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EXCLUSIVE: Christina Applegate on Playing 'Badass' Moms and 'Married... with Children's 30th Anniversary

by John Boone 10:35 AM PST, February 01, 2017
Photo: Getty Images

In Christina Applegate's latest film, Youth in Oregon, she plays the adult daughter of a man who plans a road trip to Oregon to make use of the state's Death with Dignity Act, a decision that causes his family's past and future to unravel as everyone's own secrets begin to spill out. In real life, though, the 45-year-old actress' day-to-day sounds increasingly normal.

"Not much to report over here. Making kid breakfast, working out, now going to go pick her up and take her to ballet," Applegate rattled off on a recent Monday during a phone call with ET. "You know, the uzh. My uzh." In addition to her new movie (in select theaters and available On Demand on Feb. 3), the wide-ranging conversation also covered Bad Moms, the recent Women's March and the fact that it has been 30 years since she first donned one of Kelly Bundy's mini-dresses on Married... with Children.

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Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films

ET: What sticks with me about Youth in Oregon -- considering everything that is going on in the world right now -- is that even though it is dramatic and the relationships are messy and the subject matter might be controversial, in the end, it's about love.

Applegate: You try to infuse humor in these things, too. Because it is a subject matter that is deeply controversial and deeply disturbing to a lot of people. I really loved the moment when Ray (Frank Langella) watches his friend take his own life, and the catharsis for everybody in that room. I thought that was such a beautiful scene and never in my wildest imagining would it have affected me the way that it did when I finally saw it. It was, like-- I was sobbing.

I wish we could all wake up sometimes from these...nightmares. And it's a powerful movie about family and about what can we control and when do we let go? Those of us who have parents who are that age, you know that time is coming and that's a really frightening thing to face, because that's the inevitable. And there's nothing we can do about the inevitable. For me, being in my mid-40s and my mother and my dad in their 70s, I'm watching them become older and it's harder for them to do things and it's so unbelievably heartbreaking. What if one day my mom just said to me, "I'm done"? That's like... Woooah. That's what I think this character is feeling this whole time. I found that very intriguing, for me as an actress. Especially since these kinds of calls don't come my way very often.

I want to talk about one scene in particular, when the entire family is reunited at the cabin at the end. It's your most emotional scene and you slap Josh Lucas. What was it like shooting that scene?

Incredibly painful -- and also therapeutic, in a way. We shot that towards the end of the movie, and I just sat there and thought about the betrayal that she's feeling from everyone and her rage and everything building up to that moment. Then it was, like, this incredible release. I felt bad for Josh because the first few times, he was like, "No, I'm good! I'm good!" Then after a couple of times, he said, "Can you just not hit me so hard?" [Laughs] And I said, "Josh, I don't even realize I'm doing it! I'm so sorry. I'm so angry right now and I'm filled with so much rage that I completely have no control over my body right now." I felt like that for that whole day we were doing it. Everything was just coming up for me -- as a person, as a character -- and I felt really bad. I never let up. I couldn't. Before we would roll, I would go, "Don't hurt Josh. Don't hurt Josh." And every time I'd see him come out of that taxi, my blood was boiling and I just couldn't stop. I was in it.

How do you decompress after a day like that?

You just go and cry. I just went and cried. I felt actually really light afterward. On the drive home -- we had a long drive home from where we were shooting -- I just felt at ease. Everything was able to pass through my body and my emotions and my spirit. It felt good. Sorry, Joshua! I love that man. I felt very bad. His face was very red.

Many actresses have spoken out about being relegated to playing just the wife or just a mother. You play wives and mothers often. How do you make sure the characters you're playing are more than that?

You can't make it just one-dimensional. On paper, it can seem like one thing, but you have to bring in the history, you have to bring in the person, you have to bring in the structure of who they are. We're all incredibly complex, so trying to find the complexities in what could be a one-note thing can be challenging sometimes, especially, let's just face it, in this male-dominated industry. Which is now turning, I think. It's obviously turning.

Like, with Vacation, the first draft of that was the wife just sitting in the car. I talked to them about who she was and where she came from and her history and her past and why she's on this journey and out of these conversations birthed Debbie Do Anything. So, now we've got this great, weird segment of the movie where I'm throwing up and it made me laugh. [Laughs] Like, she's a badass! I love the fact that she's just a badass at the end of the day! That all came from us having a conversation about there being more to this person than what initially was the thought process.

"They were like, 'Women aren't funny.' And you're like, but we are! And we're smart. And we can prove it." Christina Applegate

Bad Moms was also such a hit last year. Why do you think Hollywood still acts like it's such a surprise when a female-fronted movie does so well?

Because historically, they haven't given us the chance! I think women have evolved in such a powerful way, too. We're not afraid to speak our voice. We're not afraid to look ugly in something. We're not afraid to not just be the ingénue. Female comedy is where we really got the short end of the stick for many years. They were like, "Women aren't funny." I've heard it! "They're just not as funny." And you're like, but...we are! And we're smart. And we can prove it.

I remember doing The Sweetest Thing. The original script was by far one of the funniest, ballsy scripts I've ever read. I was like, "Holy crap. We get to say this and do this?! Oh my god." But this is like 1999, 1998, whenever the script came and the studio was just horrified! They bought it, but they were like, "And now we're going to take all that away." They were so afraid that a woman's voice would offend people if we got to speak and behave in these ways that women often do. So, they really diluted it. I still think it's a fun, great movie, and women still come up to me being like, "That's my favorite movie and you guys were us!" That's wonderful. I wish they could have seen what we wanted to shoot, which is what I think we're being allowed to do more now.

They've announced a Bad Moms Christmas sequel is coming later this year. What do you know about it so far?

I know nothing about it. I don't even know if I'm in it. I know the three girls [Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn] are back. I'm just kind of waiting to see exactly what participation I have, if at all.

What kind of mom do you think Gwendolyn would be around the holidays?

[Laughs] I think she'd probably be drinking a lot, secretly. Gwendolyn is a really complex character. You see these people. They post on Facebook the perfections of their life. They need to control. They need to have power. They put on this air of perfection and you pull the veil back and it's not what you think. That's what's so beautiful, I thought, about Gwendolyn. At the end of the movie, you see who she is. You see her motivations for why she is the way she is, why she's a dictator. Because she's afraid -- she has a horrible home life -- and that has turned her into a dictator. She has to go out there and control everybody, because that's the only way she can stay afloat.

It's big and it's funny, but it's real.

It's real. I've seen it in my life! You kind of go, like, "I can't believe she did that to her!" And then you go, "Ohh, but, you know, she has that thing going on. So, I get it." There's a humanity behind all of it. I know it doesn't look like it in the world right now, as far as finding humanity in all of this, but it all stems from somewhere, man.

A silver lining of all that bad is that we are also seeing this opposite reaction, with the protests and the rallies and the messages people are sharing. That is easier to see, at least.

I think it's beautiful. I've never been one to preach out what I believe, but I think it's pretty obvious. You can go on Twitter and see what I follow and go, Oh, she's a total liberal. There's no question about that. But I'll tell you, I went to the Women's March and brought my daughter and it was an incredible day -- a truly, truly beautiful, beautiful display of love and acceptance. It was really inspiring that, in all of the darkness, there is this incredible heartbeat. Hopefully, it can be affective. That's what we hope, because at the core of all of us, you know, we were all birthed the same way and that's what we have to hold on to.

Were you out at the Los Angeles March?

Yes! My girlfriend is the person who kind of started it here, and I was talking to her and she said, "I think it could be like 60,000. We may have 100-something thousand, we're not sure." [Laughs] Cut to it being so far beyond, I think, what any of them had anticipated. And it was so cool! It was just so cool to see all these families and people and non-violence and kindness and everyone was polite to one another. You're on the subway packed -- I mean, we're packed in like sardines -- and someone would bump into someone else and everyone was like, "No, it's OK!” "Thank you!" "Oh no, god, you take my seat!" It was so much love.

What did your daughter think of the day?

She was having a grand old time until, like, halfway through it, and then she was like, "I want to go home." She just turned six, so she was over it. We tried to really explain to her what it was about and she, like, rolled her eyes and said something about the person in that other state-- you know, that person. I said, "No, that's not what this is about. What we're marching for is not against something, we're marching for something, sweetie. We're marching for women and children and our LGBTQ communities. We're marching for immigrants. We're marching for humanity. We're marching for human beings today. We're not marching against anything, for us personally. Let's go feel empowered and feel strong. Let's march together with our brethren."

Photo: Getty Images

Switching the subject, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the premiere of Married... with Children.

Oh. Em. Geehhh.

When you look back, do you have a defining memory from that time?

Oh, god. So many memories! I couldn't tell you what any episodes were about -- because we did so many of them -- but it was such a cool thing to be a part of. No one was watching us, so we were like, "We can do whatever we want." No one had Fox. It wasn't a network! You had to have coat hangers on your TV and move them around in order to even get the station. It was like UHF, or something. No one was seeing it the first couple of years, so we had this great freedom to discover what we were doing. I think around the third season is when we really got into the swing of really who these characters were and really what we were doing.

And then seeing the impact we were having and being a part of starting a network and really keeping it afloat through all that time until they had the success of The Simpsons after that and 21 Jump Street. No one was watching it, and then it was a historic thing in television. At that time too, knowing we were doing the antithesis of what was being broadcast -- which, there was nothing wrong with what was being broadcast. You've got these beautiful family shows that are set in values and family love and acceptance and camaraderie, and then you have this other family, which is the other part of America. Sort of the reality check. Not everything can be solved in 26 minutes. But it was a family who loved each other. They may not have liked each other very much, but they for sure loved each other.

What do you think the legacy of that show has become?

I don't even know! Looking back, it was so tame compared to what's on television now. The fact that we couldn't have a show about all the women menstruating-- they banned that episode at one point. Cut to the shows that are on right now. [Laughs] It's so funny. I'm glad we paved the way for everyone to be vulgar, I guess. I think we did. That's the legacy! Potty humor abounds now. We've completely ruined society!

In this era of reboots and revivals, is Married... with Children something you'd want to revisit?

No one wants to see me in a mini-dress at 45 years old, I'm going to tell you that right now. Trust. I'm like 20 pounds heavier than I used to be, guys. I had a baby and I'm 45 and I'm starting the change, you know what I mean? But I know [David] Faustino really wants to get his show up and running and Ed [O'Neill] and Katie [Sagal] and I have all said that we would be in, like, his first episode in some capacity. I don't what that would be and I don't know if he's going to get it off the ground, but I know he has the concept of Bud growing up and we all said we would gladly be there for him. But we've been talking about this for a few years, so I don't know what's going to happen with that.

When you think about the big picture, do you have an idea of what you want your career to look like?

When I was a young whippersnapper, it was a clear picture. I had a great deal more drive. But now, for me, it's about doing what makes me happy and spending time with my family. My first priority is my daughter. I've spent a full year not working, and I worked at her school. I'm at her school two, three days a week, working in the library, working with the kids. I love it. I love it more than anything in the world. So, my focus has primarily been that for a while, but I will need to work again and I do love acting. But it has to be something that really inspires me and something that's scary and something that's unlike anything I've done. For me, it's just about longevity. Being able to stick around as long as people will have me.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

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