Christina Applegate can't walk without a cane and gained 40 pounds after MS diagnosis: 'I want people to know that I am very aware of all of that'

25th Critics Choice Awards - Arrivals - Santa Monica, California, U.S., January 12, 2020 - Christina Applegate. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Christina Applegate is opening up about her MS diagnosis. (Photo: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

Christina Applegate says making the third and final season of Dead to Me after her multiple sclerosis diagnosis is the hardest thing she's ever done.

The 50-year-old actress also known for Married With Children and Anchorman was diagnosed with the disease of the central nervous system, which interrupts the flow of information within the brain as well as between the brain and body, while in production on the final season of the Netflix show in the summer of 2021. The show took a five month pause so she could start treatment. She told the New York Times in a new interview that coming back and pushing through to the end took a lot.

"I had an obligation" to finish telling the story, which has earned her two Emmy nominations, Applegate said. "The powers that be were like, 'Let’s just stop. We don’t need to finish it. Let's put a few episodes together [with previously recorded footage]. I said, 'No. We’re going to do it, but we’re going to do it on my terms.'"

Applegate had to bend to establish those terms as a seasoned actress since she was in kindergarten. Because the truth was that she could no longer do what she had always done.

When they paused production, "There was the sense of, 'Well, let’s get her some medicine so she can get better,'" she said. "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 didn't find acceptance either. "No. I’m never going to accept this. I’m pissed," she said.

When she returned to the set of the dark comedy, her mobility had declined. She needed a wheelchair to get to set. She had trouble navigating the steps to her trailer. Her body gave out while filming, especially in the heat. A sound technician had to hold up her legs, out of camera range, to get shots. She could no longer film establishing shots showing her walking into a room because she couldn't do it unassisted. She would have to open doors in scenes just to lean against them to keep her up.

With the final season dropping on Netflix on Nov. 17, Applegate said, "This is the first time anyone’s going to see me the way I am. 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."

Applegate, a mom of one, isn't sure she'll ever watch the final season, saying it's too painful. But she wanted to complete it for her co-star Linda Cardellini, who has become a close friend and took on the role of advocate on the set, as well as show creator Liz Feldman.

"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," Applegate said. "I’m sure that people are going to be, like, ‘I can’t get past it.' Fine, don’t get past it, then. But hopefully people can get past it and just enjoy the ride and say goodbye to these two girls."

Applegate and Cardellini became fast friends playing Jen and Judy, whose on-screen relationship is complicated — an unlikely bond between a widow and the woman who accidentally killed her husband. In an extra unfortunate twist, this season sees Applegate's character dealing with illness, making it especially hard. The storyline was crafted before her diagnosis and some scenes just "crushed them" to do.

Applegate praised Cardellini, calling her "my champion, my warrior, my voice" and a "mama bear" on the set as she worked through her lowest moments. For her part, Cardellini said she "just wanted the best for the person that I love and care about and have the honor to work with."

On social media, Applegate shared photos this week of her new array of walking sticks, which she called her new normal.

She told the NYT that looking back to before her diagnosis, there were signs of the disease. She talked about being off-balance while shooting a dance scene, and her tennis game was off. She recalled being self-critical, thinking she just needed to work harder, a mindset she's had her whole life with a successful career spanning decades.

"I wish I had paid attention," she said. "But who was I to know?"