If it hadn’t been for Louis C.K., comedian Louie Anderson would never have gotten to play the role of his lifetime.
In May of 2014, Anderson was driving to a stand-up gig when he got a call from C.K., who proposed the idea that he play the role of Christine Baskets, the mother of Zach Galifianakis’ twin characters in a new show they were working on for FX. Two years later, Anderson won his first Emmy Award for the part, which has redefined his career and, in many ways, his life.
This Tuesday night at 10 p.m., Baskets’ third season will premiere on FX, but you will no longer see C.K.’s name in the credits following the several sexual misconduct charges that were leveled against him last fall. Anderson’s feelings about all of this are complicated, to say the least.
In an interview with The Daily Beast on the eve of the show’s return, Anderson says he has reached out to C.K. since the story broke to let him know that “was thinking of him” and “cares about him.” At the same time, as the son of a father who abused his mother—a subject he wrote about in his 1991 memoir Dear Dad—Anderson has been a defender of women since long before he was playing a version of his mom on Baskets.
Later this year, just in time for Mother’s Day, Anderson will release a follow-up to that book titled Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, But You Can Read Them Too. Among the questions he asks his mother, who died years ago, in the book is, “Why in the hell didn’t you leave dad? He was a monster.”
Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
With her new role as a rodeo owner and her long-distance relationship with Ken, Christine Baskets seems genuinely happy at the the start of this new season. How did you feel getting back into the character?
You know, I love the character. And at the same time, I was writing a book. I’ve been writing a book to my mom. She’s long gone, my mom. So I wanted to clue her in, like, “Hey, mom, I’m playing you.” Basically I wanted to talk to her about it and it brought up tremendous emotion on the one hand, but I wanted to ask her a million things. So it was quite a journey, that book, and I was rewriting a lot of it during the season. So I think it gave me more gravitas and made me remember more things about my mother. I steal so much from her for the part. My biggest job in that is making Louie Anderson completely disappear. That’s my number one thing.
When we spoke two years ago, you said you were having “much more fun” being Christine than you were being yourself. Has that feeling continued as you’ve filmed the second and third seasons?
Luckily, no, because I started working on a bunch of stuff personally—my health and I’m in a 12-step program that has really helped me around eating. And, you know, I really looked at all those things I should be looking at that would afford me to be healthier. And then I’ve just found so much joy in this process. I went out on the road and saw all the love that people have for Christine and me in the character. So I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude and humility. You know, comics, we are the worst at giving ourselves any credit. We remember a show from five years ago that was shitty when we should be remembering—everybody should look forward. But that isn’t necessarily how the mind, ego and psyche work. You know, a lot of people told me how much they love my performance and would just come out of the blue and hug me. Like a whole family sometimes would just come and hug me and go, “We love Christine!”
That must feel good.
Yeah, it really felt good. And I think because I’ve been working on myself I’ve been able to let that go in me and not try to deflect it. Just go with it, and if it makes me tear up then tear up. So the answer is, no, I’m not feeling that way. And then, I’ve gotten so much closer to Martha [Kelly] and Zach [Galifianakis] and [director] Jonathan [Krisel]. I was the outsider to begin with, because they’re from another era than I am, comedy-wise. Even though they might respect me and like me, I had to prove myself during the downtime how much funnier I am than them. [Laughs] Zach and I have a little bit of a back and forth during scenes. On the last night of shooting, he and I could not stop laughing. Eddie [the character played by Ernest Adams] kept saying something and we burst out laughing. We couldn’t look at each other, I had to look above his head.
It was fun. Fun is the definite word to use while describing season three. Jonathan came to me after I shot one scene and he said, “I just want Christine to have fun this year.” And that was really beautiful the way he said it, and I go, “Yeah, that’s what I want too!”
What do you think is different about Christine this year, just in terms of where she is emotionally?
She’s stronger. And more determined. And I think she feels more purpose. She has all her babies around her—Chip and Martha and Dale. Christine is a person who’s maternal to the nth degree, even if it’s to a stranger sometimes. Christine just wants to love and be needed. She just wants to be loved, just as I want to be loved and maybe everyone wants to be loved. She also wants to give info and knowledge to those who are less informed, even if it’s completely wrong.
So you mentioned that you wrote a book about your mom that is scheduled to come out around Mother’s Day. How much of the book came out of playing this character?
One day I just wrote, “Hey, mom, it’s been a long time since I talked to you. I’m trying to be healthier.” Just all the stuff I’d say to my mom if she were right here. “And, by the way, mom, I’m playing you on TV and people seem to really like it.” So there’s lots and lots of that in there. I love my mom a lot, but I asked her some pretty hard questions as a mother.
What’s an example of something you asked her?
Like why she would give one of her children up to her sister who couldn’t have kids. This is what a gracious woman my mom was on one level. Her sister couldn’t have children. My mom let them take my sister to live there, because my mom’s sister was very well off. And she thought it would be really good for her to live there. And then I asked her, why in the hell didn’t you leave dad? He was a monster.
So I do want to ask you, because he’s the one who first suggested you play this role that got you an Emmy Award and really changed your career in a lot of ways, I’m sure you have some complicated feelings about everything that has come to light about Louis C.K. in recent months.
Complicated for sure.
What was your reaction to that when it was all happening?
So sad. A little shocked, but so sad. It’s still a very emotional thing for me. I feel bad for everyone involved. It’s a terrible thing. And I was really proud of Louis’ apology. But it’s still emotional for me to talk about it. It’s so terrible.
Have you had any interaction with him since then?
I’ve sent him messages that I was thinking of him and that I care about him. I can’t imagine how he feels right now. And I can’t imagine how the other people feel. So, all in all, it was sad. My main thing was sadness. FX really are the people who should be talking about this. Or Louis himself. But, you know, sad is my main thing.
I don’t know if you were still working on the show when this came out, but I assume he wasn’t that involved in this season?
You know, Louis was very involved in season one, but not as much since then—that I was involved in at least. I don’t bother everyone about the workings of stuff, because it isn’t my thing. I decided the first year, I had a talk with myself before I did the show. And I say, Louie, you have this great opportunity, possibly. I mean, I didn’t know how great it would be. But I said, you’re not going to complain and you’re not going to say no to anything they ask you to do. And that was really good advice for me.
Do you feel like you’ve lived up to what you set out to do?
Yeah, like, I say to myself often on the set, this is none of your business. I just have to, because I’m the kind of person who thinks he knows everything.
Well, whatever it is, it’s worked out very well for you.
Isn’t that true?
I’m curious, too, has playing a woman made you think differently about any of these issues that have been dominating the culture?
I have always thought about those things because I have five sisters and my mom lived with a sexual abuser, you know? Harasser and abuser. He would pinch her and grab her and do that horrible stuff that people do. I’ve always been sensitive to that kind of thing. So yes, in general, all people are victims in some of these hierarchy systems where you want to keep the job so bad that you let somebody be less than nice to you. My dad lost probably 100 jobs. My mom would say, “Why’d you lose the job?” “Because I told him to stick it up his ass, that’s why, if you’re gonna treat me like that!” So there were a lot of good things about my dad, too, you know?
Since you mentioned that you’ve been working on your weight issues for a long time, what do make of the debate over whether or not President Trump is technically obese?
Well, I’ve never met him in person, so it’s hard. I’m going to side with his doctor, only because I am the first guy to come to somebody’s aid weight-wise. I would want my doctor, if I were president, to say the same damn thing. Because when it comes to your weight, that’s the one time you should lie to everybody.
Everything else, not so much.
Everything else, not so much. But dammit, stay out of my weight issues!