“Dead to Me” is full of twists and turns, but perhaps the greatest — and most important — one it has pulled off is making you root for two people, Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini), who arguably, on paper, probably should not be friends. After all, Judy killed Jen’s husband in a hit-and-run and then infiltrated her life, and then Jen killed Judy’s ex-fiancé Steve (James Marsden) — not to mention all knots of lying, secrets, grief and trauma in between.
“That is the funny part of the show: You are rooting for these two people because you love the relationship, but it’s sort of a foundation of lies in both seasons for various reasons. That relationship is fraught with lots of different things in it too,” Cardellini told Gold Derby (watch above), adding that it was vital to meet Judy’s incarcerated mother Eleanor (Katey Sagal) in the second season to understand Judy’s approach to relationships. “You realize why Judy never sort of really felt the love. She was never able to feel truly loved because she was never loved by her mom. I think she’s still looking for that and she also blames herself for sort of landing her mother in jail. So there’s a lot of guilt and shame and lack of love there, and I think she carries that into every relationship. … She sorta turns towards more complicated relationships that tend to be a little dangerous.”
Despite — or because of — her tumultuous upbringing, Judy is full love to give, always trying to do the right thing and make people feel good and happy. That type of optimism, though anchored by pain, was a departure for the Emmy nominee (for her guest turn on “Mad Men”) to play, as Judy just buries her rage within. “She’s very buoyant person and she’s not able to get angry, which is something I had to wrap my mind around because it’s very easy when you’re acting,” Cardellini explained. “It’s fun to get locked in with people and go back and forth, and Judy, instead, steps back or says, ‘Sorry.’ So as an actor, that’s been a really fun thing to play because it’s different from your typical knee-jerk reaction to when somebody attacks you or says something you don’t like. And she, instead, turns that into self-loathing. [That’s] the choice we made.”
Judy does get to finally unleash that lifetime of anger she’s been bottling up in the penultimate episode of the sophomore installment. After Jen confesses that she didn’t kill Steve in self-defense and dresses down Judy by telling her she gets off on abusive relationships, Judy storms into her car, where, blocked by Jen, she lets out a primal, cathartic scream.
“That’s one of the hardest scenes, for sure, of the whole series and one of my favorites because of that too. I have no better partner than Christina. I’m so lucky. She’s so wonderful and so good, and to go back and forth with her. We hold each other up when we need it and we battle each other when we need it. And we go and we hug and we cry it out after the scene,” Cardellini shared. “The shoe is on the other foot for Judy this time — all the information coming at once. And for somebody who can’t sort of stand up for herself against attacks, to have to take it in, and try to figure out what to do with it, it leads to this eruption that has been inside of Judy for a long time that she’s been holding back for, what we’ve seen two seasons, but probably for a lifetime for her of hurt and pain and shame and all of those things.”
She added: “It’s a great scene the way they wrote it, and Christina and I did it so many different ways on the day. We have been written these two wonderful roles and they don’t come along that often, and so it’s a joy to play that material even though it’s hard and it’s not actually a joyous experience when you’re doing it. But it’s truly wonderful material that we’re given to do, and it’s very rare to get that kind of material.”
The season ends with Jen and Judy in a better place relationship-wise, but not so much physically after a drunk Ben (Marsden) crashes into their car upon finding out his twin is dead. “I always say whatever I can think of, Liz [Feldman, the creator] always comes up with something a million times better, and the writers,” Cardellini mused about Season 3, which has not yet been ordered. “You think you know where they’re going and they take another turn and you didn’t see it coming. I’m excited to find out.”
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