Why We’re Living for “Dead to Me” Star Linda Cardellini

Freak and geek out over her roles in “Legally Blonde,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Scooby-Doo.”

Death becomes Linda Cardellini.

In the two decades since her breakout performance as rebellious high schooler Lindsay Weir in the cult series Freaks and Geeks, Cardellini has shown serious range in dramas like ER, Mad Men, and Bloodline. Now, while scaring up supersized box office numbers with The Curse of La Llorona and Avengers: Endgame, she’s back to slay the small screen.

Dead to Me, a dark Netflix comedy from lesbian creator and executive producer Liz Feldman, stars Cardellini and Christina Applegate as women who form an unlikely friendship after meeting at a grief support group. But there’s no reason to mourn, because Cardellini always gives us life.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon

May I interrogate you like I’m Elle Woods and you’re Chutney Windham in Legally Blonde?

[Laughs] Sure. What a character that was, huh?

What do you remember about filming that iconic courtroom scene?

I remember that Raquel Welch, who played by mother, was on the witness stand before me. She had beautiful lighting, so I was happy I got to sit there after her testimony. But it didn’t really help. I saw that movie for the first time in a packed movie theater, and when I came onscreen, someone gasped and yelled, “Ew!” I mean, that’s what I was going for, but it still punches you in the gut to hear.

Was Chutney’s perm a wig?

No, that was my hair. I have very obedient hair that’ll do whatever you tell it to—it really takes a curl. But the curling iron was super hot and burned off part of my hair, so I had a very short piece sticking up in the front for a long time after that.

I hope Chutney’s back for Legally Blonde 3 and still in cahoots with Enrique, the gay pool boy.

I hope so, too! I’d really like that.

Legally Blonde/MGM

Congrats on the success of The Curse of La Llorona. You’re officially a scream queen.

I know! I love it. I’d never really done a jump-out-of-your-seat studio movie like this. I thought, well, why not now?

Your last horror flick was the 1998 indie Strangeland. Are you a fan of the genre?

Oh, I love the genre. I used to go to scary movies all the time when I was young, and La Llorona reminded me why they’re so much fun to watch. You go to the movie theater and have this shared experience with everyone sitting in the dark, adrenaline rushing, yelling out at the screen, screaming, and then laughing. It’s an event.

I’ve binged Dead to Me. Without spoiling anything, your character, Judy, has issues and secrets. What drew you to her?

Most of us have issues and secrets, don’t we? She’s a really fun character and so different than anyone else I’ve ever played. There’s a lot about Judy I relate to. She’s friendly, she tries to come from a good place, but she clearly makes a lot of mistakes. At first I thought I was nothing like Judy because she doesn’t have a drop of cynicism. But the more I played her, I realized there’s a lot of Judy in me, for better or worse.

Dead to Me/Netflix

Had you worked with Christina Applegate before?

No, we’d never met, but we just had this instant camaraderie. We sort of understood each other and bonded almost immediately, which worked out really well.

Judy and Jen remind me of a younger version of another codependent Netflix duo, Grace and Frankie. How would you describe their relationship?

It’s a very intimate relationship. It’s a little funny to say because they’re still keeping things from each other, but they’re also able to be honest with each other in a lot of ways. They really see each other.

In the pilot Judy and Jen watch The Facts of Life reruns, comparing themselves to Jo and Blair. Is that showrunner Liz Feldman’s way of hinting at romantic tension?

[Laughs] I don’t think it’s romantic, but we do see how intimate a female friendship can be. Their sisterhood is the female equivalent of a bromance. But who knows what’s going to happen? Liz is an incredibly creative, kind-hearted genius.

Are you aware of your LGBTQ audience?

Yeah, I’ve met some people who’ve told me how they feel about Velma and what it meant to them to see me play her in the Scooby-Doo movies. That was really nice.

Scooby Doo 2/Warner Bros Pictures

Did you know Velma was a lesbian icon when you shot Scooby-Doo?

I did know that, yeah. James Gunn wrote that script and it originally had a lot of funny stuff tackling that, but a lot of it got taken out of the movie. I had this whole scene where Velma got drunk, danced on a piano, ripped open her shirt, and had on this orange and red Cross Your Heart bra. I sang a love song, and at the end I pointed. Because she’s drunk, the point was right between Daphne and Fred, so they looked at each other and couldn’t figure out who I was pointing at. There was an ambiguity there that people felt from the cartoons. But I think that scene got cut because the studio didn’t want kids seeing Velma drunk.

Were you actively playing Velma with a queer subtext?

Oh, sure. She thought Daphne was very beautiful, and I think she probably had feelings for her. But I also think there were times she had mixed-up feelings about Fred, where she couldn’t decide if she liked him or maybe she was jealous of him.

Fans were upset to learn a kiss between you and Sarah Michelle Gellar was also filmed but cut. How has that footage not seen the light of day?

I don’t know! You’re absolutely right, though. It was during that scene where we all exchanged souls. I totally forgot about that.

Freaks and Geeks/NBC

Freaks and Geeks resonated with anyone who ever felt like a misfit, but young queer women particularly connected to Lindsay’s feminist spirit and tomboyish style.

Yeah, it’s amazing. That show definitely reached a lot of people, especially young women, gay and straight, because it really spoke to that feeling of independence at that age before the world clouds it by telling you what you should and shouldn’t be. Lindsay’s struggling, she’s still feeling out who she is, what she wants.

Boys came and went, but that show was arguably a love story about Lindsay and Kim, Busy Philipps’ character.

True, yeah, and it was also about what they brought out in each other, being totally opposite people.

You made a meal out of minimal screen time as Diana, jilted ex of Blake Lively’s character, in A Simple Favor. I related to Diana’s bitterness because I can hold a grudge forever.

Oh, me too. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but once you cross the line, especially if you hurt someone I love, then you’re, well, dead to me.

A Simple Favor/Lionsgate

Did you base your performance as Diana on anyone?

Not really. I did look up pictures of women with cool hairdos and beautiful tattoos, which inspired me a bit. But she was pretty easy to play, because who wouldn’t be in love with Blake Lively? And who wouldn’t be mad if she did what she did to them?

Speaking of lesbians, the internet often compares you to Ellen Page. Do you get mistaken for her?

Absolutely. I was actually chased down in Hawaii once by someone who then asked me if I was Ellen Page. I said, “No, I’m sorry, I’m not. But thank you! That’s a beautiful compliment!”

You starred in Green Book as Tony Lip’s wife, Dolores Vallelonga, who knows Dr. Don Shirley helped her husband write her love letters. Did she suspect Dr. Shirley was gay?

I think she might’ve, sure. It definitely wouldn’t have mattered to her. She was, by everyone’s account, a really beautiful, loving person, so I think she would’ve appreciated Dr. Shirley for exactly who he was.

Brokeback Mountain/Focus Features

Cassie, your character in Brokeback Mountain, had no gaydar: “I don’t get you, Ennis del Mar!”

I know, I know. She was ready to give him everything. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? Blaming yourself because somebody doesn’t love you? She couldn’t quite figure it out, but it had nothing to do with her. Bless her heart.

Did you know while filming Brokeback that you were a part of something special?

Oh, yeah. Ang Lee is one of my favorite directors. He’s so versatile and can really do anything. I remember auditioning for that role, doing different versions of the scenes, and just being so thrilled that I even got to be in a room with him. When I left, I was like, well, I’m never getting that part, but at least I got to be directed by Ang Lee for half an hour. Then I got it! Being in one of his films, especially with that cast, was amazing.

Have you ever dated a gay man?

God, I’ve certainly had crushes on them. I was in the theater department in college and had a lot of friends I didn’t know were gay at first, and then they’d come out of the closet later.

You return as Hawkeye’s wife, Laura Barton, in Avengers: Endgame. Jeremy Renner’s haircut has gotten a lot of attention. It seems unfair Laura didn’t get a matching new ’do.

I know, right? I think the mohawk looked great on Jeremy. I’m not sure I could rock it, but I’d sure love to try.
 

Dead to Me is now streaming on Netflix.

Celebrity interviewer. Foodie and Broadway buff in Manhattan. Hates writing bios.
@brandonvoss