever known. The most respectful, kind, supportive, talented. And I’m not blowing smoke, because trust me, I can tell you that I’ve worked with some serious fucking assholes that I did not like. This group was so incredible, with Adam McKay at the helm. But it was very improv heavy — I mean, this is the improv gods that I’m working with. So they pushed me to have to think outside of that box, which is a whole other box! And when people do it wrong, I hate watching it, because it’s so about them. And you’re like, “Oh, my God, stop it.” These guys give you something so that you succeed. That’s the kind of improv that I learned there, and that was such a valuable gift. On “Dead to Me,” Linda and I would just go off, and some of the greatest stuff came from them rolling the cameras, and us just talking.
I think “Samantha Who?” was very significant to me, in the sense that it was such a fun character to play, but also I was working with the greats. I mean, you can’t go wrong with what I had there: Kevin Dunn, Jean Smart, Melissa McCarthy, Jennifer Esposito, Barry Watson. We were all friends. For years, we would still meet down at Laurel Tavern — crew members and cast — and we loved each other so much. It was such a beautiful, beautiful experience, and we all really mourned the loss of that. That was a devastating one. I look back on it sometimes; it was its own thing, it was its own voice.
And then, of course, Jen Harding is the one, who — who knows, quite possibly the last one I’ll play. With my disease, I don’t know how capable I am. But this was a gift. This was a gift to me. Because — Linda. Oh God, I’m gonna cry. It was a gift. It was a gift.
I’m so sorry! Not only are we in a pandemic, but you were diagnosed with MS — how was filming the final season?
As hard as you would possibly think it would be. I mean, I found out at work.
I didn’t know what was happening to me. That January, my toes got numb, and I ignored it. The balls of my foot got numb, and I ignored it. All of a sudden, I’d be, like, falling over. People were like, “Oh, it’s just neuropathy.” At this point, they had to take me with a wheelchair to set because I couldn’t walk if the set was far. I was sleeping all the time, and I gained 40 pounds — a lot of things happened.
I got diagnosed while we were working, and I had to call everybody and be like, “I have multiple sclerosis, guys. Like, what the fuck!” And then it was about kind of learning — all of us learning — what I was going to capable of doing. It had to be cold, because heat is our kryptonite. Can’t work those 18-hour days, you know? It was impossible. They were so loving: If I called them in the morning, and was like, “Guys, I can’t get down the stairs,” they were like, “OK! We won’t do today. We’ll do other stuff.” Netflix even let us take a break for a couple of months so that I could mourn, and find treatment. They actually were looking at the dailies, going, “OK, we need we need to let her go, and take care of this right now.” Because you can see the struggle, and you can see it through the whole season. You can see that I’m in pain.
I haven’t watched it, and I don’t think I will, because it’s too hard for me. But I couldn’t have done it without this need to tell our story. They were gonna pull the plug, you know? Because it was like torture — and they felt like they were torturing me, too. But I was like, “No, no, no, no, no, no: We have to finish this story. It’s too important to our hearts; too important to our souls. And we have to give this gift, not only to ourselves — there are people that love these characters, and we’ve got to let them have their closure too.” So, if that meant me having to take a break in the middle of the day so I could go sleep — or me just leaving because I couldn’t do anymore — then that’s what we had to do.
I knew it was special — special to us. It was very personal, to Linda, Liz and myself. It was personal!
I am not just saying this, and I’m sure you would see it through different eyes: But it doesn’t seem like a struggle, and you do a wonderful job. “Dead to Me” is such a joy.
Thank you. We laughed a lot, too. It was all of us together, enjoying our last months together, and making the most out of my shit situation that I used humor to kind of keep my wall up. I had people laughing about it all the time. I was in a wheelchair, but I’d also have my cane. So they would push me to set, and I’d hit everyone with my cane! And I’d go, “Corner! Corner!” And then you’d hear someone from the other side of the set go, “Corner!” We made fun of it.
But you don’t see behind the scenes that if I’m standing in the doorway at the front door, usually Mitch [Cohn, from the show’s sound department] would be laying on the floor holding my legs. There was a ballet and a dance that was going on to make sure that I didn’t fall. The only thing we did change is blocking. They’d go, “What do you think, can you walk from here to here?” And I’d be like, “Nope!” And they were like, “OK! Then we’ll have you already seated.” That’s how it all went down.
What was it like as the series was winding down and you knew you were saying goodbye to Jen and to Judy, and to the show?
Oh my God — it’s on camera! The last scene ever shot was strategically put on that last day. Because Liz knew that it was going to be a scene that was going to make all of us hurt. So the last time you see Jen and Judy together, except for when she’s imagining her being there, we’re sitting on that bed. And we were talking to each other — they were like, “You know, you’re crying kind of a lot you guys!” And we’re like, “We can’t stop, sorry! That’s what’s going to happen. This is happening.” We are saying goodbye. And it was a whole crew, sobbing. Everybody.
I feel like you can’t stop acting, though. Do you have ideas about what you might want to do now?
It’s about finding what I’m capable of doing. I’m so new in this right now. It takes time to kind of figure out this disease, and figure out what’s bringing on symptoms. I’m just a newbie to all of this. So I’m trying to figure it out — and I’m also in mourning for the person that I was. I have to find a place that’s as loving as my set was, where they won’t think I’m a diva by saying, “Hey, I can only work five hours.”
That’s trying to find a place that will allow me to do that if I’m not the star — because I’m not doing that again. There’s no way I could do the work that I just came off again. I mean, it was so hard. Right now, I’m enjoying being a mother. I love being here for her 100% all the time — to take her to school, to pick her up from school, to be here for her homework, to make her dinner, to be here when she needs me. That’s kind of what I missed out on for awhile. And she’s very happy to have me here.
I’m very tired all the time. That’s the flare that I’m having now — I sleep. I take her, and then I come home and sleep until I have to pick her up. I’m getting stronger. I’ve done the Peloton like six days in a row, which is amazing. That wouldn’t have happened eight months ago.
I don’t know. I’m pretty convinced that this was it, you know? But who knows — I’m probably gonna get real bored of being in my room. I’d like to develop stuff, I’d like to produce stuff. I’ve got a lot of ideas in my mind, and I just need to get them executed.
When I spoke with Adam McKay, and asked him what he’d like to see you do next, he cited the movie “Wonderland” as a dramatic role you did that he loved.
Well, guess what? I’m pretty tapped into that part of myself! That ain’t hard, baby, that ain’t hard.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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