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Expect the Unexpected

Many people were surprised to see Louie Anderson playing Zach Galifianakis's mom on Baskets. Anderson doesn't know why.

Craig Tomashoff
  • Courtesy FX
  • Courtesy FX
  • Courtesy FX
  • Courtesy FX

Having worked in comedy his entire life, it would have been easy for Louie Anderson to laugh off the phone call last year from fellow comics Louis CK and Zach Galifianakis.

After all, their invitation seemed more like a joke in search of a punch line – come play Galifianakis’s mom in their new FX series Baskets. However, rather than chuckle, Anderson recalls his reaction being an instantaneous “Yeahhhhhhh!”

That enthusiasm has certainly paid off. Since stepping into the heels of Christine Baskets, mother to Galifiankis’ rodeo clown Chip Baskets, Anderson has been getting some serious Emmy buzz for the first time since he won three Daytime Emmys for his ‘90s animated series Life With Louie

He downplays the award conversation – “the greatest thing about winning an Emmy would be that it might get more people watching the show” – and instead prefers the public reaction to Christine.

“When people write, ‘I wish Christine Baskets was my mom,’ that says so much!” Anderson explains. “During meet-and-greets, I’ll have whole groups of people whisper in my ear, ‘I just love Christine.’ I love to touch something in people like that. It’s great to hear that enthusiasm about something you’re doing, and it’s great to get a job where you can do that at age 62.”

Emmy.com recently spoke with Anderson about what seems to literally be a life-changing experience.

This could easily have become just a simple drag gag. Why did you decide to give it a shot?

It was the fact that I could immediately see the part so clearly. I’d been doing my mom in my act for a long time and while Christine isn’t exactly my mother, she is somebody I know. She’s every Midwestern mom in a lot of ways. And when we started filming, I could just tell I was a part of something really special.

How did it feel the first time you saw yourself made up as Christine?

I said, “I look like my sister.” I couldn’t share that with her at the time. We shot the pilot very quietly. That’s how Louis and I wanted to do it. He didn't want me to tell anyone I was playing the mother. I just thought, “I finally get a good part and I can’t tell anyone. “I’d tell people, 'I’m Zach’s trainer on the show.'”

Later, all my (five) sisters think Christine is them. And I don’t dispute any of that. I guess it’s a little of each one.

Did Christine immediately consume you or did it take a while to get into character?

When I put on that outfit, then I got the wig on, and then the makeup, and then the lipstick went on…that was it! But then you purse your lips and look at ‘em. That’s when it happens.

Did you gain any insight into women by playing one?

I learned a lot. I learned how much time and effort women put into themselves. Men…we’re just like, “This is clean enough.” My mother's always said,  ‘Are you going to go out like that? Put a different shirt on. Did you wash your face?’” Boys want to just get going. We have things to do.

I also learned that no matter what you do, your kids have to go through a certain amount of things no matter what.

What part of Christine do you wish was more a part of you?

She isn’t very interested in whether or not people like her. And she’s much more empathetic than I am, less likely to get mad at somebody just because they didn’t make your food right. There are these little things we get mad at people for, and playing Christine has made me much more aware of the power we all have to make others feel bad.

Have you been surprised by any of the reactions to playing Christine Baskets?

What surprises me is that people are surprised by my work, in that it makes it seem as if I never revealed this kind of (acting) ability before this. I think I have been this good in my earlier stuff, but maybe some people just didn’t experience it or didn’t see the value in it. I don’t really know.  

The (positive) reaction is fantastic but I don’t spend too much time thinking about that because I’m enjoying myself so much. For me, it’s like being called up to the major leagues and people being surprised that I can hit.

Would you say that this is a life-changing part?

When you say that, I’d have to say that it’s more changing my career than my life. My canvas has changed. I’m not sure where you put me now, but you can’t put me where I was.

People who never paid any attention to me before have been much nicer to me. I have to make sure not to take that personally. It’s very easy to say to these people, “Why didn’t you ever call me for a part? You must have not thought much of me.”

That’s like raking up the dead leaf pile, and you shouldn’t do that in life. You have to clear those leaves out and see the beautiful green grass in front of you. I have to keep my gratitude out there.