Good Girl Gone Bad: Linda Cardellini

She was Freaks and Geeks’ strait-laced burnout and Scooby-Doo’s resident nerd. Now she’s breaking hearts in The ER and beguiling cowpokes under the Comanche Moon. Has Linda Cardellini gone from nice to naughty?

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Considering you played awkward Lindsay Weir in Freaks and Geeks and nerdy Velma in Scooby-Doo, some people might be kind of surprised to see you in Maxim.
I’m on what I call a “yes” binge. For one year, when somebody asks me something, I just say “yes” if I can’t make up my mind. And I thought, OK, this is one thing I’ve never done.

That sounds way more fun than trying to “pay it forward.”
I’ve done so many things that I wouldn’t normally do, it’s just fantastic.

Do you still meet Freaks and Geeks freaks?
Yeah, they’re some of my most ardent fans. The amazing thing about the show is that it lives on. We were only on for 18 episodes, but I recently saw that there is a Lindsay Weir MySpace page. So it continues on for some people.

That’s both freaky and geeky. Did you have a sense at the time that the show would become a cult classic?
We loved what we were doing, but I don’t think you can gauge what will or won’t be successful. We all knew it was special, and at least we got to go out in a way that people respect.

Are you glad Freaks Executive Producer Judd Apatow is currently enjoying some modest success?
I’m happy for him. We always joked about Freaks and Geeks being a big failure, so it’s nice to see.

It must be ever so slightly different working on a TV institution like ER.
Coming from Freaks to something that has over 300 episodes…it’s frightening. Plus, the actual work I have to do terrifies me. The medical jargon is rough, but the hardest part for me is assisting in procedures, even if they’re fake.

You mean you don’t look forward to plunging syringes into people?
No! In fact, in my first episode I had to stab this guy in the neck with a needle. It was retractable, but it wasn’t retracting. Finally, he turned to me and said, “I’m sorry, but you’re hurting me.” He had a giant red welt on his neck.

Please tell us you ridicule your ER costar John Stamos for his Full House days.
Well, sometimes he’ll call me Velma, and I’ll call him Uncle Jesse.

Close enough. Do people ever ask you for medical advice?
No, and I’m not sure if I should be insulted, because they ask other cast members. Once I was in an airport, and one of the guys working there came up to me and said, “Are you the girl from ER? I have to say, I thought it was the hottest thing in the world when you shot your ex in the head.” I thought, That is the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard.

You got to spend some time away from the hospital to shoot the CBS miniseries Comanche Moon. Did you enjoy it?
We shot it in Santa Fe, and it was hot and dry, and I was wearing about 10 pounds of clothes. I had to be tied into a corset every day.

You didn’t have that problem at our shoot.
No, no. I’d had it with corsets by that point.

Since you were filming a western, did anybody crack Brokeback Mountain jokes?
After filming that, there were few places where I didn’t hear Brokeback Mountain jokes.

Grandma’s Boy is fast becoming a favorite of the PlayStation-and-pot set. Do you, like your character, grab the mike at parties and break into Salt-n-Pepa songs?
We’ve all embarrassed ourselves after having a bit too much to drink. When I got that script, it said my character does a move that even makes the stripper in the room drop her jaw. I couldn’t figure out what that move would be, and then I realized it would be funny if she fell over drunk trying to lick her own breast. I brought it on the set, and everybody enjoyed it.

We can imagine. That character was a far cry from dorky Velma.
Velma is very nerdy, but at the same time she’s very broad. There aren’t many roles like that where you get to play somebody who’s smart but also incredibly goofy.

Do you meet guys who think Velma is sexy?
Yes, lots of them. I think she’s the good girl who leaves things up to the imagination.

Perhaps a few ladies find her hot too?
Yes, Velma has a strong lesbian following.