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What ‘Dead to Me’ Taught Linda Cardellini About Grief: ‘No Matter How Much You Love, You Will Lose’

TheWrap Emmy magazine: Actress who plays Judy Hale also says the popular Netflix show taught her a lot about female friendships

(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you have not seen the second season of “Dead to Me.”) A version of this story about Linda Cardellini first appeared in the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine

In “Dead to Me,” star Linda Cardellini plays Judy Hale, a woman who is caring, thoughtful and kind–shockingly so, given that she suffered a few miscarriages, had to live in her car for a year and experienced a couple of unexpected deaths, including the loss of her partner. And after two seasons on the Netflix show, Cardellini said she learned quite a bit about herself by playing the character.

“You are always learning things, especially when it’s emotional, because you can’t help but go back to things that make you that emotional,” she said. “It really taps into the moments of grief I’ve had throughout my life. Nobody escapes this life without a healthy dose of grief — no matter how much you love, you will lose.

“This show also reminds me of how much I value my friends. Judy is a person who likes to see the best in people even if it’s not there. And I think that’s the one thing she has going for herself in some ways, but it’s also the thing that hurts her.”

Season 1 ended with a cliffhanger in which we saw Judy’s partner Steve (played by James Marsden) floating dead in a swimming pool. Season 2 picks up right where we left off, with Judy and her best friend Jen (Christina Applegate) trying to figure out the best way to put their differences aside and deal with the dead body.

“The show is so gut-wrenching emotionally that being put back there, you have an emotional memory of the crying,” Cardellini said. “But because it’s written so well, it makes it easier for us to get back into that. When we are standing at the pool and there are flashbacks of how we get him out of the pool, that part was incredibly emotional.”

At the forefront of the show is the friendship between Jen and Judy — a friendship that is extremely complicated and twisted and raw, yet beautiful and supportive. The fact that the show was mostly written, directed and produced by women is why Cardellini thinks the true beauty of a female friendship can shine through.

“The friendship gets very challenged in so many different ways, and I think that these characters are sketched so beautifully — they are so different but they need each other so much, and now more than ever I think that adds to the friendship. Female friendship told from the female perspective, it’s just a different way of seeing it than it has been traditionally seen on screen.”

While she admires the show’s writing, Cardellini said that some of her favorite moments were unscripted ones.

“When Judy loses it in the closet in the first episode and I start eating the pudding, that was really fun because that wasn’t planned,” she said. “I saw the pudding and I was like, ‘Oh, Judy must be really hungry.’ I did it to make the crew laugh and then they wanted to keep it. That kind of stuff is fun to find. I also love when Christina and I riff with each other — I never have gotten to do that much so much with a partner, especially with a female partner on screen. I’ve been able to improv quite a bit throughout my career, but to be able to do that with Christina, we don’t only improv comedically, we also do dramatically, so it’s really fun.”

And in Season 2, while the ladies move through grief and pain and the death of Steve, Judy finds herself seeking solace in a new romance with a woman.

“I love the way the show handled it — that’s all Liz Feldman and her vision. When Michelle (Natalie Morales) comes into the story, you get a glimpse of what (Judy’s) life could be like if she wasn’t carrying around all these secrets. There’s a beautiful relationship waiting for her, someone who accepts and loves her and can help take care of her instead of her trying to take care of everybody else. She chooses complicated things because she doesn’t feel the right to love herself because of all the things she’s done. The relationship between her and Michelle is a really beautiful moment where Judy is able to breathe.”

Read more from the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap Emmy magazine.

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