“This is the first time anyone’s going to see me the way I am,” she said.

When Christina Applegate looks back, she can recognize the signs. Filming a dance sequence during the first season of the Netflix wine-mom dramedy she found herself off balance. Later, her tennis game began to falter.

At the time, Applegate, an actress with an aversion to special pleading, didn’t make excuses. She had to work harder, she told herself. She had to try again.

“I wish I had paid attention,” she said during a recent video call from her home in Los Angeles. “But who was I to know?”

"Over several years, the tingling and numbness in her extremities grew worse. And in the summer of 2021, on set for the third and final season of “Dead to Me,” she received a diagnosis. She had multiple sclerosis,
an autoimmune disease that disrupts communication between the brain and body. Production shut down for about five months as she began treatment.

“There was the sense of, ‘Well, let’s get her some medicine so she can get better,’” Applegate, 50, recalled. “And there is no better. But it was good for me. I needed to process my loss of my life, my loss of that part of me. So I needed that time.”

“Although it’s not like I came on the other side of it, like, ‘Woohoo, I’m totally fine,’” she added. “Acceptance? No. I’m never going to accept this. I’m pissed.”
"This was on a recent morning. Applegate was sitting up in bed — her happy place, where she watches reality television. (“That’s my meditation,” she said.) She had pulled her hair into a scrappy bun. Black glasses sat astride her nose. And her resting face did have a certain indignant quality."

“This is the first time anyone’s going to see me the way I am,” she said. “I put on 40 pounds; I can’t walk without a cane. I want people to know that I am very aware of all of that.

"In truth, her illness is nearly invisible onscreen — a feat of savvy blocking and Applegate’s talent and resolve. Still, she wanted to offer context.

Applegate has been acting since infancy. Growing up in Los Angeles as the daughter of an actress, she joined the Screen Actors Guild in kindergarten and has rarely been offscreen since. After appearing in commercials and soaps as a child, Applegate broke out as a teenage sexpot on the long-running Fox sitcom
then won an Emmy for her work on “Friends.” Other starring roles included the sitcoms “Up All Night” and “Samantha Who?” as well as the “Anchorman” movies. If her beachy looks sometimes disguised her craft, that craft has always been there, as has her ethos, a sparky combination of spiky, dizzy and no-nonsense.

She began acting as a child and has worked steadily since. Applegate was still discovering her own limitations and because she prides herself on self-sufficiency, on never asking a crew member for something she could get, do or find herself.“No one would ever call her a diva; no one would ever call her high maintenance,” McKay said.

“She’s no pushover, but that’s not her thing.”

"Now she found that she couldn’t work as hard or as long or in heat without her body giving out. She struggled walking down the stairs of her trailer. A wheelchair took her to set. During some scenes, Mitch B. Cohn, a sound technician and longtime friend, would be on the floor, out of the camera’s range, holding up her legs. Some days she couldn’t come to work at all.

"Changes to the script were rarely necessary, though there were some adjustments in blocking. Jen had to be the one to open doors so that she could lean against them, and there are fewer establishing shots of her walking into rooms.
In a terrible coincidence, much of this final season, written long before Applegate received her diagnosis, concerns illness, which made some scenes particularly hard.

“When Linda and I would do those scenes, it crushed us sometimes,” Applegate said. But Cardellini was also her advocate. “She was my champion, my warrior, my voice,” she said. When Applegate hesitated to ask for a break or when she wasn’t heard, Cardellini stepped in. “It was like having a mama bear,” Applegate added."
Cardellini resisted taking too much credit for this. “I just wanted the best for the person that I love and care about and have the honor to work with,” she said.

Applegate said that finishing the series was the hardest thing that she has ever done. But the shoot had moments of grace, too. She couldn’t fall apart on set, at least not until a scene required it. And the love and support of the crew cheered her."

"Besides, she wanted to make sure that the story received the send-off it deserved, even though she doesn’t think she will ever watch this season. She finds it too painful. She worries about what viewers will think of it, but only up to a point."

"If people hate it, if people love it, if all they can concentrate on is, ‘Ooh, look at the cripple,’ that’s not up to me,” she said. “I’m sure that people are going to be, like, ‘I can’t get past it.’”

“Fine, don’t get past it, then,” she continued. “But hopefully people get past it and just enjoy the ride and say goodbye to these two girls


John McNamara