Given her reputation for comedy, it’s hard to believe Christina Applegate came from a home where, she says, there wasn’t much humor. She only began to find the funny side of life after embarking on a successful career as a comedic actress, beginning with the long-running sitcom Married with Children, and continuing with hit movies such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Applegate currently stars in the NBC comedy Up All Night, about a first-time mom of a young baby dealing with the challenges of parenting as she returns to work. It’s a singularly appropriate role for Applegate, 40, who welcomed new daughter Sadie Grace LeNoble into her life in January 2011 with her fiancé, musician Martyn LeNoble. As she revealed when she spoke with Parent & Child, the wonder of having a wee one in the house has continued her evolution toward joy and brought her family closer.
Parent & Child: It’s amazing how much your role on Up All Night is similar to your own life right now. When you read a script, do you ever think, “That just happened to me?”
Christina Applegate: I often do! The show is written by parents — three of our writers have 2-year-olds. It’s not just about babies; it’s also about relationships and going back to work. The show’s creator, Emily Spivey, based it on her own experience of going back to [her writing job on] Saturday Night Live after having her child. It’s incredibly similar to my life, as well.
P&C: Do funny moments from your life ever end up on the show?
Applegate: Absolutely. For instance, the birth episode included a lot of what I actually experienced. I didn’t mention this to anyone else while it was going on, but I turned pushing into a competition. In the back of my head, I needed to be the person who pushed a baby out the fastest in history. Another thing was the mirror. What you see on the show is exactly how it happened. I’d wanted a mirror to see the delivery. The mirror came in, and Martyn and I both screamed, and the mirror went out! Then there was the headband obsession. I had seen a show where someone said the one thing a mom should bring to her delivery was a headband. This woman said, “People are going to be taking a lot of pictures of you with your new baby, and if you have a headband, at least your hair’s not going to be so matted looking.”
P&C: Sadie turned 1 in January. What is she up to?
Applegate: She makes me laugh every day — she’s a funny little kid and a happy girl. She’ll stand on a little box in our room and press her musical bear until she finds the song she wants. Then she grooves, dances, and stomps around for 20 minutes. She has the best time all by herself. Martyn and I love watching that — it makes us laugh really hard.
P&C: Is she funny like you or musical like Martyn?
Applegate: A lot of both, because she sees her daddy with guitars playing music for her, and then she sees Mommy being ridiculous at home. She’s sort of an amalgamation of the two of us. But then she has her own things, too. She’s very independent.
P&C: You’ve described yourself as a “tough” kid. Can you elaborate?
Applegate: My mom was dealing with being a single parent, and there wasn’t a lot of humor at home. To be honest, I learned humor from Katey [Sagal] and Ed [O’Neill] when I started working on Married with Children. They are very funny people. Before that, I was pretty serious. I think that’s why they hired me for that show. They wanted tough.
P&C: And now, humor is not only part of your professional life, but your life as a mom, too. What do you do to make Sadie laugh?
Applegate: I talk to her in silly voices. She loves it when I imitate a monkey — she starts imitating a monkey, too. Every day there’s something different that she thinks is hysterical. And you try to use it again and again, but then by the third time, she doesn’t find it funny anymore. So we’re constantly trying to invent new ways to make her laugh.
P&C: How is making your daughter laugh different from making your adult audiences laugh?
Applegate: Sadie is a much harder critic than the public.
P&C: You signed on to do Up All Night when Sadie was just six weeks old. Was that a hard decision?
Applegate: In hindsight, I don’t know if I would have started again so early, because there are a lot of hours away from her. It’s been very difficult for me.
P&C: Your co-stars, Maya Rudolph and Will Arnett, have young children, too. Do you talk about your kids?
Applegate: Of course! We’re always showing each other our videos. What’s nice is that none of us sit there and think, “Oh no, they’re showing videos again.” We all love each other’s kids, so we’re enthusiastic. If Will shows us his son walking for the first time, we’re excited and supportive.
P&C: What is it like working with so many funny people on Up All Night? Do you play pranks on each other?
Applegate: There’s a chicken that comes out for birthdays. It’s a person in a chicken suit. And the person in the chicken suit is ... me. It’s a tradition. I dress up in the suit, and I come out and dance to music. It was originally supposed to be a secret who the person was, but then someone let the cat out of the bag. So I started getting other crew members to put the chicken suit on and do the dancing so that it became the mystery chicken. Now, here’s the best part: For my 40th birthday [last November 25], they brought out a cake, and it had a picture of me in the chicken suit on it. Then, six chickens came out dancing from every side of the stage. Those crew members had been working for weeks on their dance number. All of a sudden, a little tiny chicken came out, and it was Sadie! It was fantastic.
P&C: So Sadie has her own chicken suit now — she really is a chip off the old block! Or, I should say she’s a chick off the old block.
Applegate: (laughs) She is. She’s her mama’s baby.
PLUS: Go behind the scenes of our April Fools' photo shoot at P.S. 51 in New York City!
Find out which books influenced Christina Applegate's life on Scholastic's You Are What You Read website. (Some of them even made it to our 100 Greatest Books for Kids list!) Then, create your own "bookprint" of stories that made a difference to you — for each bookprint created, Scholastic will donate one book to Reach Out and Read.
Sarah Jane Brian is the editor of Scholastic Action magazine. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
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Photos, from top: Andrew Macpherson/Corbis Outline; Jeff Vespa