Linda Cardellini on Friendship, ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ and Her Love of Game Shows

Linda Cardellini at premiere
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Linda Cardellini, the co-star and a producer of Netflix’s Dead to Me talks about dating your friends, her lifelong love of game shows, and the likelihood of a Freaks and Geeks reboot.

Men’s Journal: Dead to Me is about grief, friendship, and what we’re willing to forgive. Your character hits it off right away with Christina Applegate’s, and they become inseparable. Do you find friendship to be that intense in real life?

Linda Cardellini: I think it’s representational of female friendship. Female friendship is messy. That best friend is the first to tell you you’re messy, but also, if somebody else calls you crazy or messy, they’re the first to defend you. I think female friendships are like family. We’re pretty open about crying, we’re pretty open about anger, and that open communication is what any relationship relies on.

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Do you feel the same way about friendships with men?

With a male/female relationship, there can be some guarding going on. I do love my male friends, though, because I can run anything by them and get a different perspective. They’re good at looking at all angles of the situation. I still have the friends I’ve had since kindergarten. Even my significant other—I’ve known him since I was 10.

How did it go from friends to romance?

I don’t really dabble with my male friends because you’ve got to be careful—it will get serious real fast. This seemed like something worth crossing that line for. So we did, and I thought, Well, this is good. This is serious. This is it.

You’ve had an unusual career arc: You’re in your 40s but are just now starting to be cast in leading roles. What’s that been like?

This is the golden era of TV and streaming content, so there are roles that weren’t explored before. When I first started, people would say, “Once you’re a certain age, over 30 or over 40, there’s nothing there.” That’s terrifying. But the business has changed—because there is more content, there’s more room for underrepresented voices and roles that aren’t just for the bright, new, shiny object.

I LOVE WHAT I DO AND CONSTANTLY WORK HARDER TO BE BETTER AT IT—IT’S AS IF IT WERE A SPORT.

Your big break was on Judd Apatow’s cult favorite Freaks and Geeks more than 20 years ago. What do you think has kept you working, versus struggling the way many other child performers have?

I love what I do and constantly work harder to be better at it—it’s as if it were a sport. A lot of it has to do with resilience and perseverance, which is an interesting mix for a creative person. You have to be vulnerable in so many ways, but you also have to have a thick skin, and those two things are in contrast to each other.

Where do you fall on that vulnerable-versus-thick skin continuum?

As a child, I was always told that I was overly sensitive. But the thing that I thought was wrong with me actually became the thing that made me capable of doing what I love. I have learned that sometimes your weakness can actually be a strength.

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Reboots and reunions are so popular right now. Could you see reuniting for a Freaks and Geeks where-are-they-now?

Never say never, but it would be a hard one to revisit because so much of that show was about the bittersweet discomfort of being in high school. Once you’re beyond that moment, you realize all those things that you thought were so important aren’t that important, and that the world is so much bigger than your small school. But if everybody signed on, I would love to get back together.

I can’t let you go without asking about this: You once won a fireplace on The Price Is Right?

The first thing I did when I got to Los Angeles was to wait outside all morning to be on The Price Is Right. I was so nervous, but I won a gas fireplace mantle. I was in college living in a dorm, and I didn’t need it at all, but I chose that over the cash value. I had it for years and years, but the funny thing is, I actually lost it in a fire at my storage facility. So yeah, I lost my fireplace in a fire. But I love The Price Is Right—I still watch it. I also watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! I like a good gamble.

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