"Zero expectations," Applegate told TV Guide when asked about her mindset going into Tuesday morning. "We came out late and there are so many ladies kicking so much ass that it seemed so off the radar to me."
Applegate said she wasn't even paying attention to the nominations when her name was announced. It wasn't until Jessica Elbaum, whose production company Gloria Sanchez produces Dead to Me, called Applegate's cell phone that the news made it to the star. "I was literally laying in bed with my daughter," Applegate said, adding that while her daughter, who is 8, screamed upon hearing the news, the meaning of it was not super sticky. "Then she went back to what she's doing."
On Dead to Me, Applegate stars as Jen, a grieving widow who unwittingly befriends Judy (Linda Cardellini), the woman responsible for Jen's husband's death. The 10-episode first season tracks their complicated relationship while packing in more twists and surprises than most shows dare dream. Dead to Me marked a return to episodic television for Applegate, who last scored an Emmy nomination in 2009 for Samantha Who?and starred with Will Arnett on the short-lived but funny NBC comedy Up All Night. For the veteran actress, however, Dead to Me stood out because of its personal nature and largely female writing and directing team, including creator Liz Feldman.
"It became a bit of phenomenon," she said of the show's success. "Seeing women be as broken and unapologetic for their rage and grief and honesty -- you don't see it very often. But more now than ever, I feel like people were like, 'Oh god that's how I feel. I want to say no. I've been through this.' That's part of what's resonated with people."
As for Cardellini, who was left out of the supporting actress category, Applegate says her work wouldn't exist without the former Freaks and Geeks star. "We should come as a twofer," Applegate said of her onscreen partner. "It's not one person over another. The performance only happens because of the other person. I didn't even think I'd squeeze into this category with the level of work these chicks are doing out there, so I'll represent both of us in the category." The stacked Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category also includes Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll), Catherine O'Hara (Schitt's Creek), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep).
Netflix has already renewed Dead to Me for Season 2 -- and good thing, too, since Season 1 ended with a shocking cliffhanger. Applegate knows what will happen when the show returns, but she's sworn to secrecy. "But holy crap," she said when asked for details. "Liz went over what the season is going to look like. Oh hell. She said it's going much harder work for me this season. I was depleted as a human being after last year. I plan on trying to laugh a lot between now and September [when filming on Season 2 will begin]. Really enjoy lightness."
Dead to Me is streaming now on Netflix