Pamela Adlon has had a long and storied career on several TV series—including seven seasons on Californication—as a voice actress, and in such early-career movies as Say Anything and Sgt. Bilko. She’s been at this since she was a kid, after all. But it really wasn’t until she was cast as Louis C.K.’s friend and eventual love interest on FX’s Louie that she’s become more known. Adlon has three Emmy nominations for writing and producing on Louie, and one win—for voicing characters on King of the Hill—but this year she nabbed her first nom for acting in the comedy guest actress category. Up next is Adlon’s FX series Better Things, for which she’s collaborating again with C.K.; the pilot was the first female-driven series picked up by the cabler. It’s based loosely on Adlon’s life as a working actress and single mother to three girls.
In a previous interview you referred to Californication as a “big piece of candy.” Would you describe Louie the same way?
I did, I called it that? (Laughs.) You know, I would call it more of a salty pretzel.
You’ve collaborated with Louis C.K. on Lucky Louie and on your upcoming FX pilot Better Things. What is it about your dynamic that brings you back together?
We have a lot of commonality when it comes to the way we see things in the world and the things that we get off on culturally and socially. We like to have exchanges about, you know, politics and real world kind of stuff, and so it’s always driven us back together, creatively, again and again. We inspire each other. We’ve become and remained each other’s muses and sounding boards for like 10 years. It’s a very fruitful, creative, nurturing partnership.
Did you always feel that Louis would become such a huge phenomenon?
When I was first told about him 10 years ago, when I was going to audition for Lucky Louie, I’d never even heard of him. But through the years I’ve always felt… I told him, “You’re more than a comedian, you’re a philosopher.” He’s more of a teacher than someone who just makes people laugh. The value in dropping knowledge in a funny way that makes you stop and think, “Hey, maybe this is true about me”—saying hard things to people or whole chunks of society or different societies, and letting people laugh bitterly over it and then recognizing that stuff in themselves, is just a massive gift.
Do you share his comedic sensibility?
Oh, definitely, in terms of our backgrounds and the stuff that we think is funny and, just, the devil being in the dirty details. My outlook is sometimes a little different than his because he keeps his eyes down and to the right and I just look at the little hairs on everything—if that makes any sense. We really are able to benefit from that. When we met we were both married. Now 10 years later we’re both divorced and we both walked through the fire of that and are on the other side of it. That definitely colors a lot of the way that we take in information and form relationships in our life now. I speak for myself more than him.
There have been some controversial scenes over the seasons that seem to center on gender dynamics. How do you feel about the way gender dynamics are handled on Louie compared to other shows on TV right now?
I just feel like it’s a non-issue, and that if we can get to the place where nobody’s saying, “He’s gay, she’s trans, that person’s not gender-identifying, there’s no dads in this family, these kids are whatever”—you’re just telling stories now and it’s about the makeup of American families and the makeup of families in the world. I just feel that we’ve passed gender equality and people are trying to mess with it. But the reality is, it’s not relevant anymore to discuss it. It’s a waste of time and money. And everybody’s got gay people in their family, and everybody’s got weird shit they do, and I guess every third house has a dad who likes to put dresses on at night and his wife’s like, “Oh, Marvin, he’s so funny…” It just feels like anything goes now. Hopefully it means that society’s going to be more tolerant, but I don’t think so because I see a lot of repression still around and it scares the shit out of me.
You have three daughters. How would you feel if they watched Louie?
I did seven seasons of Californication and some people would judge me for being on a show like that, that was so highly sexualized. But I felt like the show had a lot of heart. I wasn’t embarrassed to do Louie, and I explained to my kids that the show was meant for grownups, it wasn’t meant for kids. If parents let their kids watch it, that’s their fault, but they shouldn’t be embarrassed that their mom did that show. I’m very proud of it, and I’m very proud of the writing and the acting. In terms of my new show, Better Things, I’m doing it for my daughters and doing it because of my daughters, and it’s dedicated to my daughters. They’re proud of me—being a single mom and raising them by myself for as long as I have been. I’m mom, dad and the cops to my daughters. They understand that and they have each other and they have me. There’s a lot of stories that I can tell and I think hopefully they’re going to look back on it and be glad that I did it. And not want to kill me or sue me.
Do you have a favorite scene from Louie this season?
I would say it’s the scene in Bobby’s house; I really loved that. Louis wrote that scene all by himself. I loved the stuff we did in “À la carte” that we worked on together, and the stuff at the movie theatre—all that was really fun. I really did love the “Peter/Jornatha” scene. I thought that was really something else. I’d never seen anything like that, so I was really happy and proud to be part of it.
The relationship between Louie and Pamela has been up and down over the seasons. Is there anything you’d like to see happen with the characters in future episodes?
I’m a fan like anybody else. I’d like to see them always come back together and be happy and in love somehow at different times of their lives. That would be nice, but I don’t know.
What can you tell us about Better Things?
I have to write the episodes and I have a whole bunch of stories that are locked and loaded. I’m excited about the girls who are cast as my daughters and I have to cast somebody to play my mom, which is going to be hilarious. I’m looking forward to it because it would be nice to see somebody like me represented on television—a single mom in her 40s who doesn’t look like a sparkling piece of candy. Me and my friends wear jeans and sweatshirts—we’re real people and we’re just trying to get by and not to feel invisible in a city that’s ruled by youth and beauty, you know what I mean? I’m really excited to do that and explore ideas and stories. I’d really like to elevate the mundane. (Laughs.)