Between consistently-acclaimed, long-running drama series Fargo and The Americans and the juggernaut of last year’s TV season—The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story—FX had no shortage of awards prospects last year, though there was one out-of-the-box performance that broke through at the Emmys in particularly memorable fashion.
Stepping into the role of Costco-loving Bakersfield matriarch Christine Baskets in the endlessly original series Baskets—created by Louis C.K., star Zach Galifianakis and Jonathan Krisel—iconic actor and stand-up comedian Louie Anderson channeled his own mother, as he had done throughout much of his career, embodying a unique maternal warmth and relentless optimism which charmed the Television Academy, leading the actor to take home his first Primetime Emmy Award.
In Season 2 of Baskets, Anderson has even more to play with, examining Christine’s loneliness, her conflicted feelings about her sons, the promise of a new love in her life, and her continued drive toward self-improvement, an impulse with which the actor very much relates. Speaking with Deadline, Anderson discusses similarities between Christine and his own mother, Christine’s burgeoning romance with a carpet salesman, and plot developments that may see an all new Christine in Season 3.
Christine Baskets goes through quite an emotional evolution this season. What was your initial impression when you read the new batch of scripts?
The show starts out really in a dangerous place, with those guys doing heroin. I read the script as Christine; I don’t read the scripts as me. I got really concerned right when I first read that thing, like, “Oh my God.” Anybody can and will oftentimes get themselves in a predicament that’s a spiral.
That bothered me, and that’s what’s so good about the show, is that it goes from that to me telling Martha, “Don’t worry about Chip, he’s fine.” Which is just how life is, because you don’t know how your children are doing. You don’t know how other people in your life are doing if they’re not in proximity, and you’re not seeing them.
It started out on, Christine was getting back to her life and Chip will just come around—he’ll come around, right? In a sense, he did. He came around. He got away from that group, and that tragedy. That’s a pretty hard point to start the thing on.
Then Christine, with the boat, looking for him in the rain…One thing that happened was that turned out to have a signature thing in it that I think I’ve tried to use, where I go, “Chip? Chip?” Every mother has a chirp for her children or chicks. Right? You ever hear a duck, when the baby ducks are caught somewhere and she can’t get at them?
I really felt that. I love that thing, that chirp thing.
Part of what is so lovable about Christine is her eternal optimism and the way in which she’s able to find joy in the little things. She’s a comforting balm for our times.
It comes from my mom—I’ll just be upfront about that. It was taught to me by her. She found the joy in a fork that she found at a garage sale for a nickel that was worth a quarter. She would feel so excited to tell me, “This is a very good fork.” I would think, “What?” “For a nickel. Can you believe I got this for a nickel?” I go, “No, I can’t.”
We were very poor. We had nothing. We didn’t have a lot of money so my mom would find things like that. She would have them in our house. She would find a Duncan Phyfe table, which meant a great deal to her, but to us, it didn’t mean as much. Even in the middle of our being poor, the Duncan Phyfe table was a highlight of our dining room, you know? She knew the value of well-made, pretty things, and she wanted us to feel that even though we were poor, that we had the possibility of getting them.
I remember her more than once saying, “Don’t you love a delicious, ice-cold glass of water?” I’d go, “Yeah, I do actually like ice water.” You know what made it special? My mom had a crystal pitcher that she put it in, with ice, and then she poured it into nice glasses that she got somewhere. That mattered to her. She wanted us to feel special, and she did that to each of us. She made each of us feel special.
She couldn’t control my dad’s drinking; she couldn’t control the fact that we were dirt poor. She couldn’t control the fact that she had 11 kids running around, and it must have been very difficult, but she never lost sight of the fact that she could bring some sunshine and some light and some beauty into a desolate place. I can’t do one thing about North Korea right now, but I can really enjoy this beautiful bottle of ice-cold water, in a sense. I can control the fact that I have friends, and I can celebrate them, and my relatives and the people that I love.
What I wanted Christine to be was above all of the noise—a lifeline to hook onto, because that’s what my mom was.
The characters of Baskets would be easy to make fun of or belittle, but the show always takes a different tack. What does the respect with which the series creators portray the show’s characters mean to you?
I think what they do, and what Jonathan’s really good at, and what Louis [C.K.]’s really good at, is they’re mining for the humanity in each thing.
Yes, there are bad parts of people’s humanity. There isn’t anybody who grew up who at some point, as a teenager, didn’t want to [say], “Just f*ck it. Just forget it. I’m not doing anything. I hate the world.” All their hormones, or just how helpless we feel, and we haven’t gotten where we want to go.
We get isolated and scared, and again, I’ll go back to Christine being the lifeline, and I’ll say the directors and the writers, their goal is “Yes, we may be in quicksand, but it is not the deepest quicksand we could be in.” I feel like that sometimes.
I remember shooting a scene, and I remember trying to find my place, with reaching Chip and Zach. Zach, the actor, was making it really difficult for me to reach him. He was being as obstinate as possible, which is his character, but I was looking for how I could reach him. You know how when a baby’s crying and you take every toy out of the bag and they want none of them, and then suddenly you put something funny on your own nose, or you make some funny sound, and you reach the baby?
It’s Christine’s unwillingness to give up on the situation, and I think that what the writers are doing is the accurate portrayal of true life. We all get ready to present the best “us” at work every day, and it’s such a hard thing to pull off because we don’t always feel like the best us.
I think [the writers] paint a rosy picture, and then they throw a bucket of mud on it, and then Christine tries to clean it off, but she’s aware of the mud. She’s aware of the sadness. Christine feels everything. I try to really make her feel stuff.
I feel like, in some ways, we’re doing All in the Family, modern-day version. I’m Archie and Edith.
Season 2 is full of moving montage moments that are played off an actor’s face—moments of total silence that tell an entire story unto themselves. What is it like to play these moments?
That’s Jonathan Krisel—he wants me to always do less. I always want to do more, because I’m a comedian and a performer. I have learned so much in the first season, that I listen a lot to Jonathan. I listen to him, what he really is portraying to me, and then I play the dialogue in my head, but I don’t say it.
I play it the very best I can because it’s no fun going out in the Long Beach ocean; it’s no fun to walk into that bay there at night, no shoes on.
That’s what life is. We’re doing our version of what we think either people expect of us, or what we think we can do. We’re all doing our version.
You have a love interest this season: Ken, played by Alex Morris. What was it like exploring a romantic side to Christine?
It’s probably the first time that Christine has noticed anyone being nice to her for 25 years, in that boyfriend type, or man/woman thing. That started with my shock and dismay and joy of getting the bracelet.
We both have kids who are criminals, and we’re in that situation. When he gave me that bracelet, it was really important, but when he hugged me, I took the hug as, “I haven’t been hugged for 25 years.” I tried to play it that way. I was so scared. I played it like a girl being hugged by a suitor. Like, “Oh, hey, this hasn’t happened in a long time.”
The political discourse between them, pitting Reagan against Jimmy Carter, was beautiful—cordial, in a way that we don’t see too much these days.
It’s an interesting microcosm of things, right? The truth is, I’m a Democrat; he would probably be more of a Republican, being a businessman. I love that.
I didn’t love Reagan, but I didn’t hate him—I reserve my hate for myself. I performed at the White House, at the reopening of Ford’s Theatre, and I got to bring my mom. There was a special thing there, because my mom and I both got to meet Ron and Nancy, and have that picture, and that was a big thing for a kid from the projects, going to the White House and performing, and meeting the president and his wife.
I do think it reflects the times and our struggle out there, that we’re really two different groups of people with the liberals and the conservatives, but it doesn’t mean we can’t love each other. I thought that was fascinating, too; I think Christine just melted. Let it all happen.
Towards the end of the season, Christine seems to be embarking on a significant weight loss journey involving surgery. This creates a unique creative challenge for the show going forward.
Her struggles are my struggles, quite literally. It’s interesting when it pairs with reality. I’m just wondering how they’re going to handle that plot line—so I don’t know, but I know what I want to do.
How I feel is, this is another chance for Christine to learn her lessons—to learn more about her family, and to maybe jitterbug a little. Maybe just step out, way out of her comfort zone, which is really going to be true.
I’m super excited about the potential [next season] because as hard as Christine’s working on herself in the show, I’m working on myself in life. If I could get to the next level in my life and really prevail, and give something back to all that I’ve gotten, I think it’s going to be a magnificent masterpiece.
I think the show has afforded us a chance to go to the next level. It’s like we found a giant piece of carbon that could be a diamond, could be an emerald, or could just be carbon. Which one is it? I said it would be a diamond.
There’s also the major turning point of Christine buying out the rodeo, rather than building her own family Arby’s franchise, in a selfless act of love for her son. What does this plot point mean for the future of the series?
I think what it will mean is, is Christine the mother she could be, or is she the mother she always is? I think that both are satisfying to the audience, but one is more satisfying than the other but much harder to do.