We all have reasons to resent our mothers. For most of us, however, that list doesn’t include “that one time I caught her licking cocaine crumbs from a shag carpet.”
That’s the brutal—and brutally funny—relationship behind the new CBS comedy Mom, which premieres Monday night. Anna Faris is Christy, the still-traumatized single mother of two, reeling from her childhood with Bonnie (Allison Janney), the drug-seeking aardvark from the charming anecdote above. It’s only after Christy gets sober and receives a visit from an also now-sober Bonnie that she realizes that, though she’s never foraged for a high in household carpeting, she may not have been any better of a mother to her own two children.
Mom is from CBS’s resident sitcom suzerain Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Mike and Molly), which is to say that this is a family comedy in which every tug at the heartstrings is counteracted with dozens of daggerlike barbs about sex, drugs, and a potpourri of crudeness. (“It’s not a sin to be thrifty, dear,” is Bonnie’s response to Christy’s cocaine-carpet story.)
No two Hollywood actresses are as equipped to throw those daggers as they are to melt hearts than Faris (Scary Movie, The House Bunny), in her first regular TV role, and Janney (The West Wing, The Help), a four-time Emmy winner in her own right. Fittingly, our recent conversation with the two hilarious stars ranged from their mutual girl crushes on each other to tweeting while drunk and who would be more likely to have a Charlie Sheen–style meltdown.
Are you together right now?
Janney: We’re separate! Where are you, Anna?
Faris: I’m at home. I’m organizing some DVDs.
Janney: I’m still at the studio.
Faris: Oh, you are?
Janney: I have to have a Twitter lesson.
Are you joining Twitter?
Janney: I joined Twitter, and I’m very afraid. I’m trying to do it right. During our premiere on Monday, I’m supposed to be live tweeting and Twittering, but I’m doing it from my home, and I’m afraid that left to my own devices I’m going to do something terrible.
“I feel like I’ve been through four Scary Movies, so I can handle anything.”
But those are the best kinds of tweets, when you do something terrible by accident.
Janney: I know! Oh my god. I just can’t. I’m so nervous about it.
Kristen Chenoweth used to get in trouble for tweeting on Ambien.
Janney: Oh. My. God. That is just hysterical. Fortunately, I am out of my Ambien prescription, so that won’t be happening. But there’s always wine.
Speaking of wine. As much as I liked this pilot, it was so disappointing to find out that your characters are sober in it! The two of you are brilliant at playing drunk scenes.
Faris: I have to say, Kevin, we are hoping, hoping, hoping for flashbacks.
Janney: We truly are. I think that’s where we’ll get to see us in all our glories. Hopefully there will just be flashbacks and no relapses.
That’s reassuring. It would be a shame to be deprived that.
Janney: Thank you. I think.
So Anna, you sign on to do a big, splashy, Chuck Lorre sitcom—and then you spend the first five minutes in tears.
Faris: I know. I know. I was really nervous about that. This has been such a learning process for me. It is a very different process than what I’m used to, in terms of making movies. So finding the rhythm and the balance and how far you go with certain things like crying—I think what I’ve learned is that you sort of have to step off the high dive. And then someone will find it amusing.
Well, you get a high diving expert with Allison Janney as your scene partner.
Janney: I’m actually nervous. I have to do a little bit of crying in this episode that we’re doing now. Comedy crying is not quite the same as drama crying, and it makes me a little nervous about it. But, yeah, you’ve just got to jump in and not be nervous about making a fool of yourself, that’s all.
How helpful has Allison been, Anna? One TV veteran helping out the newbie?
Janney: Oh, we go to each other and go, “Is this funny? Do you think this is funny? Or is this funnier?”
Faris: We do. Especially me, I feel like I ask her, “How do you think I should deliver this line? I feel confused.” She’s amazing. My husband [Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt] said, “In every job you have, you should learn from at least one actor. And you just watch them.” And Allison is that person for me.
Janney: Oh, honey. Oh. She’s got instincts out the wazoo. She’s amazing. I’m learning from working with her, too, just watching her dive into things. And I think that we work well with each other, too. We have the same sense of play and fun. It’s just been really easy and nice.
The subject matter here is so relatable that it’s surprising to me that it hasn’t been done before: the fear that you’re going to turn into your mother.
Faris: One of the great things about the show and the complexity is that it explores that crazy mother-daughter relationship that leaves people very vulnerable in surprising ways. I think your mom can be your biggest support system and it can also tear you down.
Janney: It’s funny how the dynamic in our relationship changes all the time. Most of the time I make Anna’s character’s act like my character’s mother. The roles are messed up in our family dynamic. I don’t think that Bonnie wants to be the mom. She wants to be the child.
Did either of you have that fear growing up of turning into your mothers?
Janney: I do. I do. The things I think are hysterical about my mother are also the things that I don’t want to have. Her worrying about everything and the tone in my voice—I can hear it when I start micromanaging something. I say, “Don’t you think you should take an extra sweater with you?” My friends are like, “Allison, I’m a grown man.” The things you do that are such my mother. “Gosh, don’t you think you should get a hot towel rack?”
Faris: “Are you guys sure you don’t need to pee?”
Janney: It comes from a place of caring and concern, but sometimes it’s better to let people take care of themselves. My mother is still telling me, “Did you write a thank-you note? Did you call them back?” I can’t. She cannot stay out of my life.
Faris: My mom is in the other room right now. I came home and she was rearranging centerpieces. First of all, I’m not a centerpiece kind of person. But she had started like digging out vases from the cupboard, like wedding stuff. She’s been rearranging my furniture.
This is a Chuck Lorre sitcom. So which of you two will be the first to have a Charlie Sheen meltdown?
Janney: Oh my lord. No, we’re not going to. We’re not the meltdown kind of girls. We’re very laid-back—well, you know, talk to us in season 10. If we’re so lucky to have a season 10, we might deserve to have a meltdown or two.
Faris: I feel like I’ve been through four Scary Movies, so I can handle anything.
Have you been able to hang out off set at all?
Janney: We’ve done some barbecue exchanging and want to have more opportunities to because Anna and I like to have a good time. We like to throw down. When you think about it, we just met.
Faris: We’re really fortunate that everyone in our cast is so lovely and easy to work with. Allison and I have become very close. I have more than a little bit of an obsession with her.
Janney: We have girl crushes on each other. She’s my new girl crush in Hollywood.
Faris: Kevin, you know. You’ve probably talked to lots of people like us so you know that this rare. Every day I go to work I am just really happy.
Anna, is this first time you’ve played a mom? Allison, do you remember your first time playing one?
Faris: In Scary Movie 3, I adopted my dead sister’s son. And then later I run over him.
Janney: Oh my god. Ohhh myyy goddd. Wow. This is my first time playing a grandmother, thank you very much. I’ve played everybody’s mother. I’ve been playing mothers since I was 23, mostly because I was so tall I could never play the age I was. I play a lot of moms. I like playing moms. They’re fun to play, mothers and daughters especially. It’s the ultimate love-hate relationship and there’s a lot to play in there. I bring a lot of my mother into everything I play, even this one. Though this is the farthest from my mother that I’ve ever played and I’m not sure my mother will approve of this one.