"I love playing women on the verge," says actress Christina Applegate, who created a name for herself with the character of Kelly Bundy, but who, at 30, couldn't be more unlike the vacuous vamp who captivated American teenage boys for 10 years on Married...with Children. Composed, thoughtful and self-confident, the newlywed Applegate (she married her longtime beau, actor Johnathon Schaech, in October 2001) has been busily employed with supporting roles in upcoming feature films, including The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz and A View from the Top with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Right now she's free-associating about her dream role, and you might be surprised by what she comes up with. "Halle Berry in Monster's Ball '- I think that any actress would want to just attack that, and what a wonderful, wonderful story...what a wonderful character. And Sophie's Choice is one of my favorite movies. Those are the women who inspired me. And Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf '- Elizabeth Taylor's character in that '- to be one of these wonderful, powerful women, but powerful in their own way."
While she has yet to land that dream role, Applegate has more experience in show business than most. As a child actress (at five months old she appeared in a Playtex Nursers commercial; at four she shilled for Kmart), her early gigs in TV sitcoms, teleplays and teen features helped keep her and her mom, struggling singer-actress Nancy Priddy, afloat in Los Angeles after her parents split; her dad is record producer Robert Applegate. She quit school at 17, a decision she now regrets, but Applegate's acting career has always been rock-steady and is gaining momentum now in more high-profile projects.
Playing Christina Walters's (Diaz) best friend, Courtney, in The Sweetest Thing was a no-brainer for the actress, even though the two had never met. "We really lucked out with each other," says Applegate. "It was like, Oh, okay. Where have you been? 'Cause you're like my counterpart. And it just felt so comfortable and it was so right and so easy.
"When I watched the movie, it was the first time I've seen myself, or anything I've done, where I didn't really see myself anymore. I was just able to enjoy these women just having a good time together. So it was kind of a testament to that, our friendship, I suppose, and to the writing as well."
The girl-buddy slapstick comedy about one woman's dogged pursuit of Mr. Right was penned by South Park scribe Nancy Pimental and directed by Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions), who encouraged his cast to push the limits of the script.
"What was wonderful about our director was that he would let us just go as long as we wanted to go with something," says Applegate. "There was a lot of ad-libbing; there's something in every scene. I think that I drove the script supervisor completely mad because I was always adding something, changing something."
While Diaz's character in the film eyes her true love in a club, Applegate allows that it's an unlikely scenario. "You can go to a club to find somebody for that moment, but I don't think you go to a club to find your husband," she says. "Before I met my husband, the singles scene, the dating scene...it just makes me want to vomit. It's so horribly lonely. I really didn't like it. But you have to go through a bunch of turkeys in order to find the right one."
Playing a single mom on her own sitcom, Jesse (1998 to 2000), hit home on Applegate's hope for a long-lasting marriage. "We're best friends," she says of her husband. "And that spark is always there. I can't wait to see him, even though I saw him a few hours ago." The couple even got to work together in The Sweetest Thing; Kumble asked Schaech to appear in a small role as a cool motorcycle-driving dude who catches Courtney's eye.
"That was a tough casting job," jokes the actress. "It was pretty nice, because I had to kiss him and everything, so [Roger] thought, Hey, I'll make it comfortable. I'll get your man in here."
Still in search of that dream role, Applegate is content to bask in the glow of her new marriage. "Right now I'm just trying to decide what I'm going to do next," says the actress, who can next be seen in A View from the Top as a flight attendant who goes through training with Gwyneth Paltrow's character and becomes her best friend. "The last two films that I've done I've played the brunette best friend," she notes, adding with a mischievous grin, "So maybe I'll be a blonde best friend or maybe not a best friend at all...maybe I'll be an evil friend."