Sliding beer mugs and drinking on the job, Christina Applegate and Ted Danson look back
Christina Applegate in "Dead to Me" and Ted Danson in "The Good Place". (Netflix / NBC)
In the world of television, nobody can really say which shows get into the cultural bloodstream and which will never break the skin. But showrunners know that familiar casting can be insurance against failures, an allusion to viewers that a series is worth a visit. There are not many players in the business with this seal of approval, but their repeated ability to get audiences to tune in is gold for networks.
Ted Danson and Christina Applegate are two of the most reliable players in the industry. Both have managed to maintain a successful career on small screens for four decades and to improve every series that touches them (as the main character and as guest stars), while receiving awards for their consistently committed work. Together they received 21 Emmy nominations and three wins.
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Here, the two ponder their favorite moments, the lessons they have learned and some highlights from decades of life in front of the camera.
Ted Danson, "The Good Place"
A favorite scene to film: "Cheers" did a bar trick where you push a beer to the person who ordered it, but the beer actually turned the corner and landed right in front of the guy. There was this tiny piece of filament tied to the handle so I could slide it down and then take it around the curve. We practiced that a lot.
Something new that “The Good Place” allowed you to ...
Play a demon. [laughs] The part was just old-fashioned because it was almost like making Shakespeare. It was a very elevated style, a very elevated language, so I had to work my butt off to pull it off. It was challenging and fun, but it was very similar to playing a little bit of morality every week.
Career high: I don't like the word "career" because it always feels like you should find it in an obituary. I’m Pollyanna. I'm always excited to see what happens next. I would have been very much at home in the studio contract player system of the 40s and 50s. I am very happy to receive the script and say "Here's what you do next" and off we go to put on a cowboy hat.
Career deep: To this day I have a panic attack at least once a year. But the worst low is probably every scene I've ever made with Larry David.
What fans want to talk about most: It's funny when you walk through an airport, you can always tell who shows up because of "CSI" or "Cheers". But lately, it was the teenagers who just wanted to talk about "The Good Place". I'm so happy. Writing is so smart. It's really about how to live a purposeful life, how to be ethical and know that your actions have ramifications. It's really about something. It doesn't speak to anyone, it speaks to people.
Develop an award you deserve to make it this far: The award If I can, anyone can do it.
The key to longevity and survival: I like going to work. I love driving through a studio engine. I love this industry. I am proud to be an actor. It can be an important job if done correctly. I think that probably helps. And then ["Cheers" co-creator] Jimmy Burrows always said, "One of the truisms in this business is that the longer you are on TV, the longer you are on TV." At some point I realized: just find the most creative people in the room, kindly ask them if you can be part of what they're doing, and you'll have a chance to be in something authentic.
Christina Applegate, "Dead for me"
A favorite scene to film: I had a lot of fun with "Samantha Who?" This cast was a very special group of people. One evening we were all in a car scene - Jennifer Esposito, Melissa [McCarthy] and I - and decided to have a glass of wine. The three of us started to improvise and the crew watched how we only had mental failures. But we laughed so hard. We always knew that Melissa would be a huge star.
Earliest memory of the set: I was 9. I remember being on the set of a commercial and we should all be at a pajama party. All the other kids were crazy and I literally slept through two hours of lighting. They said, "I think you feel most comfortable here." Since then, I usually fall asleep when I have a scene where I'm in a bed and I'm supposed to sleep.
Career climax: I think ["Dead to Me"] because it touched a lot of people. I was on things that half the people hate and half the people love. I've never been to anything where people go: "That makes me have all the feelings." It is raw, it is human.
Career low: I never really felt that way. I had hits and mistakes, but I'm a kind of traveling person, not an end result. As soon as I leave, it no longer belongs to me and it doesn't matter anymore.
Something new that "Dead to Me" enables you to do: if you're in a straightforward comedy, timing matters and you have to maintain your energy, you have to stay in this pocket. It can be exhausting. And with that everything was taken away from me as a person and as an actor. Going to the darkest places where you can be funny is incredibly challenging, but it feels good. On some days, I cried hysterically 50 times in a row.
Think of an award you deserve to make it this far: the actress who hasn't completely lost her mind. [cackling] How did not quite.
The key to longevity and survival: I always make this joke: "The key to longevity is mediocre success." [laughs] You can't get that brass ring, man. You have to stay down and just keep going. It's about the trajectory. I feel like I've been able to maintain that level - I don't want to say "mediocrity" - we'll hit it right here. It stays here.
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