'Dead To Me' Star Christina Applegate: Loss 'Lives In The Fibers Of Your Being'

Jun 5, 2019
Originally published on June 7, 2019 1:53 pm

Christina Applegate describes grief as "completely messy and unexpected and unapologetic." At least that's the way it's portrayed in her new Netflix series, Dead To Me.

The show, which has been described as a "traumedy" (a trauma-infused comedy/drama), centers on two women who meet in a grief support group. Applegate's character, Jen, is dealing with the loss of her husband, who was killed in a hit-and-run car accident.

As Jen processes her grief, she's also trying to find the driver who killed her husband. Applegate says the show is about Jen's efforts to "keep her head above water" — which sometimes take the form of wry black humor.

"I've been there. I've had times in my life that were so incredibly painful. And I, in other people's eyes, wasn't dealing with it the way I should have dealt with it," she says. "And that's really hard, because you don't know how else to deal with it but the way that you are feeling."


Interview Highlights

On how experiencing loss in her life helped her connect with her Dead to Me character

I've lost people. And, you know, health issues and things like that, all kind of around the same time a few years ago. So that was a really, really dark — a dark time. So I really related to that when I got the script. And it's not something I had to really pull from. It just lives there. It lives in the fibers of your being, and in your spirit and in your soul. It stays there.

On having breast cancer and deciding to be tested for one of the BRCA genetic mutations commonly linked to an increased risk for cancers of the breast, ovaries and some other organs

I was very against the idea of [being tested] for a long time. My doctors were trying to convince me, and I was very against the idea. And then it hit me one day: Do I want to be having this hanging over my head for the rest of my life? And no, I didn't want to be living in that kind of fear forever.

On getting a double mastectomy after learning that she carries a mutation of the BRCA gene

It's been many years for me, so I'm much more used to my life, my body now. But it's an amputation. And you physically and emotionally go through so much when you lose a part of you, especially a part of you that defines you as a female and all of those other things. It feeds babies. There's a lot of reasons that it's a very personal surgery.

On going public about her cancer and mastectomy

I didn't want to go public. I had actually kept it a secret for many, many, many, many months. And then I'd had two surgeries before my mastectomy; I had two lumpectomies months before. And it wasn't until I was in the hospital for more than a few days that someone saw me and called the tabloids or whatever. ... So they had outed me, basically, that I was in the hospital, and we had to make a statement.

But my plan really wasn't to talk about it, because it didn't really matter; it was my personal story. But then at the same time, an MRI saved my life, and because of that, I started my foundation, Right Action for Women, which we provide funding for women of high-risk for their annual MRIs and, also, a website that can educate you to know what it means to be high-risk and what kind of steps you can take. So that started right in 2008. So there was a silver lining in there as well.

On playing Kelly Bundy on Married ... with Children and taping in front of a live — often cheering — audience

There was no [applause] sign. This was all real. In fact, most of the time, we had to tell them to stop, because it would go on for too long ... and it would actually start to kind of mess up the timing of the scenes. So we would actually have to ask the audiences to cool it. We didn't have a laugh track, none of that. This was all, like, those 200 people, at a sporting event, basically.

I tried to tune it out, because if I had played into that, it would be a whole other ballgame. But I had to stay in my scene, do my work, do my job. And, hopefully, they would stop at a certain time so I could say my first line.

On responding to Trump supporters who — after she criticized the president — accused her of being an out-of-touch celebrity

My past is no different and also probably a lot darker than a lot of people's. ... So I really do take offense when people think that I've had a silver spoon in my mouth and that I haven't seen the dark side of life. ... And if I hadn't, then I don't know if I could've played Jen the way that I did. So that's how I feel about that.

Heidi Saman and Seth Kelley produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Christina Applegate, was a teenager when she became famous for her role as Kelly Bundy, the daughter in the hit sitcom "Married With Children." She went on to star in other TV shows and to star with Will Ferrell in the movie comedy "Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy."

Now Applegate stars in the new Netflix series, "Dead To Me," which the people behind the series describe as a traumedy (ph), a comedy-drama that deals with trauma and with guilt. Applegate plays Jen, a grieving widow raising two children. Her husband was recently killed in a car accident. She's expressing her grief through anger, like in the opening scene, when a well-intentioned neighbor knocks on Jen's door offering a dish she's prepared for Jen and her children.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DEAD TO ME")

SUZY NAKAMURA: (As neighbor Karen) So you just heat it up at 300 and leave it in for 35 minutes.

CHRISTINA APPLEGATE: (As Jen) Thanks, Karen. You really don't have to...

NAKAMURA: (As neighbor Karen) It's my take on Mexican lasagna.

APPLEGATE: (As Jen) Great.

NAKAMURA: (As neighbor Karen) It's nothing. We just don't want you to think you're alone. Jeff and I are here for you if you ever want to talk.

APPLEGATE: (As Jen) Thanks.

NAKAMURA: (As neighbor Karen) I just can't imagine what you're going through.

APPLEGATE: (As Jen) Well, it's like if Jeff got hit by a car and died suddenly and violently. Like that.

GROSS: Jen starts going to a grief support group where she's befriended by Judy, played by Linda Cardellini, who explains she's there because her fiance died of a heart attack. But nothing is as it seems in this series, which is filled with surprising plot twists and character revelations. All of Season 1 is streaming on Netflix. This week, the series was renewed for a second season. Christina Applegate, welcome to FRESH AIR.

APPLEGATE: Thank you very much.

GROSS: It's really hard to talk about the storyline of the series because there are so many reveals, so many kind of surprising twists and turns, that I feel like almost anything I can say is a spoiler. (Laughter).

APPLEGATE: (Laughter) Yeah.

GROSS: How do you deal with that?

APPLEGATE: Well, it was really hard when we were promoting the show before it had aired - or dropped, or whatever they say at Netflix - trying to talk about what the premise of the show was because we really couldn't say anything. There were, like, 18 different spoilers that we weren't allowed to talk about. So that was really difficult. Now that most people have seen it - if you haven't seen it, I won't spoil it for you. (Laughter). Yeah. It's been hard to not let anyone know because it is, like, every episode has its cliffhanger and its reveals and its secrets.

GROSS: What we can say for sure, (laughter), is that the two main characters, yours and Linda Cardellini's characters, are both dealing with grief. And what did you think of the idea of dealing with grief comedically?

APPLEGATE: Well, as Liz always says...

GROSS: She's the creator of the series.

APPLEGATE: Yes. She's the creator of "Dead To Me." There is always in that darkest parts of your life, you trying to find the humor in life, (laughter), because you need some repose. And I think that the way it's written is not jokes. It's people just trying to, like, have a minute away from all the pain that they're feeling. And, you know, and also people - you know, I always think that people crying is pretty funny, anyway. (Laughter). But I love the idea of this grief being so completely messy, and unexpected and unapologetic, especially for my character, Jen, who is operating in the world not from any kind of, like, thought. She's really just trying to survive. She's trying to keep her head above water. And there's a lot of shame in that. There's shame in, like, not stopping your grief when everyone wants you to stop your grief.

I mean, I've been there. I've had times in my life that were so incredibly painful. And I, in other people's eyes, wasn't dealing with it the way I should have dealt with it. And that's really hard because you don't know how (laughter) else to deal with it but the way that you are feeling.

GROSS: Were you grieving for a person when you went through that, or the loss of something else?

APPLEGATE: I've lost people. And, you know, health issues and things like that, all kind of around the same time a few years ago. So that was a really, really dark - a dark time. So I really related to that when I got the script. And it's not something I had to really pull from. It just lives there. It lives in the fibers of your being, and in your spirit and in your soul. It stays there.

GROSS: You mentioned grieving for health reasons, for body reasons. I'm thinking you're probably referring, at least in part, to your double mastectomy.

APPLEGATE: Well, yes. That was a really tricky time.

GROSS: Yeah. This was in 2008?

APPLEGATE: Yes.

GROSS: So, like, can I ask you a few questions about that? Is that all right? You've been public about it. A lot of women go through this. And I think it's helpful to hear people talk about it. There's nothing shameful about it.

APPLEGATE: There's nothing shameful about it, but there is that feeling that's there. And I think that's one of the reasons I wanted it to be in the show.

GROSS: Yeah. I haven't mentioned that yet. It's in the show.

APPLEGATE: Well, it's in the show.

GROSS: And we find out about it a little deeper in. But it's one of the things that has kind of interfered with intimate relations between your character and her now-late husband. So was it your idea to put that in the show?

APPLEGATE: Yeah. And I think they beautifully put it in there, that it wasn't something that we harped on. It was something that Jen, like, very flippantly kind of mentions at - you know, like, wants to just sort of dismiss it at first. But then come Episode 9, when she talks about the pain of it. I think it was important for women who have gone through this to be heard. Because so often, we're told, like, you know, people would constantly say to me, well, you know what? I mean, the good point is, is that you saved your life and this - God. Man, when you're going through it, those kinds of reactions are really disturbing (laughter) because no one really understands how you actually feel.

And I think I did a disservice to myself at the time, in a way, by kind of being a champion for it and not being really honest with my own self about how I felt. And I think that's why I wanted to sort of live that out and let women who have gone through it know that it's - that we all feel, in Jen's words, disgusting sometimes.

GROSS: Yeah. So what were some of the things you felt you weren't being totally honest about 'cause you were trying to be, like, a role model?

APPLEGATE: I was trying to be a role model, but I was also lifting - trying to lift myself up. You know? And denying myself sort of those feelings. Because those feelings were - are there. It's been many years for me so I'm much more used to, you know, my life, my body now. You know? But it's a, you know, it's an amputation. And you physically and emotionally go through so much when you lose a part of you, especially a part of you that defines you as a female and all of those other things. And it gives, you know, it feeds babies (laughter) you know? There's a lot of reasons that it's a very personal surgery.

GROSS: Were you already a mother when you had the double mastectomy?

APPLEGATE: No. I was not.

GROSS: So you became a mother afterwards.

APPLEGATE: I did.

GROSS: Which means you did not breastfeed. (Laughter).

APPLEGATE: I did not. And guess what? She's completely healthy and fine.

GROSS: Right.

APPLEGATE: And smart. And brilliant. And completely attached to her mommy.

GROSS: So you must have really kind of missed the idea of having breasts when you became a mother.

APPLEGATE: Yeah. That was difficult. I really - that was sad because I really - I would hold her and be feeding her and really had wanted to have that experience, something that I will never be able to have. And it was - yeah, it was - I went through a lot with that. But I - you know, had I not had the surgery, I wouldn't have had a child 'cause I would not be (laughter) alive. So it all kind of was OK.

GROSS: Yeah. So you had breast cancer in one breast, but then you got the genetic test; your mother had had breast cancer, too. She survived.

APPLEGATE: Yes.

GROSS: And you got the test, the genetic test, and found that you were positive for the BRCA1 gene, which is the gene that is believed to be connected to breast cancer. And that's what made you decide to...

APPLEGATE: Yeah, and ovarian.

GROSS: Oh, I didn't know about the ovarian. Really?

APPLEGATE: Yeah. My mom had both breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and she's BRCA. My cousin passed away right after my surgery from ovarian cancer; she was BRCA. So yeah, there's definitely, you know, apparently a tie between those two things. There - your chances of getting ovarian cancer when you're BRCA are 50%, and your chances of recurrence of breast cancer is somewhere between 75% and 80%.

GROSS: Was this a hard decision to make, or were you confident that you had to do it?

APPLEGATE: I was very against the idea of it for a long time. My doctors were trying to convince me, and I was very against the idea. And then it hit me one day - just, do I want to be having this hanging over my head for the rest of my life? And no, I didn't want to be living in that kind of fear forever. You know, I mean, I still get checked up. I'm checked-up all the time. But it was just - it just was the right thing for me to do.

GROSS: Did you say goodbye to your breasts before the surgery?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I love hearing people talk about the rituals they go through right before that because it's so interesting that women come up with ways of, like, saying goodbye to that part of their body.

APPLEGATE: I took pictures; I don't know where they are.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: That's helpful.

APPLEGATE: That was a long time ago. I have no idea where they are. But they're - yeah, they were good. So I was pretty bummed (laughter). They were a good set.

GROSS: So just one other thing I want to say about the mastectomy is that you went public with it. But I would suspect, in the back of your mind, you were wondering not only how it will affect your life and relationships, but will it affect your work, will it affect your roles? And I love that you kind of...

APPLEGATE: Well, considering I don't show my boobs anywhere, it wasn't, like, a concern for me at all.

(LAUGHTER)

APPLEGATE: And I didn't want to go public. I had actually kept it a secret for many, many, many, many months. And then I'd had two surgeries before my mastectomy; I had two lumpectomies months before. And it wasn't until I was in the hospital for more than a few days that someone saw me and called the tabloids or whatever. Is that, like, a thing? Do they still exist, tabloids?

GROSS: Yeah, they do.

APPLEGATE: I have no idea. OK, unfortunately. And had called, so they had outed me, basically, that I was in the hospital, and we had to make a statement. But I wasn't, like - my plan really wasn't to talk about it because it didn't really matter; it was my personal story. But then at the same time, you know, an MRI saved my life, and because of that, I started my foundation, Right Action for Women, which we provide funding for women of high-risk for their annual MRIs and, also, a website that can educate you to know what it means to be high-risk and what kind of steps you can take. So that started right in 2008. So there was a silver lining in there as well.

GROSS: Did it feel helpful to you to be able to do that?

APPLEGATE: Yes, absolutely.

GROSS: Helpful for yourself, as well as for the other women?

APPLEGATE: Well, I knew that, like, I had gone in for my MRI, my second MRI, and this is - I hadn't - didn't know I had cancer yet. The woman who helps me at the hospital that I go to said, can you get the word out? Because all these young women who are high-risk are not getting their MRIs because of the cost. And at that time, you know, insurance companies weren't covering the cost at all. I mean, now they cover most of it, but there still is a copay, and also, if there's a frequency, if you're going every single year, it can add up. And I said, yeah, of course, I'll get the word out.

And little did I know, that MRI showed that I had DCIS. And so I felt very grateful for this incredible imaging because, oftentimes, mammograms don't show cancer until many years after it had already been growing. So an MRI can catch it sort of in an earlier stage. And that's when I started Right Action For Women.

GROSS: Yeah. Well, I'm glad it did, and I'm glad you started that. Well, let me reintroduce you here, and we'll take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest is Christina Applegate. She stars in the Netflix series "Dead To Me," which has just been renewed for a second season. The entire first season is now streaming. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMANDA GARDIER'S "FJORD")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Christina Applegate, who became famous as a teenager for her starring role as the daughter in "Married... With Children," and many roles later, she is now starring in the Netflix series, "Dead To Me," which has just been renewed for a second season.

So you became famous when you were 16 for your role as Kelly Bundy, the daughter on "Married... With Children." I'm going to ask you to describe the character.

APPLEGATE: (Laughter) Oh, Kelly Bundy.

GROSS: And I'm curious if you're going to use the word ditzy because that's the word everybody seems to use.

APPLEGATE: Ditzy, yeah? Lazy thinker. I guess, you know, I had to play her as a genius. You know, in her own mind, she's a genius - and a virgin, actually. So those are my little secrets that I had about her. You know, she was really, like, kind of a product of that time. The script - you know, the show had been written, and they actually shot the pilot with two other actors playing Kelly and Bud, and then we - it just didn't work out, so they came back and had us do it. And originally, Kelly was kind of, like, a tough, little rebellious, almost, like, biker kind of chick. And it just didn't - something wasn't, for me, fitting, and luckily, at that time, no one saw Fox (laughter) that first year.

GROSS: This was, like, the first sitcom that it had, right?

APPLEGATE: It was the very first show that ever aired on Fox, and it wasn't even really a network. Well, that's what they used to tell us when it would come time for negotiations. Like, but we're not really a network, so, no, you don't get that kind of money.

Anyway, so she - it kind of evolved, or devolved, if you want to call it that, after I had seen this girl in this documentary. And I went, oh, my God, I need to - that's it. That's her. So we kind of changed her up to be sort of a product of the '80s, of this generation of girls that felt they needed to use their bodies to get further in the world, and the music was heavy metal, and there was, you know - sorry, pardon me - like, rock sluts in videos, and sort of kind of evolved from that idea.

GROSS: What was the documentary you watched?

APPLEGATE: It was called "Decline Of The Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years" (ph).

GROSS: Oh, I saw that. Yeah. Oh, OK.

APPLEGATE: There was a girl in it who - she had just won Miss Gazzarri's. And she was sitting there, I believe, in a white minidress, which I had never really seen anyone wear. And they asked her, like, what she wanted to do after winning Miss Gazzarri's, and she said, I want to continue with my modeling and my actressing.

GROSS: (Laughter).

APPLEGATE: And I went, that's the best thing I've ever seen in my entire life. And literally the next day, I went to the wardrobe people and to everyone, and I said, we got to - we're changing this up. Got to change it up.

GROSS: Let's hear a clip from "Married... With Children." And so this was on for 11 seasons from '87 to '97.

APPLEGATE: I think it was '86.

GROSS: '86 to '97, OK.

APPLEGATE: Something like that.

GROSS: So you know...

APPLEGATE: I was 15 when we started, so...

GROSS: Oh, you were 15. I thought you were 16.

APPLEGATE: I was 15 when we shot it.

GROSS: A young age to be a star. We'll talk about that in a moment.

So you know, the series is about a suburban family. The father's a shoe salesman. He hates his job. He's very condescending to his wife, who he expects to cook and clean. But because she sees herself as a bit of a suburban goddess, she hates to cook and clean, so she just sits around and watches TV all day. And you're the kind of sexualized daughter, who you say is actually a virgin.

So usually, when you entered a scene the first time in the show in each episode, there'd be, like, these cheers and whistles and everything. So here you are making your entrance in this episode of "Married... With Children."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARRIED... WITH CHILDREN")

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: (Cheering).

APPLEGATE: (As Kelly Bundy) Hey, where's Bud? I want to tell him that I've got a big date tonight. I love ruining his Saturday nights. Oh, my God. It's Sunday?

(LAUGHTER)

APPLEGATE: (As Kelly Bundy) I've got to be at work. How did I lose a day?

(LAUGHTER)

APPLEGATE: (As Kelly Bundy) I must have magnesia.

(LAUGHTER)

APPLEGATE: (As Kelly Bundy) What did Gilligan do when he had magnesia?

(LAUGHTER)

APPLEGATE: (As Kelly Bundy) Oh, my God. I don't remember.

(LAUGHTER)

APPLEGATE: (As Kelly Bundy) Gadzooks, I'm losing my short-term mammaries.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I'm sure gadzooks is a word you say a lot.

(LAUGHTER)

APPLEGATE: Gadzooks.

GROSS: So what was it like to make an entrance with such hollering and hooting? And how much of that was real, and how much of that was, like, a sign flashing to the studio audience?

APPLEGATE: Oh, no. No, no, no. There was no sign. This was all real. In fact, most of the time, we had to tell them to stop because it would go on for too long for any of our entrances - for Eddie's (ph), for mine. And we would - it would actually start to kind of, like, mess up the timing of the scenes. So we would actually have to ask the audiences to, like, cool it. We didn't have a laugh track - none of that. This was all, like, those 200 people, like, at a sporting event, basically.

I - you know, I tried to tune it out because if I had, like, played into that, it would be a whole other ballgame. But I had to stay in my scene, do my work, do my job. And, hopefully, they would stop at a certain time so I could say my first line.

GROSS: Well, you mention the timing. You know, every punchline got a long laugh. So how does that mess with your timing?

APPLEGATE: It really can because when you're doing that kind of comedy when you're in front of a live audience and it's for cameras and - basically, it's - I like to call it - it's, like, vaudevillian, do you know? You've got this relationship with the audience. You have to, like - you have to use them, you know, to be part of the scene.

And timing is such - it's such a, like, precise thing. If you're one beat off, then a joke - it doesn't work for that kind of comedy. It has to land in this pocket. And if the pocket's off, you're done. So it was really important for us to, you know, keep them under wraps so that we could do what we needed to do.

GROSS: So you know, a lot of teenage boys, adolescent boys had crushes on you because of your performance in "Married... With Children." How did that affect your life?

APPLEGATE: It didn't. I'm very - like, I stay in my bubble. I've always stayed in my own bubble. And the way I operated in the world was very different than Kelly Bundy - the person that I was, the way I dressed, the friends that I had. My interests were the polar opposite of her. So no one came near me. I kind of held myself with, like, a get-the-F-away-from-me kind of vibe all the time. (Laughter) So I kind of just lived my life.

GROSS: My guest is Christina Applegate. She stars in the Netflix series "Dead To Me." After a short break, we'll talk about how she started in show business as an infant and how she broke her foot while starring in a revival of the musical "Sweet Charity." And TV critic David Bianculli will review the new season of "Black Mirror." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Christina Applegate. She stars in the new Netflix series "Dead To Me" as a woman grieving the sudden death of her husband. Applegate became famous for her role in the hit sitcom "Married... With Children" about a family living in the suburbs of Chicago. The father's a shoe salesman who hates his job and is condescending to his wife, played by Katey Sagal. He expects her to cook and clean, but she'd rather watch TV all day. Christina Applegate played Kelly Bundy, their sexy and not-very-bright teenage daughter.

Did you feel that the show was sexist in its portrayal of your character and Katey Sagal's character, the mother?

APPLEGATE: I think it was a commentary on people that are sexist. It wasn't there to operate as, this is what this is. It's going, like, you know - it's like - do you, like - do you look at Archie Bunker and take it for face value, or do you think that Norman Lear was brilliant and going, this is a slice of American life, and this is actually happening? - not to compare us to "All In The Family," which I would never. But I think that the guys that created it - this was them going, OK. These people exist. But at the same time, this family would do anything for each other at the end of the day.

GROSS: So the series was considered very raunchy in its time.

APPLEGATE: That's so tame compared to what's out there right now.

GROSS: Oh, I know. I know. I know. But there was pressure from the right that this was, like, an anti-family show that was too sexualized. There was a letter-writing campaign. How much attention did you pay to that?

APPLEGATE: None. It actually made us more popular.

GROSS: Made it seem more controversial and more edgy.

APPLEGATE: Yeah. We actually used to send, like, a fruit basket to Terry Rakolta every year...

GROSS: Who started the letter-writing campaign.

APPLEGATE: ...Who started the campaign. God bless her 'cause - thank you. We'd had a great run because of that.

GROSS: Do you remember any of the specific scenes that the letter-writing campaign objected to?

APPLEGATE: No, but, like, we couldn't even air an episode that the women had their period - like, really, everybody? Women get their periods. And it's funny when women are together, and they're cranky and they're this - and, like, we couldn't - or she - I think she was upset about that episode. I don't remember. I mean, we're talking 30-something years ago.

So it's - I don't really remember any specifics because it wasn't really a thing. It wasn't something that we were all, like, shaking in our boots about. And that - and I'm not trying to be snotty about it or anything. I'm just saying, like, at that time, we had to continue doing what we were doing. And if we had altered the way in which we were doing things, then other people win. And I always said, like, you know, if you have a problem with it, turn the channel.

GROSS: So you were born into show business, in a way. Your mother was an actress and singer. She sang backup on Leonard Cohen's first album. I thought that was interesting.

APPLEGATE: She did.

GROSS: Yeah. So tell us a little bit about her career.

APPLEGATE: Her career started in New York. She was in a group called The Bitter End Singers for many years back in the '60s - early '60s. And then she made this really beautiful album called "You've Come This Way Before" in the late '60s. This was around the time she met my dad. And then they - she was in LA then at that time and, you know, continued to act here and there. But then she had a baby, and she was on her own. So...

GROSS: That was you. That baby was you.

APPLEGATE: That was me. That baby was me. There's only me. I mean, I do have a brother and sister through my father and his previous wife. But, you know, she was alone. And so that's kind of how I started doing it - is that she couldn't afford child care, so I would end up going on auditions with her or going to - she was part of a playwright group. And I would end up - she'd just - they would put me in the plays because she couldn't find anyone to watch me. And that's kind of where it all sort of happened.

GROSS: You were on screen when you were three months old and five months old. What were the roles, and were you playing your mother's child?

APPLEGATE: Do they call them roles? Yes, I was playing my mother's child. That's the thing. I was...

GROSS: Is it an infant walk-on (laughter)?

APPLEGATE: Yes, it was a - no, I was - it was with my mom. So it was - we did a Playtex Nurser commercial. She did a Playtex Nurser commercial, but they - she had a baby, so it was perfect. And then she was on "Days Of Our Lives" - like, one or two episodes or something - and that character had a baby. And luckily, she had a baby. And those were my first onscreen appearances.

GROSS: Have you gone back and watched them?

APPLEGATE: I've seen the - I haven't seen the "Days Of Our Lives." I don't even know where to find that. Somehow, on some talk show I was on, like, a hundred years ago, they had - they were able to get the clip of the commercial. And it's really funny 'cause she's, like - you know, everyone kind of talked with, like, a Mid-Atlantic accent back then, you know, when they were actors. Like, everyone had, like, a little bit of a weird accent. And she was like, she spits up less and has less gas. And that's what my mom said.

GROSS: (Laughter) Were you adorable?

APPLEGATE: Oh, yes. Well, of course.

GROSS: (Laughter) So since your mother was in show business and you got started when you were still an infant because you played her infants so she could do her job without hiring a babysitter, did that give her the impression you should keep doing this? I mean, is that how you got involved in it - as through your mother?

APPLEGATE: I don't know. It was sort of - organically just happened. And then - I mean, I don't really remember my childhood that - very well, to be honest with you. I just know that it was always just a part of my life. I was always doing it in some capacity. I was either, like, in an acting class - I remember being in an acting class and loving it when I was really young, probably around my daughter's age - and commercials and then - like, it just sort of happened. There wasn't, like, a goal or anyone pushing anyone to do anything. It was just sort of what I did. Also, we needed another income, so, you know, it helped with, you know, our livelihood. So it just - it - that just was the way it was.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Christina Applegate, and she's now starring in the Netflix series "Dead To Me." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON CLEARY'S "DYNA-MITE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Christina Applegate. She stars with Linda Cardellini the Netflix series "Dead To Me," which has just been renewed for a second season. All of Season 1 is streaming.

So in addition to doing movies and TV, you did a Broadway revival of "Sweet Charity." The music in that show is so good.

APPLEGATE: Isn't it the best? Oh, my God.

GROSS: Yeah. And you had to basically audition for the composer, Cy Coleman. What was that like?

APPLEGATE: (Laughter) Rest in peace, Cy Coleman. But now I can talk about how it was (laughter). It was really difficult. The audition process was really - you know, it was something else. I really - you know, I'm a huge Fosse fanatic. I've - "Sweet Charity" was one of my favorite movies. "All That Jazz" is in my top 5 of all time. I mean, this is, like - was, like, my dream come true. But I went to New York to audition, and I was there for - I mean, it felt like 10 hours, and it probably was 10 hours of singing audition and then, you know, this - all the scenes I had to do, and then the dancing. And I was there for - just for hours.

But apparently, at the end of the day, after the audition was over, and Barry Weissler came into the dressing - Barry and Fran came in and said, can you give us a year? And I sat there and I said, can you give me a minute? I mean, I was, like, drenched in sweat. And I had kind of wanted to go just to have the experience of having a New York audition. I didn't even know if I had wanted to really make the commitment to do this at that time; I just wanted the experience of that. So I needed a minute.

And then I get the call that Cy was not convinced of my singing, which I don't blame him. I mean, it's not my strong suit. And he wanted to have another work session in Los Angeles with me. And it was really, really challenging. The way they operate - and not everyone in New York - but the way they talk to you (laughter) is not fluffy, like they do out in Hollywood. He was tough on me, really tough on me. And I thought I was going to, like, burst into tears many times during that work session. It was really, really hard.

And I got back in the car, and I called them and I said, look - I don't even want to do it because if they're going to be like this, like - you know. And they said, well, Cy Coleman just called, and he completely, like, thinks you're magical, and you got the job. (Laughter) And I was like, say what? How did that happen? I thought he hated me. It was so scary. But it was amazing to be around him, this man who has, you know, written all this incredible music.

GROSS: You said he was tough on you. What did he do that seemed so tough?

APPLEGATE: Stop moving your arm. Stop doing it that way. Why are you singing it like that? Start again. Start - like, really what you think would happen in those - in a work session. Like, literally, like, the ingenue getting completely, like, verbally abused (laughter). But I think that's just who he - you know, he was just a very strong man with - he knew what he wanted. No one's, like, fuzzy in the Broadway world, you know? It's a tough job, and they got to make sure you're doing it right.

So, you know, when we got there, it was wonderful, I mean, incredible. The rehearsal process was just so much fun and so filled with so much joy for me. But they're - you know, they can be tough on you.

GROSS: Well, let's hear you sing from the cast recording.

APPLEGATE: Oh, boy

GROSS: (Laughter) This is "If My Friends Could See Me Now," which has such a great lyric by Dorothy Fields. So here's my guest, Christina Applegate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF THEY COULD SEE ME NOW")

APPLEGATE: (Singing) If they could see me now, that little gang of mine. I'm eating fancy chow and drinking fancy wine. I'd like those stumble bums to see for a fact the kind of top-drawer, first-rate chums I attract. All I can say is wow, look at where I am. Tonight, I landed, pow, right in a pot of jam. What a set-up, holy cow. They'd never believe it, if my friends could see me now.

GROSS: That's Christina Applegate from the revival of "Sweet Charity," recorded in 2005. Do you just love Dorothy Fields' lyrics?

APPLEGATE: Oh, my God. The whole score is just so - it's so amazing. I mean - and Cy's music, I mean, you can't go wrong when you hear, like, (Singing) doo-doo-doo-doo boo-doo (ph). I mean, come on (laughter). It's like - I get chills when I hear that. It's just perfect.

GROSS: So something really went terribly wrong for you during the pre-Broadway tour of "Sweet Charity." I think you were in Boston when during...

APPLEGATE: That would be Chicago.

GROSS: Chicago, OK.

APPLEGATE: That'd be March 5.

GROSS: When you broke. Wow - not that you remember.

APPLEGATE: (Laughter) March 11. Was it March 11? Yeah, I think it was March 5. Sorry.

GROSS: So you broke - what? - the fifth metatarsal of one of your feet?

APPLEGATE: Yes, on my right foot.

GROSS: What happened?

APPLEGATE: Oh, man. I - we had changed which way I was entering. So I was - usually entered from the left wings, but this time we had me entering from the right; hadn't rehearsed it yet. I had these weird shoes on. And I was standing there, back there, and I was like, you know what? My ankles are too wobbly for these shoes; I'm going to change them. Because they weren't the shoes that I was dancing and in; it was, like, the shoes that I get wet in because I fall into a lake at the beginning of the show. And usually, when I have a thought like that, I'll usually stop and kind of bless myself. Like, oh, OK, wait - don't fall down the stairs. You know what I mean?

And curtain came up, I ran out, and I got up on the lamppost, and my heel slipped off the side of the lamppost and it just cracked, just in half. And then I felt it happen, and I was out there in front of 2,000 people. It was really a scary, scary moment. And I was trying to signal to the stage managers that I'd broken my foot. And we had actually this, like, little box that I would fall into, like, for the lake, and there was a little window where the stage manager would always hand me water to, like, throw over my hair. And I went down, I fell into the lake, I looked at her, and I said, I broke my foot. And she goes, what? And I came up, said the line that I was supposed to say, went back down and just screamed, I broke my bleepity-bleepity (ph) foot.

And she goes, OK, calling an ambulance, and I said, OK. And I came out and I finished about half an hour of the show because Charity doesn't leave the stage. So it was just the most, like - trying to navigate doing, like, a dance number and singing and trying not to stand on my right foot for that half-hour was really one of the most frightening things I've ever had to do. And then finally, when they started the Frug, which is a big number that I'm not in, I went offstage and fainted, and that was it.

GROSS: Wow, you fainted.

APPLEGATE: And then they stopped the show. Yeah, I collapsed into Beverley's arms, who was our stage manager.

GROSS: Shouldn't they have just stopped the show when you said, I broke my foot?

APPLEGATE: Yeah, but they kept saying, do you want us to? And I said, no, we need to get where I can get off the stage without it being clumsy...

GROSS: Well, that's commitment.

APPLEGATE: ...Because I don't leave the stage for half an hour.

GROSS: That is really commitment.

APPLEGATE: The weird things happen when you have adrenaline going on. Weird decision-making happens, for sure.

GROSS: Do you think you hurt your foot any worse by having, you know, did - done some dancing on it and stayed onstage for a half hour?

APPLEGATE: Well, probably. And I've - I mean, I still have issues with it because I did come back six weeks later and did the show. So...

GROSS: Before it was fully healed.

APPLEGATE: Oh, yeah. It was only about 30% by then.

GROSS: Oh, gosh.

APPLEGATE: So yeah. I had lots of tape underneath my - in my boot and boots that didn't point, which made my kicks horrible to look at. I was so upset, especially coming from being a dancer and having worked so hard in the show. It was really heartbreaking.

GROSS: If you had to do it over again, what would you do?

APPLEGATE: I'd do it.

GROSS: Really?

APPLEGATE: Yeah - not at 47.

GROSS: Well, no.

APPLEGATE: (Laughter) This bod can't handle that at all. But no - I mean, of course. It was the most thrilling experience of my life - yes, coupled with incredible pain and backstage drama. But you know what? For the most part, that was the best - one of the best years of my life.

GROSS: So at 47, what you did do is dance in an episode of "Dead To Me" because your character's in a dance class. And that's one of the pleasures of her really angry, sad life. So what was it like for you to dance again on screen?

APPLEGATE: Frightening 'cause I hadn't danced in 10 years, and I didn't have a lot of time to rehearse. I had, like, an hour at my house to choreograph it and rehearse it and then get onstage - I mean, get on the set and basically be performing in front of my whole crew, which were, like, now my friends. And now I'm, like, embarrassed because, you know, I'm not top of my game like I used to be.

So it was really - it was having to face, like - step into, like, a lot of fear - but so was the character. You know, she hadn't danced in probably 15 years or more. So it was all OK - I mean, sore - very sore but exhilarated. I was like, oh, my God. I miss this. I really do. So I'm stumped in this debating period of, like, going back to dance class.

GROSS: Right. You've been critical in tweets about President Trump, and you've been - you've gotten a lot of hate tweets as a result. And some people say, like, why do celebrities, like, weigh in with political opinions like us? Like, you know, what do you know, and what gives you the right?

APPLEGATE: (Laughter).

GROSS: And you've had some...

APPLEGATE: And yet you look on their Twitter, and they're doing the same thing. What gives you the right?

GROSS: Yes, exactly, which was...

APPLEGATE: You work in a bank.

GROSS: That was one...

APPLEGATE: What are you talking about, man?

GROSS: So one of the things you were criticized for is, like, you don't get it. And I think what...

APPLEGATE: I don't.

GROSS: ...You didn't get is, like, well, what is it really like to be, like, a working American? And you tweeted back, I grew up in an abusive home. Now I make it public. Don't you dare say I don't understand. Don't you dare say I don't understand the struggles. We lived on food stamps. Don't you dare say I don't know.

APPLEGATE: God, I was so mad that day.

GROSS: Yeah.

APPLEGATE: (Laughter).

GROSS: It was like your character.

APPLEGATE: I was in a pissy (ph) mood - that Christina.

GROSS: But what - what's this about an abusive home?

APPLEGATE: I don't want to get into that, but I will say that I come from - my past is no different and also probably a lot darker than a lot of people's. And - I'm not going to say a lot darker than most people's. I'm saying that I have lived along the same lines as some of the horror stories that you hear out there. And I've lived it. I've seen it. I've lived through it. So I don't - I really do take offense when people think that I've had a silver spoon in my mouth and that I haven't seen the dark side of life.

GROSS: Yeah.

APPLEGATE: And you know what? And if I hadn't, then I don't know if I could've played Jen the way that I did. So, like, that's how I kind of feel about that.

GROSS: All right. Well, Christina Applegate, thank you so much for talking with us.

APPLEGATE: Thank you.

GROSS: Christina Applegate stars in the new Netflix series "Dead To Me." It was just renewed for a second season.

After we take a short break, our TV critic David Bianculli will review the new season of the anthology series "Black Mirror." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.