Louie Anderson clowns around on FX’s Baskets as Christine, a passive-aggressive matriarch devoted to her sons — and to Costco. EW spoke with the 62-year-old comedian about capturing his character’s mother nature.
Anderson credits a bit of divine intervention for landing the role of Zach Galifianakis’ mother. “I think it was my mom in Heaven using her powers to influence Zach and [co-creator] Louis [C.K.] to get herself on screen,” he jokes. “And to get her son a job.”
Still, there is a far more grounded reason for his casting. As Anderson puts it, Galifianakis had been trying to figure out what Christine sounded like, and when C.K. suggested a voice like Anderson’s, Galifianakis realized he needed Anderson himself to play the part. When the pair reached out, Anderson didn’t think twice about taking it. “I just thought, ‘What a funny idea!'” he says. “I mean, if you’re going to take a chance [on this type of role], why not take it with Louis C.K., Zach Galifianakis, and [co-creator] Jonathan Krisel?”
Even with a custom-fitted blond wig, Anderson found he could most easily capture Christine by imagining his mom’s signature mannerism; after all, he had 37 years of experience impersonating her in his stand-up act. “[She] had a really subtle pursed-lips thing for everyone she didn’t like,” he recalls.
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After nailing the mannerism, Anderson says, he moves on to thinking like his mother to get into Christine’s mindset and, more importantly, to make sure his character represents more than a punchline. “There’s a real breathing, living, loving, resentful, petty, and gracious human being in Christine,” he explains. “Mothers have a lot on their mind and a lot of regret. I’m sure my mom was a young girl who thought she was marrying the love of her life, but my dad didn’t turn out that way. So I tried to imagine what my mom felt like.”
Because Anderson had free rein over many of Christine’s lines, he not only improv’d her eclectic list of obsessions (Costco, the Reagans, Costco, Arby’s, Costco), but also developed her well-intentioned yet caustic attitude. “She has a ton of mean thoughts about people,” he says. “They just leak out … I think she doesn’t know how to communicate [her thoughts] the right way.”
To develop that passive-aggressive attitude, Anderson says he likes staying in character as long as possible between takes — and the cast and crew help by calling him “Christine” on set. He even taps into Christine’s maternal instinct when he’s not filming. “I give everybody advice when the camera’s off, about their life and what they should do with it,” he says.
But with that in mind, does his on-screen offspring Galifianakis wither when Anderson-as-Christine purses her lips and glares at him off-camera? “No,” Anderson sighs. “He laughs more than anything.”
Baskets airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
A version of this story appeared in Entertainmeny Weekly issue #1400/01, on newsstands now