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Television

In ‘Dead to Me,’ Christina Applegate has a soul mate to lean on. In life too

Christina Applegate stars in “Dead to Me.”
Christina Applegate plays recent widow Jen Harding in “Dead to Me,” a twisty comic thriller from Netflix that co-stars Linda Cardellini.
(Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times)

Christina Applegate may sound like she’s talking about being the walrus, but she’s not:

“When I go to these things, it’s not just me, it’s her and me. I am her, and she is me,” she says, and she means it.

The magical mystery tour the actress is referring to is her explosion of honors in quick succession for her work in Netflix’s “Dead to Me” and her belief those nods were jointly earned by costar Linda Cardellini.

“How do I say this in a way that makes sense? There is no me without Linda; there is no Linda without me,” Applegate said shortly after receiving nominations for Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe and SAG awards.

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“It’s been a big week for acknowledgment for the show. I’ve gotten these nominations only because of Linda. And only because of [creator Liz Feldman].

“We’ve had some stuff in Season 2 that is the most intense [stuff] I’ve ever had to do as an actor in my life, with [Cardellini]. And we just held each other. We love each other. She’s one of my best friends in the world.”

One of the bounties of the current golden age of TV has been the blurring of genre boundaries, affording more complex life to the likes of Netflix’s “Dead to Me.”

“Dead to Me” might not have seemed possible before the current content tsunami set off by streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. It’s in the comedy category but blends genres in ways that probably would have made advertisers nervous, back when that was everything. It’s a twisty thriller with superb plotting. It’s all about the relationship between Applegate’s salty Jen and Cardellini’s goodhearted Judy. And it’s a thoughtful meditation on grief.

“The other day I was shooting a scene I can’t tell you about,” Applegate says of the just-completed Season 2. “It was the hardest scene I’ve shot in my life. I was sobbing my eyes out. And I said, ‘Yeahhhh, nominated for “musical or comedy!” I’m gonna go call my therapist now.’ ”

Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate in Netflix’s “Dead to Me”
Linda Cardellini as Judy and Christina Applegate as Jen in Netflix’'s “Dead To Me.”
(Saeed Adyani/Netflix)

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Despite the show’s accolades, Applegate insists she didn’t know until recently how well-received it was or that people were responding to its multiple layers — especially its dramatic ones.

“I live in a bubble — not an actor bubble, but a mom bubble — but when I do emerge, I feel that people related to the fact that grief is so freaking messy and there isn’t a right way and a wrong way to come through the stages of grief. And even the ‘stages of grief’ are [bogus]: Anger, denial, blah blah blah. Everyone deals with it in their own way, and that’s what the show kind of shows is OK. I think some people feel guilty they’re not getting over that thing. Whatever that thing may be.”

One of the show’s more dramatic accomplishments is how it organically builds the relationship of two such different characters, Jen and Judy. Despite the tricky plot machinations, “Dead to Me” always feels as if it’s about them.

“Honestly, the show is a marriage between the both of us, and she is remarkable, and there’s no one like her. I can’t tell you enough about her. She is just beautiful,” says Applegate, echoing sentiments she has often voiced about Cardellini.

“One of our first scenes together was on the beach, smoking that joint,” says the actress, then pauses for a moment. “I just got chills thinking about it. People just think we all talk about each other like, ‘Oh, I love them so much’ — I love this woman. With all of my heart. We were on that beach, and it was cold and it was late. We improv-ed a lot of it.

“But between setups, we didn’t go back to our trailers. We just sat there with hot-water bottles under our blankets, because we were freezing,” she says, and laughs fondly. “We just sat and talked and laughed.”

Christina Applegate in “Dead To Me.”
The show doesn’t dance around tough topics: Christina Applegate in “Dead To Me.”
(Saeed Adyani/Netflix)

The five-time Emmy nominee (with one win) asserts she hadn’t paid attention to the awards-season buzz until she couldn’t avoid it anymore. As in, her phone went off as she was showering.

“ ‘Who the ... is dinging me at 5 in the morning,’ ” she says with a laugh. “I’m in bed with a small cat. I didn’t know it was a big hit until, like, this week. Honestly. I really do live in a bubble. Get the kids to school, come home, make dinner. I don’t know what’s going on in the world. So this week has been very interesting for me.

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“You don’t do things for the result, you do them for the journey. The fact that the result has been embraced, it’s just, it’s very nice to know.”

The trailer for Season 1 of Netflix’s “Dead to Me,” starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini.


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