By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Comedian Christina Applegate was part of TV’s most dysfunctional family —the Bundys—on the popular sitcom “Married With Children” for more than a decade. As the sexy, ditsy daughter Kelly Bundy on that series, Applegate was every male’s teen fantasy girl. She now joins another iconic pop culture family—the Griswolds—in a continuation of the ‘80s movie franchise that starred Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in an all-new “Vacation.”
Applegate, 43, plays Debbie Griswold, wife of Rusty (played by “The Hangover” star Ed Helms), who has survived various childhood vacation mishaps with his parents and sister to become a regional airline pilot, who puts his family ahead of career. After years of taking his wife and two school-age sons on vacation to the same Michigan cabin, Rusty decides to treat them to a cross-country road trip.
Their destination? The amusement park Walley World, the same destination his father picked out with the same dogged determination years earlier. While Rusty’s family initially isn’t keen about packing into a rented Albanian SUV with cup holders on the outside and indiscernible buttons, they slowly begin to enjoy some family bonding as problems seem to follow them, not to mention an angry trucker.
Along the way, they take a detour to Debbie’s college alma mater, where Rusty and the kids (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) discover their mom’s surprisingly wild past. The R-rated comedy marks the directorial debut of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who previously co-wrote “Horrible Bosses” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.”
Applegate is married to former Porno For Pyros bassist Martyn LeNoble, with whom she has a 4-year-old daughter, Sadie. (Applegate’s inner right arm is tattooed with her daughter’s name in cursive, and the youngster is obviously the center of her world.) The comedic actress spoke in her frank way about becoming a Griswold and how she almost reprised the Kelly Bundy role last year.
Q: When you step into something like this, is there a feeling of being compared to Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, even though it’s an all-new story?
Applegate: Oh gosh yeah. You kind of don’t want to touch that with a stick. But that’s why I think we really focused in on the plot of this one. You go, “We’re going to Walley World,” and everyone shuts their brain down, and their like not going to open up to you. But everything in the middle (of this film) is different and these are different people and it’s a different adventure. It’s a modern adventure with modern points of view. It’s a different movie. You can’t go so vastly different that you are disrespecting the original, which is not the original, because we are not a remake. We are like a relative on Ancestry.com that’s seven or eight leaves off from where you started. We are a descendant of the original. So you want to pay homage. You don’t want people who love the original to be like “Hey!” It’s also a complicated fine line we try to tread upon and yet make it uniquely ours. For me, I didn’t go back watch the original before I did this. That to me would have probably, subconsciously, influenced my performance and the uniqueness of (my character0 Debbie. I wanted Debbie to be completely unique. Not unique from Beverly’s character, but unique in what I feel what a modern parent is these days.
Q: Frequently in Hollywood comedies, the wife is just a wife, but the audience finds out a lot about your character’s back story in this. Was that one of the things that kind of sold you on the part?
Applegate: Oddly enough, it wasn’t in the original script. That came form me having conversations with the directors/writers (Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley). I said, “We got to give her a life, man. I don’t think she needs to be this (ordinary housewife). I think we can push the envelope with her a little bit.” Those are the kind of moms I’m around these days. I’m around a lot of moms who come from a certain generation. We come from a certain time growing up in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. That was a different kind of people and I want to make sure we are representing this group of women that I know that are 40 years old and parents. We’re not shrinking violets here. So let’s give her a life and push the envelope. So they came back with (SPOILER ALERT) the chug run, and I thought “Okay, so I’m going to be doing what?”
Q: You asked for it?
Applegate: I didn’t ask for that one in particular. I would say, “I’m thinking, lots of vomit is what I’m thinking.” But, for me, the most fun part is the bookends of the actual vomiting. I mean the vomiting is funny, but the leading up to and the post-vomit scenes are my favorite.
Q: Debbie’s dream vacation is a trip to Paris. What’s yours?
Applegate: A trip to Paris. I love Paris! I love Rome! I love Capri! I love European vacations!
Q: Has any of your actual family vacations come close to anything like in “Vacation?”
Applegate: Growing up, I didn’t have any because it was just my mom and me. We would go to Manhattan a lot and that was the best thing for me in the world. I loved being in New York—seeing Broadway shows and things like that.
Q: And now, how is it with kids?
Applegate: Same. I mean we just got back from New York. I think it was a couple of days ago. I was working there for three weeks and in the middle of it we had five days off. We just did it up and Sadie, my daughter, loves Manhattan. She’s like, “Which train are we taking today?” She just loves it there. It reminds me how I was when I was a little girl there. It was pretty exciting to show her the city that I love—the stinky parts of it. We don’t take cabs. We ride the subway or we walk everywhere. I want her to feel what the real place is.
Q: Talk about working with Ed Helms in “Vacation.” What’s he like?
Applegate: Amazing. We joked around and we laughed and we would sing songs. We were like a little family in this car on a road trip.
Q: How about it working with Chris Hemsworth?
Applegate: He was amazing. I hate to say it because I don’t like it when people say they’re shocked by (something different that someone does). Like, “I didn’t know you could walk and chew gum at the same time,” because you played that dumb girl for 11 years. Like, “I can’t believe you can spell cat.” So I don’t like to say (that I was surprised) about him. I wasn’t familiar with him because I hadn’t seen the “Thor” movies and things. I’d only seen a picture of him as Thor. So I didn’t know what to expect. God, he was so fantastic, so funny.
Q: How would you feel if somebody announced that they were going to make a movie version of “Married with Children?” Have you heard this in the past? Have people tried?
Applegate: No. No one’s tried. No. I’m not precious about it. Go for it. You wear those miniskirt dresses and see how you feel about it. See how comfortable you are. (In a bossy director-type voice) “Don’t have lunch today because we’re going to see your lunch in that dress.”
Q: Didn’t they talk about a reboot last year revolving around Dave Faustino, who played your brother, Bud Bundy?
Applegate: Yeah. We were all game to do that. It was going to be Bud Bundy grown up. And, actually, all of us were going to be in the pilot as our characters. We’d do anything for Dave. And then something happened with it; somebody got scared. It’s so silly to me because I think Dave has such a beautiful self-deprecating humor, and Bud was “that guy” and a married 40-year-old Bud would be so fun to see. Oh well.
Q: You mentioned that you love Paris and there is a “European Vacation” in the canon of “Vacation” movies. So would you be up for reprising your character for a re-do of that?
Applegate: That’s why I’m saying it. I have family in Europe now, so this is like, “Let’s do it there!”
Q: So you’re up for a (rebooted) “European Vacation?”
Applegate: I’d do an “Amsterdam Vacation,” because that’s where my in-laws and family live. Or the South of France, someplace like that. The wine country of Italy would be nice.
Q: In this movie, Rusty sacrifices his career to spend more time with his family. How about yourself—do you do that?
Applegate: I have someone who’s No. 1 in my life now, and she makes all of my decisions. Not Sadie herself. She doesn’t say, “You can’t go and do that. It’s not a sacrifice. It’s what I want to do. I want to be home with my daughter so I don’t work very much anymore, on purpose.
Q: It makes a difference, right?
Applegate: After “Anchorman 2,” I said to (my agent), “I’m taking a year and a half off. That’s it.” So this is the only other job that I did since doing “Anchorman.” It’s been almost a year since I’ve worked again. That’s how I like to roll.