For nearly as long as I’ve been alive, Linda Cardellini has been the patron saint of the odd girl out. When she graced our screens in 1999 as Freaks and Geeks’ Lindsay Weir, we weren’t ready for it: the show was swiftly canceled in 2000 after only 12 episodes had aired, and no one expected its legacy to continue past the season. In the two decades since then, though—as Freaks’ legion of admirers grew and grew—Cardellini has continued to bring Lindsay’s half-freak, half-geek energy to screens both big and small, from her “courtroom appearance” as Legally Blonde’s perennially-permed Chutney Windham to her recurring voice role as Regular Show’s angry cloud-lady CJ. At first glance, her role as Judy on Netflix’s Dead to Me would seem to have little in common with her generation-defining portrayal of Lindsay on Freaks, but on closer examination, it makes a kind of twisted sense: overreaching and desperate to please, Judy suggests the logical extrapolation of the life Lindsay rejected. (Also, yes, both shows have frighteningly devoted cult followings.) A few weeks after the season 2 premiere of Dead to Me, after Cardellini was done homeschooling her daughter for the day, I caught up with her over Zoom to talk about bingo cages, cutting her own bangs, and her number-one favorite multipurpose skincare product. Spoiler alert: you’ve probably got some under your sink right now.
How are you? How was homeschooling?
It’s got its challenges, that’s for sure. I think teachers should be paid a zillion dollars a year. How are you? Everybody healthy, everything okay?
Yes, I’m good. It helps that I don’t have to homeschool anyone. Have you and your family gotten into a rhythm as this has gone on?
It comes and goes. Sometimes I think I’ve got it under control, and then the next day something’ll come up and throw us off. My sleep habits were really good for a minute, and now I’m back to staying up too late and having to wake up early.
What does a typical day look like for you right now? Homeschool, obviously.
Yeah, we get up early and then the homeschool starts. My daughter’s only eight, so there’s a lot of hands-on stuff that has to happen. We have a dog and a fish and a snail, and we gotta feed everything, and then I’ve been doing a lot of these Zooms, which is an unusual twist because I don’t typically do anything from home. It’s turned out to be a bright spot, because the show has been something people have enjoyed.
The new season has really been such a source of comfort food for people.
Yeah, we hoped it would be in the best of times, and now that we’re going through hard times and people are still enjoying it, that makes us feel happy. Definitely, the goal is to entertain and for people to enjoy, and I have really relied on television and entertainment lately to take me away from certain moods and certain other things, so it’s nice that the show is doing that for some people.
What have you been watching?
I watch a lot of game shows, ‘cause I can watch them with my daughter. We’re big Wheel of Fortune, Price is Right, old-school game show watchers—it’s fun to watch the look of pure joy that is on someone’s face when they win something, and if you’ve been playing the game along with them, you feel as though somehow something has happened to you as well. That small burst of joy, I think, is really key. What else? We’ve started showing her movies that her dad and I used to love, so we watched E.T. last night, which is one of the first movies I remember seeing with my father. We watched The Princess Bride the other day, too. It’s nostalgic for us because we get to watch those things and also introduce them to our daughter, but sometimes when she’s not looking, I’ll be like, “Pay attention, this is my favorite movie!
You’ve had pretty much an entire career of being in movies and TV shows that are cult favorites, all the way from Freaks and Geeks through Legally Blonde and now Dead to Me.
Thank you for saying and noticing that. I feel like I’ve been really fortunate with the things that I’ve chosen and the people I’ve been able to work with, so if somebody else likes that on top of you going to work and just doing your job—I mean, Freaks and Geeks, we felt like nobody got to see it, and the idea that it’s still getting talked about today is phenomenal to us, because we felt like losers when we were canceled! So the idea of it being a cult favorite really makes me happy, because we were the freaks and geeks of the network television idea at that time, and they didn’t want us anymore. And we all loved what we were doing. When we were together on set, all of us in that group of people was so special, and they were different from everybody else you’d seen in every other movie and TV show at that time. And then we got canceled, and we were sad—there’s a picture of me where you can see I’d been hysterically crying on our last day, because we were so sad to leave the show and to leave each other. So the idea that it has the fandom and the place in people’s hearts that it does, I couldn’t be happier about that. I don’t care if somebody calls me Lindsay until I’m 90!
I think there’s a similar vibe with Dead to Me. It’s another project that feels like everyone who works on it is so in love with it. What drew you to the show in the first place?
The idea that it was coming so heavily from the female perspective was very exciting to me. Liz Feldman, our showrunner, is brilliant, and she’s also a really nice person. It’s female producers, female writers, it’s mostly female directors, and the fact that it’s coming from that perspective, I just thought, was evident and different and fresh. Also, it’s a show about two women in their 40s who are going through this traumatic grief, but it also happens to be darkly funny, and there are so many twists and turns, and I had never read anything like it. You expect it to be sort of like a sweet friendship story, and then you realize that it has so much more going on. When I first got the role, I thought, I don’t think I have anything in common with Judy, and then I slowly realized that I have a lot in common with Judy! [LAUGHS] She’s illogical by a lot of people’s standards. I’ve played a lot of people who go through their brains first, and Judy doesn’t do that—she goes through her body first. It seemed like a challenge that I was a little afraid of, so I thought, “I should do this.”
We talked about what your days are looking like lately. How is that different from the way your life normally looks?
I think meals have become more important—the prepping of them and the making and sharing of them. It’s good to be home and be with my family, and we’ve been able to eat 3 meals a day together for the first time, so that’s really nice. Puzzles and games have become very important, especially having a daughter. There’s been a lot of Connect-Four, some bartering of who gets to clean up what based on who wins Connect-Four. Did I talk about Zoom bingo?
No, you haven’t!
So my sister and her family call up and we play Zoom bingo with them. Everybody gets a bingo card, and they show it, and we have the bingo—I don’t know what you call that thing—
The bingo cage?
Yeah! We had that from my daughter’s birthday party, so we do that. And then we did a scavenger hunt with other friends where everybody ran around their house and showed everyone what they found, so that kind of stuff is fun because it keeps my daughter busy and connected. That’s the thing, is just trying to manage the anxiety and keep hopeful, especially when you have a young person in the house.
What are you doing for self-care and especially for your mental health right now?
Once I stop exercising and moving, I’ll just stay that way for a very long time—a body in motion stays in motion, a body at rest stays at rest. So sometimes I really have to motivate myself to move, and I’ll get really down if I’m not moving enough. Literally, my brain works better when I’m moving. I have a jump rope, and if I’m feeling low, I’ll make myself do jumping jacks. Also, we’ve sort of just started putting on music that we like and trying to dance, regardless of how silly you might feel, and it really helps. At the end of the night, I read to my daughter, which really calms us both and puts us in an alternate reality without having to turn on a screen. And I take baths—I think that helps a lot. I like Epsom salts.
How have your beauty habits changed since quarantine started?
I’ve been cutting my own bangs.
Really? They look amazing!
Thank you! Yeah, I feel like I’ve watched enough times when I’ve had them cut, so I was trying them out. And my daughter’s father, his mother is a hairstylist, so we have a real pair of scissors at our house that she’s left here. So I’ve been doing my own bangs, but it gets a little addicting and I’m afraid that eventually they’re just going to be super, super high like when I was a little kid. My face I keep sort of simple, because I have ultrasensitive skin, so I do Epicuren herbal cleanser and La Mer moisturizer and that’s pretty much my routine. You know what I use? Witch hazel, for everything. I love witch hazel. I use it as a cut or a bite, and sometimes I use it as astringent on my face.
Are there any habits or other things you picked up during quarantine that you’re keeping with you as things continue to change?
You know, for a long time I moved around a lot for work and sort of felt that my home was a base, but not a permanent one. It was a place that we came back to and then shot off to other places from. And now I really want to make everything feel like home. Home is more important to me than ever, restructuring that and making it work for everybody all of the time, ‘cause a lot of times I’d work on location and we’d all leave, and that’s not happening right now. We’re really settling into the place where we are at the moment and digging our roots in. So the idea of making home the homiest can be, and also the idea of eating as many meals together as possible—it can be nice to just shut everything down and be together for a minute, even when it feels like there’s been a lot of togetherness. Too much togetherness, even!
I feel like we’re all being forced to rethink how we do everything, because we’re being forced to sit with ourselves in a way that we haven’t done in a while. It’s interesting to see how people react to slowing down.
Yeah. And then sometimes at the end of the day I think, where did all those hours go? But homeschool really keeps you busy. You know, the list of things you think you would do if you had time on your hands and the actual number of things you can check off those lists is much smaller than you’d planned. It takes up a lot of mental energy just worrying about people and about an unknown future.
For a lot of people, it’s this weird juxtaposition of a suddenly placid day-to-day existence and this terrifying reason why that’s happening.
Something globally catastrophic, yeah. It tests your limits in a lot of ways. You know, everyone always talks about gratitude, and it’s very difficult—it’s not easy—but it turns out if you can stay grateful and present in those moments, it’s a little bit easier.