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Performer of The Month - Staff Choice Most Outstanding Performer of May (TIE) - Linda Cardellini



This article was written by Aimee Hicks, Ellys Cartin, Jessica VanWinkle, Laura W, and Marko Pekic. The article was edited by Donna Cromeans (DJRiter). The open and close of the article were written by Aimee Hicks. Prepared for publishing by Aimee Hicks.

Dead to Me’s Judy Hale is an enigma wrapped in a big warm blanket of spirituality. She is a character who has a big heart and an even bigger drive to do right by people. That, ultimately, is her greatest downfall. She isn't perfect, far from it, she is flawed and broken, but she never stops trying to be there for people. When she falls in love with someone, she seemingly cuts out a part of her heart and hands it to them. She gets invested fast which means she often finds herself getting hurt. The same goes for her friendships. She just gives and gives until there is nothing left of her to give. A character like Judy required an actress with the ability to keep a smile on her face while you can see through her eyes that the character is spiraling. Judy required an actress who could expertly navigate the complex layers that make the character who she is. Linda Cardellini could not have been better cast to portray this character.

Throughout her illustrious career, Cardellini has played a whole array of different characters. She is the sort of chameleon actress that can easily morph into almost any character and the audience instantly believes her. She has yet to accept a role that she wasn't able to vividly bring to life and embody with soul. When she is associated with a project it is a near guarantee that what is being created is going to be something special. The role of Judy Hale on Dead to Me is no exception. From the moment she was announced as a co-lead along with Christina Applegate (Jen Harding) it was pretty obvious this was going to be a show that was going to make the audience laugh and cry right along with the characters. The writers gave Cardellini amazing material that always keeps the audience on their toes as to whether or not they will be treated to a chuckle or a pool of tears. Cardellini makes Judy feel so real that when she is in a good place and happy it's impossible to not smile at the screen. On the opposite side of that, when Judy is in turmoil Cardellini takes the audience along for an all-encompassing journey of emotions that makes one just want to jump into the screen and comfort her. It's Not You, It's Me (2x9) was a perfect showcase for both sides of the character, especially the latter. From Judy finally confessing she almost took her life in the Season 1 finale to the explosion of emotions that ignited when Jen confessed the truth behind why she killed Steve (James Marsden), it was a tour-de-force episode for Cardellini. All these reasons, and many more that will be discussed below, are why Linda Cardellini is one of SpoilerTV's Staff Choice Performers of the Month for May.

Continue reading below to find out our thoughts regarding her performance. After reading, please leave your thoughts in the comments.


This episode saw Judy must deal with a lot of complicated situations. In what part of the episode do you think Cardellini delivered her strongest performance? What was it about that moment that most captivated you?

Aimee: The scene in the car, without question. Cardellini showed Judy starting to come apart at the seams. This normally zen and in control character was at a breaking point. The way Cardellini tapped into Judy's boiling emotions and expressed them through her body language allowed the scream and breakdown to hit even harder because of it. The raw primal nature of that scene captivated me the most. From the scream to pounding her own chest, it was heartbreaking to watch as all of Judy’s pent-up emotions boiled over. It was powerful work by Cardellini. That is a scene that will stick with me for a very long time to come.

Ellys: The confrontation scene between Jen and Judy is the most intense this show has ever been. Cardellini seamlessly travels through the different levels of devastation. Judy's initial reaction to deny the truth is accompanied by a desperate scrunching of her face, as she tries to hold back tears. As soon as Jen shares the words that triggered her, Cardellini lets Judy slip back into her usual protective, caring demeanor, as almost with relief she reaches for Jen to hug her and reassure her. We see the hurt in real-time when Jen responds by lashing out with mean words; Cardellini's face freezes in pain, as Judy can't even form words to reply. The subsequent moments in her car where Judy breaks into wails and beats her own chest are equally heartbreaking, not only because of how forceful Cardellini lets her character's anguish be but also because of how true to who Judy is these reactions are.

Jessica: I think the scene where Judy sits in her car and screams at Jen is her strongest performance. Judy finally lets herself fall apart and be vulnerable. I could see how emotionally exhausted she was and how much everything has affected her.

Laura: Goodness, that car scene. When she decides she's done fighting with Jen and she tries to drive away and just screams and starts hitting herself, man, I was in tears. Cardellini shows Judy's pain so openly in a way we've never seen before -- because she's showing it to someone else, even unwillingly -- and I think that's what's so captivating about it.

Marko: Definitely the second part of the face-off with Jen at the moment Jen pushed her away out of her own guilt and diminished her carrying nature. The flip that switched at that moment was so perfectly executed from Cardellini that it left me in awe. Both actresses delivered sublime work during those moments but seeing Cardellini portray that moment where Judy once again lost everything broke my heart. She understands this character to the core. She created with such a deep understanding of her damage, and all of that transferred to the screen.


Cardellini has a bit of a reputation of taking on complex characters. What part of who Judy is as a character do you think makes Cardellini the perfect actress to bring her to life?

Aimee: Judy has a big heart and exudes warmth, both qualities I have always felt are a part of who Cardellini is in real life. She just seems like such a genuine and giving person and I think those qualities made her perfect to portray Judy. She clearly puts a lot of heart and energy into Judy and has made her such a special and memorable character. But she is also an actress with a very wide emotional range in her acting arsenal. She is not an actress that has allowed herself to be pigeonholed into a certain character type. Judy required an actress like her who had a lot of experience to pull from to be able to so expertly navigate all the complex layers that make Judy who she is.

Ellys: Dead To Me is the first role I've seen Cardellini in, other than her cameo in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a couple years back an interview with her was shared on YouTube that reminded me of this question. The backstory of the video was that it was when Cardellini was doing press for a movie, and the interviewer had never interviewed a movie star before. As the interviewer struggles, Cardellini deflects the awkwardness with encouraging smiles and humor, constantly considerate of the other person's feelings. In more recent interviews, about her role as Judy, Cardellini has indicated that she loves the high stakes of the show and how the stakes continue to evolve. The way she relishes the escalating challenges of the show combined with her instinctive graciousness have surely shaped the development of her character, which simply means there would be no Judy Hale as we know her without Cardellini. Had another actress been cast, we would have a different version of the character.

Jessica: Cardellini takes Judy, someone who has done terrible things and makes her someone I can root for. Cardellini does an amazing job of showing the good side of Judy and the viewers can see that she really does care about other people, especially Jen.

Laura: Is it cheating if I say everything? The best thing about Judy, especially this season, is that she's ever-evolving. Nothing Cardellini does when she's playing Judy is done as a mistake -- no head nod, eye roll, or ad-lib. Judy, on the outside, is this bright, sweet, bubbly girl, but when you delve deeper and get to know her, she's relentless and protective, and she loves fiercely, clearly. Judy isn't without her flaws, though, either, and that's what makes her so wonderful. She's a beautifully written character and the writers aren't afraid to embrace her flawed side while using it as a balancing act with her positives -- and Cardellini earns her reputation rightly so by never being afraid to play someone just like Judy.

Marko: Cardellini can bring the dark and light out of characters and create a complex performance with her voice, face, and body language. You just see the spark in her eyes when she performs those lines. Judy is such a marvelous mess and Cardellini’s nuanced performance and the perfect dosage of emotions she puts into the role makes it seem unbelievable that any other actress could do it.


Judy is a character with a big heart and as a result, she is inserted into the lives of a lot of the other characters. That fact has allowed Cardellini to get to act opposite a lot of brilliant performers. Which of her scene partners do you think brings out the best in her? What is it about their dynamic that captures your attention?

Aimee: Clearly the top answer must be Christina Applegate. They could not have cast the co-leads any better than they did with Cardellini and Applegate. They have a remarkably similar energy level and massive range. Together they volley lines off each other with pinpoint precision and expert timing. The show has a fun concept, but it is Cardellini and Applegate who make the show brilliant and so compelling. This season I also really enjoyed the chemistry that Cardellini had with Natalie Morales for the same reasons I enjoy her with Applegate. She and Morales have a really natural chemistry and since both actresses have broad range, they can hit the serious notes with as much ease as they hit the lighter ones. Ultimately, just in general, it is the Cardellini and Applegate partnership that makes this show work, and every single time they are on the screen together I know they are going to deliver a perfect performance.

Ellys: There would be no show without Cardellini and Applegate's chemistry and energy. Setting aside the obvious gift from the TV gods that is their pairing, this season I loved the connection between Judy and Michelle (Natalie Morales). Their romance played out in such an endearing, organic way.

Jessica: I watched Cardellini back when she was on ER (which I can't believe ended 11 years ago!) and she worked well with Goran Visnjic. Those two brought out the best, and sometimes worst, of their characters. Cardellini's scenes with Christina Applegate remind me of her scenes with Visnjic. Applegate and Cardellini both excel in showing all emotions. Sometimes it's refreshing to watch two women have a crazy friendship and do ridiculous things together.

Laura: For me, while she has so many to choose from, it must be Christina Applegate. The way these two get along on and off the screen, the way they banter on and off the screen, it gets me every time. Their dynamic is explosive. They are always on, whether it's a happy scene or a sad scene, or an awkward meeting the parents of the man you killed scene, the way they act against each other is so incredible to watch, I can't imagine the show being centered around anyone but these two women together.

Marko: It really depends on what type of material you enjoy the most. Her scenes with James Mardsen in Season 1 and Katie Sagal in Season 2 bring out the dark and vulnerable Judy. The way Cardellini switches during those scenes is just chilling. Her scenes with Applegate where the two of them are there for each other and search for the light in this dark world just blows me away. The chemistry between the two leads is what drives this show. The way they interpret this dark dark material and succeed to show strength and hope through all the pain makes me smile and cry at the same time.


Looking back on this season, were there any other moments that really stood out for you as outstanding acting moments from her? What about her performance at that moment made that particular performance stand out to you?

Aimee: This is a lot harder than I expected it to be to answer this. There were so many brilliant moments from her that it's hard to isolate the list down to just a few. From this episode obviously the car scene, that will be something that sticks with me from this season. Between You and Me (2x4) was a great Judy showcase episode. Cardellini got to portray Judy breaking down and laughing in the same scene at the bar. All the moods she had to filter through as Judy tried to cope with everything. The Price You Pay (2x5) had some great performances in it as well. From the way Cardellini portrayed Judy's breakdown in the bathroom to the lighter flirty stuff between Judy and Michelle. I just loved all that Cardellini did in that episode. I also really enjoyed watching her portray Judy drunkenly trying to win Michelle back in It Had To Be You (2x8). Everything to do with the Judy and Michelle fledgling relationship was a pure joy for me to watch Cardellini portray. I hope they bring Morales back next season because Cardellini and her have such great chemistry. Their scenes were fun and heartwarming to watch, even as Judy and Michelle were pushing each other away as each tried to cope with the complex lives they each are embroiled in. The season finale, Where Do We Go from Here (2x10), was jam-packed with so much great content. I really liked watching how she portrayed Judy trying to figure out how to tell the boys about what their mom did and the relief when Jen returned. Overall, this season was just a powerhouse season for Cardellini and she delivered nothing but flawless performances from start to finish.

Ellys: When Judy co-hosts the vigil for Steve with Jen, a setup that is the darkest and funniest backdrop imaginable, Cardellini soars through the tragic comedy as Judy is unable to prevent herself from escaping her torture, instead yielding to her nonstop polite nature. At a particularly low moment in Judy's evening, she is stopped by Detective Perez (Diana Maria Riva) who issues her a warning. Judy snaps back, defending her proximity to Perez's cases because she can't stop herself from trying to do the right thing. She can't walk away from something that needs to be fixed. Cardellini's voice cracks as Judy just barely yells, her voice becoming slightly self-deprecating when Judy refers to herself. Judy walks away to pick up some litter, and we watch Cardellini flounder at first until Judy figures out how to collect the bags without setting down or spilling the two drinks she's holding. It's a priceless moment, one that immediately feels true to the character of Judy.

Jessica: The scenes at Steve's vigil were some of Cardellini's best work. Even though her relationship with Steve was awful, Judy did love him. Grief and loss are complicated, and I think Cardellini did an amazing job of showing all of Judy's feelings.

Laura: Oh, man. One of my very favorite moments from Cardellini from this season was in episode 8 when Perez and Judy are in the hospital together for Michelle's mom, and Judy is about to leave and before she goes she hands Perez a tissue box. It's such a small simple moment but I think it really shows you who Judy is as a person. You have Perez, who has done nothing but try to literally take down Judy, try to have her arrested and sent to jail, try to have her new girlfriend break up with her, etc., and then Judy comes by, sees she's struggling, and instead of being harsh and lifting her nose, she decides to give her tissues because she notices she's crying. It showed Judy's character at her very core and it made me love her even more than I already did.

Marko: Her scenes with Natalie Morales as Michelle. Adding the bisexual angle to Judy and her natural chemistry with Morales allowed Cardellini to show us a different side of Judy. The life Judy would live if she wasn’t part of Jen’s messy life and how Judy can create a healthy relationship with healthy people. It also created a great internal struggle for Judy, seeing her struggle between the great life she could’ve had with Michelle and dark life she chooses with Jen cause of her guilt and their not so healthy relationship.


If the show is renewed for a third season, what would you like to see the writers have her portray next? What situation do you think would best highlight her range?

Aimee: This show is categorically a dramedy and for that to work they must keep the balance between the humor and the serious. It is a line the show walks very well. This season, however, took a more of a serious turn for Judy. There were some light moments, but after the near suicide and the loss of Steve hanging over her, it was a heavy season. Judy got some of her lightest moments with Michelle. So, for next season, I hope that they give some peace to Judy. I hope they let Cardellini tap in more to her brilliant comedic timing. I'd like to see them bring Morales back for Season 3 and let her and Cardellini further develop the complicated relationship that this season built up for their characters. I'd like for Cardellini to get to play more comical scenes with Applegate. They got some this season, but I don't feel like they got as many as Season 1, which, honestly, was okay. This season required a deeper side of Judy to be shown. I'd like the writers to let Cardellini play more light and fun scenes. I do hope that they don't take away all the emotional stuff either. When Cardellini digs deep into Judy's emotions it is palpable through the screen. Watching her deliver the deeper scenes always feels like watching a master class in how to deliver dramatic content to the point the audience wishes they could come through the screen and comfort your character. So, I guess what I want for her for next season is more of the same, because she is so brilliant at it, but maybe a bit of a return to center where she gets to play equally in the comedic and dramatic aspects of the show.

Ellys: In the season finale, for a brief scene, we saw Judy basically channeling Jen by wearing more somber clothes and even going for a run as she prepared to take on Jen's role. It absolutely felt wrong, which it was supposed to. When it comes to what I do want to see from Judy, I don't have a wish list. There haven't been many moments in this show where I thought to myself, "This doesn't feel right for this character to do or this is out of character for this person to be this way." After two stellar seasons, I am completely chill with just letting Liz Feldman take these characters wherever she and her writing room are going to take them.

Jessica: I want Judy to be happy. She's been through the wringer the last two seasons, and it would be nice for her not to have to look over her shoulder every second. I really liked her relationship with Michelle so maybe the show will revisit it. I would like to see Cardellini portray a happier, healthier version of Judy. Also, I need Judy and Jen to deal with what happened at the very end of this season. That cliffhanger was brutal.

Laura: Well, as we saw at the end of the last episode, the body is about to be discovered, so no matter what, we're about to have to watch her deal with that. It'd be interesting to see how much money she has left, and if they can maybe run away with said money, given that might be their only option. It might be fun (fun being a loose term) to see Judy, Jen, and the kids on the run together.

Marko: Considering that Jen could be disabled to a degree after that accident, I think we could see Judy in a role of a provider, and the relator business doesn’t really seem like something Judy could handle well. Judy has issues with taking charge and making decisions so that could be an interesting take on her character. Also seeing more of her past and how the relationship with her mother unfolded are certainly topics that could push Cardellini further.


What are your final thoughts on her winning this recognition?

Aimee: I think Dead to Me is a show that doesn't get nearly the recognition it deserves, so for her to win this makes me so happy. She is such a consistently good actress in every single role she takes on. Judy is a character that fits her so well and I really hope the series gets a third season because Cardellini still has so many more awesome Judy performances to wow us with. This was the perfect episode for her to win for and I'm just so thrilled that she won this title.

Ellys: As of press time, Dead to Me has not been renewed for season three yet. It would be an actual tragedy to not get more of this show. There might be more TV than ever, but there isn't more good TV than ever. A great show like this one is still the diamond in the rough. One quality that makes a show excellent is a leading player who just raises the bar in each episode with their performances and having an actual dynamic duo like Cardellini and Applegate is even rarer.

Jessica: Dead to Me is one of my favorite shows, and Cardellini is the main reason why. She is an incredibly talented actress, and I can't wait to see more of her work.

Laura: I think she absolutely deserved it. Cardellini put so much love and heart into Judy Hale and you can absolutely tell. I love the character and I'm so grateful we got to see her again and I hope we get to continue to see her for many more seasons.

Marko: In a TV landscape filled with complex and contemporary stories, Cardellini’s Judy stands out with a sincerity and fragility that gives you hope. I hope that after all the darkness at one point the sun will rise again. And while you can’t disregard the writing that is complex and twisty, everything that she gives to this role just makes it work as the scenes transfer on the screen. I’ve watched Cardellini perform for 20 years through movies and TV shows and she is a freaking beast and I am beyond grateful she is lasting this long. Because she is a gift that keeps giving


Linda Cardellini has proven throughout her career that she can be counted on to make viewers smile and laugh just before ripping their hearts out with a gut-wrenching performance. This episode allowed her to execute that one-two punch she has so expertly perfected. It was an episode that gave her a lot of amazing material to dig into. The performance she delivered was breathtaking and almost hard to watch for how raw and honest it was. Cardellini has taken on many dynamic characters throughout her career, but Judy Hale is rapidly becoming one of her most dynamic and lovable characters to date. She puts so much into the character and it shows through in her performance. For all the reasons mentioned in this article, and many that weren't, Linda Cardellini is one of SpoilerTV's Staff Choice Performers of the Month for May.

Please use the comments to discuss all your favorite parts of Linda Cardellini's performance in It's Not You, It's Me.


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