Charity will keep her away from Hollywood for nine months—producers originally demanded a full year—and Applegate knows firsthand how quickly an actress can be forgotten. "I have to keep reminding myself this isn't about a film career anymore," she says. "It's about my life. And performing gets me off."

Male viewers of a certain age would say the same about her 11 seasons as Kelly Bundy on Married...With Children. After the show was canceled, she made three largely forgettable movies and then didn't work for a full year and a half. "It was horrible," she says. "Monday morning comes along and you don't know what to do with yourself. But I always knew that I was capable of more."

And so did Will Ferrell. Not only has he seen View From the Top, the Gwyneth-slums-for-Miramax comedy about airline stewardesses that featured Applegate, but he liked it. "I was literally in love with her," says Ferrell, who stars in Anchorman as the title character opposite Applegate's Jessica Savitch caricature. "She doesn't know this, but I wrote poems about her. I sat in a car in front of her house, filming her." He goes on to cite her ferocity and improv chops before adding "And she's hot!"

Affleck, meanwhile, knows a lot of beautiful actresses, most of whom he doesn't find funny. "Mostly they're just getting by on the fact that they're really gorgeous and everybody sort of falls all over themselves," he says. Applegate, he points out, is the exception.

Applegate is convincing onscreen but less so at home. She wanted to name her daughter Tallulah—a reference to Jodie Foster's speakeasy temptress in 1976's Bugsy Malone—but her husband wouldn't have it. Never mind that the couple has no daughter and isn't expecting one; Applegate is thinking ahead. "Mommy doesn't want to have Alzheimer's when her kids are 10," she says.

But before motherhood, she'll play the ingenue one last time in Sweet Charity; she dreams of tearing into Charity's show-stopping number, "If My Friends Could See Me Now," which, at this point in her career, seems about right. "She's getting the best scripts," says Selma Blair. "She's not caught up in a lot of the other bullshit that goes into show business," says Affleck. And, as Will Ferrell repeats, for good measure, "She's a hot little number."