Christina Applegate is sitting cross-legged on her living room floor, watching a videotape on her TV. She’s squirming, not believing what she’s seeing. “This is so scary, I can’t tell you,” she says, burying her head in her hands. This isn’t a Halloween sequel, or even Geraldo, but a student film that came in the mail entitled Dear Christina. Made by a student at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, it’s about a horny young guy who’s diagnosed as having a severe case of “Kelly Bunditus.” In other words he can’t stop lusting after T. V.’s Peg Bundy’s teenage daughter on Fox Television’s Married…with Children. “I’m an Applegate-aholic,” the student confesses on film. “This is weird,” says Christina.
But understandable. There’s never been a TV sitcom daughter like Kelly Bundy, who’s a pop tart and proud of it. When the bleached-blond nymphette walks on-camera wearing a supertight red dress, it’s break-out-the-firehoses time. The effect on the boys is lethal. Christina, however, is the antipathy of the brash, peroxided Kelly (who, when she gets all D’s on her report card, brags that her grades are improving). Christina, who just turned 18, writes poetry, loves ’60s music and spends 20 hours a week in jazz dance class. Last summer she went to Washington to march for the homeless. “She’s an old soul,” says Katey Sagal, who plays her TV mom. “There’s a maturity and wisdom about her that’s instinctual. We get along like girlfriends.” As Christina says of herself, “I have this image of being wild. But I’m quite straight and conservative.”
Which must be why she’s having second thoughts about a provocative poster she made during some image-experimentation two years ago. It shows her wearing battered cutoffs and a black-leather vest with nothing underneath. A falcon is perched on one arm, a snake wrapped around the other. “I’m not sorry I did it,” she says, “but when I go on talk shows, they whip it out, and I think, like, what are you doing? That’s definitely not what I’m trying to portray. Now I’m getting stereotyped as the rock slut.” Says Ed O’Neill, who plays her TV dad: “She doesn’t take the sex-symbol thing seriously at all. Her head’s in the right place.”
Unlike boy-killer Kelly, there’s nobody special in Christina’s life. “Dating is a scary word to me. You don’t know what people want from you. Hollywood is a scary town. Not that I’m paranoid, but I had an incident where I went out with somebody. He then went around saying I said he’d be playing my boyfriend on the show, which I never told him.”
Another breed of folk Christina professes to find scary are those people who, offended by the show’s irreverent view of family life, want Married…with Children off the air. “Nobody’s being strapped to a chair and forced to watch it. We’re not killing anybody. Oh, we did kill Santa Claus once. Okay, I take that back.”
Christina’s world is a funky stone house in the Hollywood Hills. On the front deck flies a flag with Jim Morrison’s face on it. Since she just moved in, the interior is a jumble of unopened boxes and crates. The house is near the one Christina bought when she was 11, using money her mother invested for her from working in TV shows and commercials. If that seems young to be a homeowner, she was even younger—3 months—when she made her first TV appearance: in the arms of her mother, actress Nancy Priddy, on Days of Our Lives. While growing up, she regularly acted on TV—once playing the young Grace Kelly in a TV movie.
Christina’s parents divorced right after she was born. Her father, Robert Apple-gate, a former record company executive, lives in northern California with Christina’s half-brother and half-sister. “It all worked out the way it’s supposed to. Everybody’s friends,” says Christina. Nancy raised Christina, resulting in an unusually strong mother-daughter bond. “We talk about absolutely everything. And I mean everything” says Nancy. “Because of the way she raised me, I’m not on drugs or lying in a gutter somewhere,” says Christina. Mom is not thrilled, though, about her daughter moving out. “I hate it! I hate it! I could live with her for the rest of my life. If she goes to another city, I’ll follow her.”
A high school grad, Christina has just completed her first starring role in a feature film. Shot in Venice Calif., it’s an independent production called Streets. Christina’s character, a homeless, heroin-addicted prostitute, makes Kelly Bundy look like Maria von Trapp. “The role completely destroyed me. I couldn’t get out of character,” she says. But now she’s worried she’s forever typecast. “Before Married…with Children, people used to say, ‘Oh, she can only play sweet parts.’ Now they say I can only play tough bimbos. I really want to play the girl next door.” There goes the neighborhood.
—John Stark in Los Angeles