Back in the late 1980s, when Married … With Children was making a name for the brand-new Fox TV network, Christina Applegate was making prime-time viewers slobber as the dimwitted Kelly Bundy, with her big blonde hair, sexually charged one-liners, and skintight heavy metal outfits.
(Fun fact: Kelly was modeled after a white-minidress-wearing “rock slut” Applegate had seen in the 1988 documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.)
In reality, however, Applegate’s teenage self couldn’t have differed more from the sexpot role that catapulted her to fame. Inward and intense, she recently told the L.A. Times she was a “dark kid,” adding, “I always thought serious projects were going to be my jam. But the show really helped me to let go of being so serious all the time.”
Applegate got into acting because her single mother, an actress and singer, couldn’t afford a babysitter, and would bring her months-old daughter to auditions. This was how she landed her first roles: as her mom’s child in a Playtex baby-bottle commercial, and on a 1972 episode of Days of Our Lives.
Following her 11-season run as Kelly Bundy, Applegate starred in several sitcoms (Samantha Who?, Up All Night), appeared in movies (The Sweetest Thing), sang and danced on Broadway (in Neil Simon’s Sweet Charity), and did animation voiceovers (King of the Hill). But it was the role of Veronica Corningstone in the 2004 Will Ferrell hit, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, that put her back on America’s radar. It’s a part she’s described as “one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life.”
Alongside Applegate’s decades of comic acting, she’s endured plenty of real-life drama, including a breast cancer diagnosis in 2008, after which she underwent a double mastectomy. The harrowing experience led her to create a foundation, Right Action for Women (@RightAct4Women), which provides education and assistance to women who are at increased risk for the disease.
Happily, 2019 is turning out to be a good year for the 47-year-old, who’s enjoying yet another career high point with the release of Netflix’s critically acclaimed “traumedy,” Dead to Me. In July, she received an Emmy nomination (Lead Actress in a Comedy) for her role.
Applegate plays Jen, a widow who recently lost her husband in a hit-and-run. When the show begins, Jen is about to meet her new BFF, Judy (Linda Cardellini), in a grief counseling seminar. Unbeknownst to Jen, Judy was driving the car that killed her husband. The ten-episode series, now gearing up for a second season, paints a smart, funny, and nuanced portrait of the two women’s lives, relationships, and their imperfect reactions to loss.
“Some people have been confused by [the show],” Applegate told the New York Times. “But in life we laugh and cry and we get surprised by things and we get shocked by things and people are not what they seem. It’s what life feels like—dark and twisty and funny.”