5 Strange But True Things About Linda Cardellini’s Time with Freaks and Geeks

Linda Cardellini is a famous Hollywood actress who rose to fame after playing the role of Lindsay Weir on the Judd Apatow directed show, Freaks and Geeks. The show was shockingly cancelled after just one season and has gone on to gain a cult following over the years, with people really appreciating Linda Cardellini’s portrayal of Lindsay Weir.

Before Judd Apatow would go on to make hit-movies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, “Bridesmaids,” “Knocked Up,” “Superbad,” just to name a few, the director admitted that his glowing resume was a result of revenge for people who cancelled Freaks and Geeks. His career was pushed to higher levels of success to spite NBC for cancelling the underrated but beloved show from early 2000’s, after just one season: 

“Even to this day, I think I didn’t want to admit that ‘Freaks and Geeks’ was cancelled,” Apatow said March 10 at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. “Everything I’ve done, in a way, is revenge for the people who cancelled ‘Freaks and Geeks.’ It’s really demented, but it’s just like ‘you were wrong about that person, and that person and that person. And that writer and that director.’ And I really should get over that.”

Yes he does need to get over it, because the truly magical casting from Freaks and Geeks, literally launched the career of superstar actors like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco and Linda Cardellini. 

Yep, Velma Dinkley from Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Lindsay Weir the brilliant “mathlete” former geek turned freak, Sylvia Rosen, a love interest of Don Draper on Mad Men and playing the part of Hawkeye’s wife in Avengers would all cease to exist if Linda Cardellini never auditioned for the TV show Freaks and Geeks. 

Here are 5 things that happened behind the scenes with Linda Cardellini: 

5 Strange But True Things About Linda Cardellini’s Time with Freaks and Geeks

1. Judd Apatow’s Team Didn’t Originally Want Linda Cardellini: 

After her Freaks and Geeks audition tape was released on Youtube, the actress revealed that they didn’t originally want to see her for the role. She said in an interview about the leaking of the clip: “My face for hot and I got terrified, auditioning is so hard as it is” Check out her audition tape in the clip below: 

In her interview with Sam Jones, the actress revealed that the filmmakers didn’t originally want to see her for the role, and she could sense that. Compared to the other actors, Linda stated that during their group auditioning, others were bringing things to the table that were different from their scripts and it was so creative. 

For example, some of the unique things actor James Franco did was play the role in a gas station t-shirt with a name tag on (before it was cool) and Jason Segel played his character stoned. Instead, Linda Cardellini chose to focus on honing her skills of acting and “do what I see on this page”, instead of “do what people want to see” and before she knew it, she was cast as Lindsay Weir. 

The actress also went on to reveal that upon assuming that she wouldn’t get the part anyway, she had the freedom to deliver the performance of a lifetime, very very bravely and freely. Now, she may have thought that she had nothing to lose back then, but boy did she gain A LOT!

2. Linda Cardellini was 24 Years Old While Playing The Role of A 16 Year Old: 

“The reason Cheers was so popular,” observes Freaks and Geeks creator and co-executive producer Paul Feig, “was not because people love shows about bars, but because that group of people over the years became your friends. 

Also when Seinfeld was on, it was always, like, ‘Did you hear what George said last night?’ That’s the problem with TV now making it so that things have to hit after a few weeks, because it means you have to make friends immediately — which is why the network wants actors to be beautiful, because you become infatuated with them, and you’ll watch week after week because they’re beautiful and they’re your surrogate boyfriend/girlfriend” stated the producer. 

Since the whole point of Freaks and Geeks was to represent reality, it was designed as a show about kids who looked like and acted like kids, rather than impossibly well-spoken runway models. “I feel like most high school shows are written by guys who go, ‘If I knew then what I know now, I would rule,’” says Feig. “Which is bullshit. You’d just get your ass kicked worse! You’d be one-upping the bully with a clever quip, and — bam!”

Jake Kasdan, who directed the pilot and four other episodes, and helped establish the look and feel of the show, developed an aesthetic of “uncosmetic decisions.” “The close-ups are looser than you’d expect — there’s a little too much space, and the kids are kind of awkward in the frame — and we used a very cool palette as opposed to most network dramas, which are very warm, and everyone’s incredibly pretty and healthy-looking, so that everyone’s cheeks are this vibrant red. Where on Freaks and Geeks everyone’s face is sort of like . . . light blue.” 

As we see from Linda’s audition story above, the producers and Paul Feig encouraged improvisation and feedback from their young actors, “with no criteria other than that we want the most talented, funny, good kids in the world. You see a lot of precocious kids who have been coached by their parents and have all these strange adult mannerisms, but when the kid walks in who is confident enough to just be himself or herself, you immediately go, That’s the kid.” 

And that’s how the 24 year old bagged and aced the part of the teenager. Not to forget that she had the help of the creators who worked backward, inventing characters to suit the actors they found; by the time the cameras rolled, the pilot had been two-thirds rewritten.

3. She Found Out Freaks and Geeks Was Cancelled While Being Interviewed by David Letterman:

When NBC canceled Freaks and Geeks, a TV series of significant critical acclaim tainted with persistently low ratings, the cancellation lit up the Internet. Worried loyal viewers, mostly in their late 20s and 30s, but into their 60s as well, called it “clever and wonderful,” praised its “clarity, accuracy, and honesty” and how it was nice to “for once, see a show about high school that wasn’t a soap opera or centered entirely around sex.” 

Under the name “Operation Haverchuck”, the geekiest, and noblest, fans of the TV show had banded together online and raised $3,746 to buy the Variety page in hopes of convincing another network to continue the show. TV execs saw the downfall coming although the initial feedback was amazing. 

Freaks and Geeks was shot in August 1999, by mid-September the first reviews were in, and they were all excellent. Time called Freaks and Geeks “the best fall drama aimed at any demographic,” Rolling Stone thought it “stunningly funny and moving” and Talk “a minor vérité masterpiece.” The September 25 premiere did well enough — better demographically than any NBC premiere had done in that spot since 1991 — that the word hit was tentatively applied, but the next week was not nearly so well attended, and after that the clouds of doom never really dispersed. NBC’s Freaks and Geeks had the distinction of being its lowest-rated show. And yet the signals from the network were always mixed. A shift of the airing slot from Saturday night to Monday seemed like a vote of confidence, and Judd Apatow was even able to get NBC to say yes to more episodes midseason. However, they only ordered four out of a possible “back nine,” and that didn’t seem like confidence at all.  Judd Apatow once estimated the chances of new episodes at 20 percent; a week later, he had revised it downward to 8 percent.

And yet, though the show was off the air — in the gentle terms of the television business, it was initially on “indefinite hiatus” — with six filmed episodes languishing unseen with the show’s spirit still hovering over the body on the operating-room table. The young cast still dropped by the office, although often on their way to or from an audition for another show. As the days pass, Martin Starr would be cast in an as-yet-untitled Wayne “Newman” Knight pilot, John Francis Daley in the new Geena Davis sitcom, Samm Levine in a project from King of the Hill’s Greg Daniels. Despite everything the young cast remains in touch as documented by Starr and Seth Rogen even going to find an apartment together  and Freaks and Geeks, back then held an option on their services until June 15. Simply because, it isn’t over until it’s over.

Paul wrote and directed the season finale early and out of sequence to be sure of closure in case of early cancellation. Infact, several cable networks were hopeful and even showed signs of expressed interest in rerunning the series.

After four weeks off the air, Freaks and Geeks was set for its third and final “re-launch” on March 13. But after a week in which the show received a total of one minute and 20 seconds of promotion, NBC ran Freaks and Geeks for the last time, the episode “Chokin’ and Tokin’,” in which Bill Haverchuck’s peanut allergy puts him in a coma and Lindsay gets paranoid on pot. Some of the cast came by the office to watch the show. “It got to that montage of her rolling a joint,” recalls Jake Kasdan, who was there working late cutting the last episode, “and I had this grim flash that this is not going to last, I could just see people all over the country going, ‘Huh?’ And the scene where Sam and Neal are sitting in the hospital hallway having the conversation about what if Bill died, would he be a ghost and hang out with us, and it ends with Sam saying, ‘He’d just be dead and gone, wouldn’t he?’ Great moment, total Feig — just this simple presentation of the strongest ideas in the world, in plain English exactly the way kids encounter those ideas. As we were watching the show that night, I just had this feeling, like, this show is too good and weird to be on the air.”

Notwithstanding a slight improvement in the numbers, Freaks and Geeks was history by noon the next day. Linda Cardellini was flying to New York to appear on Late Show With David Letterman. When they told her the show had been canceled, she said, “They canceled David Letterman?” The news didn’t hit her until “I was actually on, and David kind of touched my hand, and I looked over and went, ‘Woah, that’s David Letterman,’ and then he said, ‘I’m sorry to hear about the show.’ And hearing David Letterman say ‘Sorry’ before I’d even told my family, I sat there and I was like, ‘Ohhh, it’s ohhhhkay.’ It made it real at that point.”

4. Linda Cardellini Chose Freaks and Geeks Over Two Other Shows 

Apatow’s unconventional credits date back to writing and executive-producing The Ben Stiller Show, which was canceled by Fox after only 12 episodes, and The Larry Sanders Show, on the other side Paul Feig was “barn-storming” college campuses with his independent feature Life Sold Separately when he composed the Freaks and Geeks pilot in a series of Midwestern motel rooms. 

The show’s premiere episode, in which smart, kind, questioning and sometimes disillusioned 16-year-old Lindsay Weir (a 24-year-old Linda Cardellini) has a crisis of faith in pretty much everything after her grandmother dies was, in the producers’ eyes, “a very daring existential idea,” Judd Apatow told Vanity Fair for a Freaks and Geeksoral history in 2012. “I was always surprised that the network didn’t notice that that’s what our pilot was about.”

At the same time, this wasn’t a typical show back then, one NBC programming guru Garth Ancier’s avowal that he would prefer the characters lead “less depressing lives” and could score “one decent-sized victory per episode” (their victory, responded Apatow, was just to survive with their decency and humor intact), from a creative standpoint it was all just a dream. 

The words that recur most frequently when Judd Apatow and Paul Feig speak of their aims for the series are truth, honesty, reality. The visionary directors wanted their show to be funny not in the efficient and often mechanical way that sitcoms are funny, but in the messy way that life is funny. Which is to say, they wanted to make it about all the dark, awful stuff they too had lived. 

This is most eloquently described years later by Linda Cardellini in another interview with Sam Jones: 

“The script was different….it was so beautifully written and it was so heartfelt, and if you know Paul Feig, it just had his heart, all over it and then with Judd coming in, and with the people they choose and just bringing that to life, it was even lifted beyond the page” 

The actress went on the same trajectory as the writers saying “I fell so in love with that, and it seemed so human compared to everything else” 

Infact, when finishing a show, Judd and Paul would go through takes “looking for facial tics and little errors to include, and would actually recut the scene so that they can be included in the scene.” “Somebody trips or drops something,” says Paul, “it’s guaranteed to be in.”

“Paul’s whole thing is the comedy of persecution and humiliation and misery,” says Kasdan, “and in fact those are almost completely universal values. Nobody thinks of themselves as a popular person — even the people who were popular don’t tend to remember themselves that way. And the great leap he made early on was that you could do a show about people who consider themselves outcasts and it would pertain to almost everyone.”

All of these small delicious details we love about the underrated TV show was picked up on by the young Linda Cardellini. She found the script so moving that when executives called her to shift to an inhouse, stronger production, she said she made her mind and stuck to the script of Freaks and Geeks. 

“I didn’t realize at the time that i was doing something powerful, because had I made a different decision my entire career would be so different” 

Even though she and Busy Phillips were both being told by studio executives to hold out for better jobs, Linda Cardellini loved the script for being unlike anything that she ever read. Phillips even credits her insight and friendship as to why she ended up with Freaks and Geeks despite auditioning and not getting the part for Lindsay Weir.

“She’s the reason why I did Freaks and Geeks,” Philipps said on HuffPost Live. “I wasn’t sure if I should do it because my agents were telling me that I should hold out for a bigger part—I mean, it’s crazy—that I should hold out for a bigger part on another pilot. And I ran into Linda at the airport, we were both picking up friends and taking them back to LMU, and she was like, ‘I just got Lindsay, you have to be Kim! Like, it’ll be so much fun!'” Cardellini, who’d already been on a bunch of TV shows, said she’d teach her the ropes.

“That conversation, at LAX, I remember it so clearly to this day, and I called my agent when I got back to my dorm room, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I should do Freaks and Geeks.”

5. Prior To Freaks and Geeks, Linda Cardellini Was An Extra In A Half- Nude Movie

When Linda Cardellini was young, she landed a role in a movie via a telephone pole ad. Once she arrived at the set, she found out that she had signed up for a movie which featured extensive nudity. The movie makers announced that if anybody took their shirt off, they could make an extra $50 and get their name on the credit. Linda Cardellini didn’t take the offer and came home with $35 for being on set for the whole day.

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