- Christina Applegate stars in Netflix's latest hit, Dead to Me.
- The actress is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series at the 2019 Primetime Emmys.
- Earlier this year, the 47-year-old actress spoke about why she wanted her character's storyline to include a double mastectomy.
Netflix calls Dead to Me, the new original series starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, a "traumedy" (a.k.a. a show that is equally traumatic and comedic) — and, well, that's the best way to describe the type of pain — both good and bad — viewers face when watching the show's first season. In case you need a refresh: The dark comedy follows Jen (played by Applegate) and Judy (played by Cardellini) after they meet at a grief support group. The unlikely pair instantly become friends and within no time plenty of drama/pain/laughter ensues.
Although Applegate was interested in playing Jen, she felt her character was too tough to crack. "I needed to find something that gave Jen a vulnerability because I felt like — OK so she is hard, she’s angry, she’s a rattlesnake that got stepped on," she told Vanity Fair. Her solution? She asked the show's creator Liz Feldman if her character could have a double mastectomy. Feldman agreed.
Here's how it plays out: In the show's fourth episode, Jen tells Judy that she had a double mastectomy after her mother died of breast cancer. "I have the gene," she confessed. "I didn’t want my kids to lose their mom like I did mine." Later on in the series, Jen admitted that she thought her double mastectomy ultimately killed her husband. "He made me feel so disgusting and I was just so resentful. That night it got heated and I hit him. The last thing I did before he walked out that door was hit him," she said. Next, came the most heartbreaking moment of the entire season: "I killed him. I keep trying to find the person to blame and I drove him away," Jen cried to Judy.
The reason why Applegate felt so compelled to tell this story is because it hits close to home: After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, the then 36-year-old actress had a double mastectomy. "I don’t think there’s a lot of characters out there with double mastectomies," she told USA Today. "But I went through it, and it’s a horribly painful process – emotionally, spiritually, physically – and I never really talked about it. I thought this was my chance to tell a little bit about me, but also all the women that have gone through that."
In fact, her character's dialogue with Judy came from a conversation in Applegate's real life. "That speech came from a conversation I had. And so every time I would get to that part, my body would start shaking. The word 'disgusting' triggered a lot inside of my heart," she told Vanity Fair. Even though the actress has been cancer-free for 10 years, she thinks about her experience every single day. "Girls who go through this, we say to each other, 'Yep, it’s been 10 years,' but you’re never not aware that that’s something you’ve been through," she told USA Today. "Everything looks different. You have to shower and you’re like, 'Oh, there they are. That happened.'"
As for the impact that this storyline will have on viewers, the actress accepts that their response is a "personal choice." The only thing she wants is for viewers — cancer survivors, especially — to say, "'Wow, I felt that way, too, and I’m going to be OK.'" Why? "Because you will. It’s OK to admit that you feel that way."
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