In the FX series, “Baskets,” Zach Galifianakis plays identical twins, Chip and Dale Baskets. Chip is really the main character. The first season follows him from Paris, where he flunked out of clowning school, back to his hometown of Bakersfield.
There, he moves in with his mother, Christine, played by veteran comedian Louie Anderson. The performance is far from a guy doing drag — it’s actually very naturalistic. And that makes a lot of sense when you hear that Anderson based part of his performance on his own mother.
How much input did you have into creating Christine and making sure that you felt it was somebody you were comfortable playing and that you understood?
Well, I think it was a work in progress all the way through. I had an idea of who I would play as Christine because I'd been doing my mom in my act for 30-odd years. Then, when the scripts came, I developed Christine just by reading those scripts. This is now me playing a woman. More interestingly, this is me playing Zach's, or the character Chip's, mother. But [it wasn't] out loud to myself — automatically. I don't know if that makes sense.
It makes a lot of sense. How would you describe the similarities or differences between Christine and your own mother? Did she influence this part?
Well, my mom's back story was similar to Christine's in a sense. The difference would be is Christine is a little rougher around the edges than my mom, and not as sweet, sweet, sweet as my mom was. Christine has had some big hardships in her life, with losing her husband and having these kids that are somewhat of a disappointment to her, where she had to adopt other children who she thought would be a much better example of what twins should be. And I think the trauma that she suffered with her mother plays a definite role in the development of the character.
The scripts are very well written, and then we have a lot of freedom after that. Jonathan Krisel allows us to really fly.
So what does Christine think of Chip's desire to be a clown, and how would you describe the relationship, professionally, of the stage mom who does or does not believe in her son's ambitions?
Well, I think she has high hopes, but they're dashed on a continuous basis. She's maybe down in the dumps when it's just her alone, but in front of others she puts on a brave face. And God help you if you try to take a shot at her son.
She's very protective.
She'll let you have it.
Your mom had how many kids?
Eleven. Sixteen births, actually, if you can believe it.
What did your mom think of you wanting to be a comedian?
She loved it. She thought it was the best, greatest thing.
Could you make her laugh?
Yes, she laughed, but she was the person who looked around at the people laughing at her son, and got the enjoyment there. Because I think she thought the stuff I was saying about the family was not quite accurate. She would point it out.
How would you and Zach describe the relationship between Christine and Chip?
I think Christine, given different circumstances, might have become an artist. I said to Jonathan, "I hope in season two you can let Christine twirl a little." There are some beautiful scenes in "Baskets" where Chip is simply walking [or] riding a bicycle in that clown outfit. Jonathan shot these things — I don't know if it was Fellini he was working with. But even the roller blading scene — [Chip] was dragging his whole life with him. And then he'd do the slapstick thing and run into the car.
Jonathan described this to me once as a slapstick drama. It's impossible, in one sense, to even describe it. And every time you do I think you lose a little bit of it.
So what do you hope Christine can do next season?
Well, I hope that she can help make her children's lives get closer to their dreams. I think that's what Christine's whole point is. She loves life, in a sense, but I think her whole goal is to see — like every parent out there, I believe this, deep down inside — if [her children are] safe, sound and happy. That's what I think parents want.
Do you think you have found a feminine side to yourself through this show?
I think I always had one. I mean, I'm a nurturing person. I favor my mom, I look like my mom. I've been given a great amount of capacity for empathy and humanity. I think that's what I'm portraying, and I got those things from my mom. She'd always say, "Be nice to people because you never know what kind of day they had." And she'd whisper it [even though] there was no one there. But the nuance of her whispering that put an importance on it. She was funny in her way. She didn't know how funny she really was. But I would have to say that my mom is definitely getting a starring, or co-starring, role on television 20 years after she died.
"Baskets" returns to FX for a second season in early 2017.