Anna Faris might play ditzy onscreen, but don’t discount her industry acumen when it comes to comedy’s playability with an audience. As one of the leading comedic females, she’s got the pratfalls and cheeky camera reactions down pat, but she also knows what types of raunchy comedy features click and don’t click, having relished the highs with the near billion-dollar Scary Movie franchise, and weathered the market’s ennui with What’s Your Number? There’s nothing wrong with raunchy female roles per se according to Faris; there just needs to be an evolution with them. It’s partly why she took a pause from her string of marquee roles to play Christy: A complicated, ex-alcoholic mother who is trying to piece her life back together in Chuck Lorre’s CBS–Warner Bros. TV comedy Mom. While Faris still gets to show her flair for physical comedy, her Christy has tackled such heavy story arcs like teenage pregnancy, long-lost fathers and cancer. During her childhood in Seattle, Faris says comedy wasn’t her strong suit: “I was the short one with headgear who just had the desire to be heard.” But she quickly earned her funny stripes after working with such icons as David Zucker and Keenen Ivory Wayans, the latter who advised, “There’s no vanity in comedy”. “Embrace the idea that the audience will think you’re a certain type of person,” says Faris. Click through for our interview with her:
Awardsline: Why the sudden jump to TV? You were on a roll in terms of releasing feature comedies. When an actor commits to a network series, it typically leaves less room in their schedule for feature films.
ANNA FARIS: It was the perfect job at the perfect time. After I had my baby, I reprioritized my life in general. I really wanted to play characters that gave me a different kind of fulfillment. That is a difficult thing to find, especially as an actress. There were a few different things that I was circling around and then this script literally landed on my doorstep without any information attached to it. It was just a manila envelope and my husband (Chris Pratt) pulled it out and it was the pilot script for Mom. And so, he started to read it and he said, “You know, honey, I don’t know what you’re doing, but whatever you are, put it down because this is great.” I started to read it and called my agent and said, “What is this? He said, “You know, we knew that Chuck (Lorre) was interested in you. We don’t really know much about the project, Chuck is a pretty, private man and I think he wants to meet you.” So, I went in and met with him and from page one, knew I wanted the role. I’m so interested in playing such complicated characters and sometimes you come across a role and it feels like a Cinderella shoe. It’s so well written, that it makes your job easier and you have a gut sort-of reaction, you know instantly how you’re going to say each line and that’s how I felt with Christy. I felt like she was familiar, complicated and messy and starting over in her life. I loved that it was a show about a woman reconnecting with her mother and how complicated that relationship is, as opposed to trying to get a guy to sort of fall for me. Also, I loved the idea of being able to stay in LA and be with my baby and to do a multicam show. I grew up in Seattle and I did some theater there and I loved that experience; and was terrified about the idea of returning to a live audience, but it’s thrilling and terrifying. There’s no place to hide as an actor. You can’t pull any of your usual tricks.
AWARDSLINE:The comedy series touches on a number of weighty topics – teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, a long lost father. It’s almost a throwback to the CBS sitcoms of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
FARIS: After making the Scary Movies, people would approach me on occasion, usually 15-year-old boys, and exclaim “Oh I love the Scary Movie,” but now I have people approaching me and telling me their personal journeys. I love the idea of being able to honor that. It feels weightier than some of the projects I’ve done in the past and at this time in my life that feels really amazing. Pretty much every week when I get the script I feel like, “Really, we are going to do this? We’re going to tackle this? I thought this was a comedy.” But Chuck told me that he loves the idea of a well-earned laugh and he will kill a joke in a second if it interferes with the emotional story line. There’s been such a difference between the audience in our pilot episode and our audience with our finale, because we’ve been building a loyal audience and because we’re telling a personal journey.
AWARDSLINE: On films that you’ve produced such as House Bunny and What’s Your Number?, you’ve taken a pivotal role in the editing room. Did you take a back seat on Mom when it came to creative decisions, or are you still pulled into the editing room?
FARIS: Working with Chuck there is a level of trust. I can always say, “Hey, would you mind if we did that take again,” and honestly even the hours are shorter than a film. The workload is pretty crazy in terms of line memorization and just working out the motivation and just the difficulty of framing a scene in the same room that you’re doing eight more scenes in. There’s all these other challenges that keep me stimulated and I’m learning so much. I’m not as hands-on in the back of the process and behind the camera. I am very rewarded and challenged in front of the camera.
AWARDSLINE: Are the characters based on real people that Chuck, Gemma Baker and Eddie Gorodetsky knew?
FARIS: I don’t know. I think it’s a combination of different people. I know that a lot of writers are very familiar with the issues we address and I don’t want to get too personal, but I get the feeling that it’s a very honest show in that way and I think that some of this may be based on personal experiences. But even if its not, I feel like these are characters that we all know one way or the other; a version of Christy and version of Bonnie (Allison Janney).
AWARDSLINE: As a comedy actress, you’ve demonstrated a flair for physical comedy. However, given some of the serious material on the show, were the creators of Mom looking to tap into this quality?
FARIS: I don’t think so. Not that I know of, I think that Chuck, from my understanding, did like the three or four episodes of Friends I did years ago, and that’s what he referenced, which wasn’t physical at all, nor was it a character like Christy. I think as the series went on they added a little more physicality to my character. A little clumsiness and some sort of bad days-physically for Christy. But I like to think that maybe he saw a little bit more of the willingness on my end to explore different kinds of characters.
AWARDSLINE: Are you receiving different types of female-lead feature offers because of Mom? Or are still receiving offers for female raunchy comedies? Is that still the ruling genre for female comedies moving forward?
FARIS: I think we are still chipping away at the idea that a woman can be very sexual and still very lovable and an acceptable partner to marry. My most favorite performance I’ve seen, I mean outside of television of late, has been friend (and former Scary Movie co-star) Regina Hall in About Last Night. What’s so remarkable about Regina’s performance is that she is very sexual, and still unbelievably lovable and has an innocence in her raunchiness and it’s just so striking how rare you see a woman who maybe is sort of marriage material, and also still has a strong sense of her sexuality. It’s amazing. I’m really hoping that we are seeing a shift into more complicated dimensional women, especially in terms of sexuality. For so long, the (stereotypical female lead) has been a woman who is acceptable for marriage and has a chasteness to her in terms of her body. I could go on and on about this. I’m hoping that we see a shift in (women’s roles), because it’s honoring women as very full dimensional people with lust and desires and for themselves. In terms of offers, I’ve always gotten a weird array in interesting Indies; every once in a while somebody will see the murderess in me. I feel for the most part, especially in comedy, you make your own work and maybe that’s true across the board. I still peddle myself around town, hustle a little bit and it’s been amazing. With any luck, we’ll get to shoot Mom for another 10, 11 months because I’ve never really had a sense of job security before.
AWARDSLINE: When are you and your husband planning to shoot Vacation Friends?
FARIS: Hopefully next late spring when Parks and Rec and Mom has wrapped. I would just love to work with him. It’s funny in my 20’s all I wanted was to prove to myself and to whomever that I could be known as a dramatic actress and I think once I hit 30, or somewhere in there, I started to feel like, “Oh my God. What am I trying to prove to myself or to this town and if I’m looking for this town’s approval” If I’m on some kind of approval hunt I am not going to be very satisfied because I don’t think this town really gives that to you, very easily at least.
AWARDSLINE: You at least aim to write your own meal ticket, by assembling writers for the projects you’re passionate about and marching into a pitch meeting, versus waiting by the phone for an audition. Are you still assembling projects or only at the mercy of your Mom schedule?
FARIS: A little bit at the mercy of the schedule. Also, I think even with the success of some female given comedies, there’s still a little bit of an uphill battle. And I think the new format may be trying to sell a project with a budget of $6 million dollars; something that is a little more modest than trying to own a little bit more of the project. But it’s still very, very tricky and then if you have the opportunity and if you get the victory of actually selling a pitch then there’s like the whole process of actually trying to get it made. My first experience was The House Bunny and we pitched it all around town and our last pitch was Happy Madison and Adam (Sandler) was like, “Great, let’s do it.” The next thing you know, I got a gym membership and I was working out because we were going to start shooting in two months. So, my experience was like, “Oh, great. Once you sell a pitch you’re making the movie,” but it turned out it doesn’t always work like that. So, it’s a hustle and it’s a marathon and I’m just so grateful that I’ve been able to work in Hollywood at all. Getting older as an actress — it’s all about the longevity. I told my manager a few months ago, it was really hard to get my first job. It’s not easy. It’s hard, really hard. It is so much harder to get your 14th, 15th, 16th job.