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Christina Applegate admits she's always been one to bury herself in work in order to deflect from real-life affliction, be it contentious breakups or her breast cancer diagnosis in 2008. But when she was diagnosed with MS in 2021, she says she finally had a platform where she could, for the first time, "fall apart" and grieve in a scene, and it proved to be "cathartic."
During her remote appearance Thursday on The Kelly Clarkson Show, the 51-year-old actress revealed that, since she was a young actress, going to work was the outlet she counted on to distract her from whatever life challenges she was facing at the time. Over the course of her career, Applegate said there were breakups, deaths and cancer, but she became numb to it all, albeit temporarily, whenever she set foot on the set of whatever project she was working on.
"I've probably been going through grief and trauma my whole life, and acting was the place that I got to go to not feel it, you know?" Applegate said.
But when she was diagnosed with MS, Applegate says she was in the middle of shooting her hit Netflix show, Dead to Me. And this time, the character didn't rely on Applegate's comedic timing or expressions. Quite the opposite, and, for once, she allowed herself to grieve within her work.
"The beauty of Dead to Me is that it gave me almost this weird platform of dealing with it," Applegate explained, "where I didn't have to be on all the time and I didn't have to make all the jokes and I could fall apart in a scene. And it was, like, me. It was my soul actually falling apart, unfortunately, in front of the world, but it was cathartic in a beautiful way."
Applegate says she didn't just rely on work to keep her mind off things. She also counted on humor. To deflect, yes, but but also to comfort those around her.
"Yeah, my humor shields keep me OK, but, of course, down on the insides, you feel the things," she said. "And I do it to kind of deflect and then also make people not be scared to be around me, you know? When people see me now as a disabled person, I want them to feel comfortable that we can laugh about it."
Her way of making those around her comfortable? Write a self-deprecating song to the tune of "Santa Baby." After singing a quick verse, the audience burst into laughter.
Applegate, who in November was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, also opened up about the physical challenges that went into shooting the Netflix show.
"Shooting [Dead to Me] was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life," she said. "I was diagnosed during shooting and I didn't know what was happening to me. I couldn’t walk. They had to use a wheelchair to get me to set. I was freaking out until someone was like, 'You need a MRI.'"
She added, "Then I found out on a Monday after work that I had MS. A disease that I'm going to have for the rest of my life. And then I started thinking about the last four years and I had very small symptoms."
The Married With Children star also emphasized the importance of paying attention to your body.
"We were on set, and I would go, 'Oh, I think I'm tired,'" she said. "So it presented itself a few years ago until it just got as bad as it did."