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Like many women, Christina Applegate is a first-time mom working hard to balance a career and a family. She also plays one on TV.

Christina Applegate’s adorable 1-year-old daughter, Sadie, is hiding shyly behind her mother’s leg, eyeing me with suspicion. And with good reason: I have driven high up to their Hollywood Hills home and am interrupting the last of Sadie’s mommy-and-me time. In just a few weeks, Applegate will begin shooting the second season of her NBC sitcom, Up All Night, which keeps her away from home for around 50 hours a week, so they’re soaking up as much time together as they possibly can.

Applegate tries to coax Sadie out from her perch behind her mom’s thigh — “How old are you, Sadie? Can you hold out a finger? One? One finger?” — but Sadie is having none of it. “She just learned how to count to three last night,” Applegate says proudly. We both return our gaze to the blond-haired, big-eyed tot. She stares at me, then at her mom, then at me again, and stubbornly refuses to hold up one tiny finger and delight the grown-ups in the room. Applegate and I exchange a shrug. Turns out motherhood is the same no matter what you do for a living.

After a few minutes, Sadie loses interest in the stranger in her kitchen and settles in with a book and a baby-sitter, and Applegate and I decamp to her gorgeous yet understated living room, all soaring ceilings and plush couches. “I love you, shy bear,” she says to Sadie as we go in search of a private spot to talk. I apologize for barging in on what is clearly precious time with her family, but Applegate waves me off. After navigating the Hollywood waters for three decades, she knows the deal: With work comes responsibility. Still, one feels like an interloper, and even as the 40-year-old is warm, friendly and forthcoming, part of her is already ready to wrap up and head back to Sadie and her cherubic cheeks.

  • Image about Christina Applegate
Applegate & her Married with Children co-stars (from left) David Faustino, Ed ONeill & Katey Sagal
Everett Collection
Sporting a sundress and glowing skin, Applegate, a born-and-bred California girl, is someone who, whether due to having mastered the art of the interview or simply because of her personality, puts you at ease, and the conversation feels more akin to talking to a girlfriend than to a celebrity. Marriage, children, those last 10 pounds of baby weight that feel impossible to shed — everything is up for candid discussion. As we begin our chat, the family’s 9-year-old Chihuahua mix, Tallulah, bounds through the baby gate and up onto the couch pillows. As she settles in between us, Tallulah places her paw on the digital recorder and — as if on purpose — turns it off. It’s almost like the universe is sending a message: Let Applegate revel in this precious time and leave her be.

It’s easy to understand why Applegate takes such comfort in her home life. Though she became a household name with the wild success of the decade-long series Married with Children, she has been acting in some capacity since she was younger than wee Sadie. In fact, she landed her first commercial (for a ?Playtex Nurser bottle) at the age of 5 months, and in the years leading up to Married with Children, she guest-starred on everything from Charles in Charge to ?Silver Spoons. After Married with ?Children wrapped its epic, 11-season run, Applegate could have become the Hollywood norm: childhood success that ground to an abrupt (and perhaps messy) halt. But armed with a sturdy work resolve, she went on to headline several sitcoms, win an Emmy for her guest-starring role as Rachel Green’s sister on Friends and shoot a slew of movies, including the riotous Anchorman with Will Ferrell (she’ll reprise her role in the upcoming sequel). Oh, and she was even nominated for a Tony for her Broadway performance in Sweet Charity.

Whew.