It's been almost a decade since Christina Applegate played the woman who won Ron Burgundy's heart in Anchorman. The sequel starts with the now married parents reading the national news in New York and juggling the demands of work and family.
Applegate found it easy to get back into the mind-set of her character Veronica Corningstone. The actress had a daughter, Sadie, in 2011, with Dutch musician Martyn LeNoble, whom she married in February of this year. She says, "The motherhood part and how that changes your priorities, and how it changes your drive, all of that is incredibly relatable to how I feel now that I'm a mum."
Not that the Los Angeles native had to think twice when the Anchorman 2: the Legend Continues script landed at her door. "The anticipation had been killing us all for the last 10 years. Whatever they gave me, I knew I would take it. In any case, whatever they give you changes anyway, because so much improvisation happens. So what they come up with in the script is so different after an hour on set."
She says that her main challenge of returning to the role was that, "I had the task of dealing with the character that has changed the most. So it was interesting to look at her, and go, right she is still the same person, but so much has happened to her as a woman and that changes you. Her success, motherhood, so I was trying to have that edge of Veronica, but knowing that her goal was not so much power any more, but love."
The past decade has thrown up many challenges for Applegate. The 42-year-old had breast cancer, saw her Broadway dreams derailed by injury and went through a divorce in 2007, splitting with her first husband Johnathon Schaech after six years of marriage. Her work life has fluctuated between periods of inactivity and critical praise. She was twice nominated for Emmys playing amnesia sufferer Samantha Newly in television sitcom Samantha Who?. Applegate has seen it all.
When Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy was released in 2004, Applegate was arguably the biggest star on the call sheet. Her career had started very early. Aged 10 she was an understudy on a John Cassavetes play, acting opposite Gena Rowlands. She was only 16 when she landed the role that made her famous, playing sexually active teenager Kelly Bundy on hit television show Married... with Children. In 2003 she won an Outstanding Guest Actress Emmy for her turn in Friends playing Rachel's sister, Amy. She had a much larger role in the original film than either Paul Rudd or Steve Carell, while Saturday Night Live's Will Ferrell's career was in the ascendancy following the success of Elf.
From today's viewpoint, Anchorman should have been the vehicle that took Applegate's fame and career into another stratosphere. But the film was only a moderate success when it first came out, receiving mixed notices from critics. It was on DVD that it developed the comedy classic status it holds today.
It seems that Applegate's movie career has been cursed with bad luck. She's always has more success on television. As to why this is, she says, "I don't know. After Anchorman came out, I chose to go to New York. I know a lot of people at that time told me 'this is really stupid. This is the time you have to stay here, keep pushing through this.' I said I want to go do Sweet Charity. It's a dream of mine, one of my favourite plays, one of my favourite shows. Then I came back to Los Angeles and didn't work for two years. It was by choice, a lot of it."
Her dad was a record producer and her mother a singer and actress, so the allure of Broadway was massive. Performing previews in Chicago, while awaiting the New York opening of the musical, Applegate broke her foot on stage: "I don't think disappointing is a word that can describe how awful that whole experience was, how sad it was. I'd been working so hard, dancing my butt off, and once it was broken, I could never do the show the way I had rehearsed it."
The exuberance of youth got the better of Applegate. When a doctor informed her he had never seen a bone heal so quickly, she decided that if she pushed herself she could do the show, even going so far as to helping raise financing when producers wanted to pull the plug. But once her dancing skills were compromised, she couldn't hide another problem: "I'm not musically inclined in any way shape or form. I faked my way through Broadway. Trust me on that. A lot of the reviews were 'her voice was just horrible'. I was a dancer and I would have loved to continue with dancing. I always thought that was what I was going to do, as a kid, dance on Broadway."
Returning to Los Angeles, she was frustrated by the female roles she was being offered and didn't work. "Then I lost my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] insurance and so I did a pilot, Samantha Who?. Then that was a success and I spent a couple of years doing that, but as for movies, I don't know why [there hasn't been more success]. I'm in other people's movies."
Applegate knew the value of health insurance having watched her mother go through cancer treatment. During the first season of Samantha Who? she was told that she had breast cancer. It was not life-threatening, but required a double mastectomy. "It was bittersweet. You know that you are caught early, but you still have to have surgery that leaves you different for the rest of your life. It's not an easy process. Even five and a half years later I'm still having some physical issues because of it. You are constantly reminded of it, every day, you wake up and think, yep, that happened to me."
Her priorities are focused on her family. She worked constantly for 18 months after her daughter was born, but is currently on a one-year sabbatical from work. "It's now about quality of work, not quantity. For me to take a role, it has to be good enough for me to leave my kid for a day."
She says her daughter is already showing signs of being a performer, but she is adamant that she will not become a child star. "I don't want that for Sadie, no," she states. "I think that if she chooses to be a performer, she can spend from now until she is 18, honing that and becoming good at it. I don't feel that it's a good idea for a young person to start getting money for a talent that is not honed. I don't want her to get stuck. I'm regretful that I didn't get to finish all the schooling that I could have had. Because a lot of child actors, historically, don't turn out great."
One part Applegate would definitely accept is a third Anchorman movie, which it seems would happen soon, if at all: "Oh my God, yeah. We wouldn't wait."
'Anchorman 2: the Legend Continues' opens nationwide today