Sitting down with Zack Galifianakis at the TCA Winter Press Tour was immediately a gentle experience, as he shot up to offer up anything that happened to be on the table nearby — “Water? Coffee? Butter?”
Indiewire declined all three, but it set the mood for our chat about “Baskets,” the off-kilter comedy Galifianakis created with Louis CK and director Jonathan Krisel. Galifianakis stars as a fellow named Chip who traveled to Paris to train as a clown — then came back home to Bakersfield, CA, to work at a local rodeo, make a new friend (Martha Kelly) and maybe even reconnect with his mother (Louis Anderson) and twin brother Dale (also played by Galifianakis).
Below, Galifianakis explains the appeal of FX as a home for “Baskets,” what went into building the show’s strange brew of characters and what he might have in store for Season 2.
So I believe you spoke with my colleague last year for Indiewire, when you were promoting “Birdman”?
Which is pretty much exactly the same sort of project.
Just copy the exact same questions.
Exactly. But seriously, “Baskets” seems like it was really fun to put together.
It was fun and easy, and I think the fun part was helped by the fact that no one was looking over their shoulders, no one was saying, “Don’t do that.” It was just a freedom that in this business doesn’t happen that often. I think especially in the movie business now. TV is the place where you get more freedom.
Was this always going to be FX? I know, with Louis C.K. involved, that feels like a natural home.
I think when Louis called me, it was always going to be FX because his whole pitch to me was they will leave you alone and you don’t have to talk to them. I don’t mean this from a snobby point of view, but business people can be comedy killers. [FX is] super smart and left us alone and the notes they did give were actually used and welcomed. They were very, very good notes. There was a lot of freedom, which is nice.
How important is it to be able to control what you do?
I’m not a controlling personality, but if you’re going to do your own show and act in it, you want to surround yourself with people who are not looking at focus groups. People that are comedy people. It’s important to have that because your voice has to leak through, and sometimes that voice gets muted through a process of network TV or other entities. I didn’t feel any of that here at all. I keep acting like I’m blowing smoke up FX’s butt. I have no interest in that, but it’s just the truth.
If it makes you feel any better, I’ve talked to other people who have created shows at FX, and they also blow the same amount of smoke up its butt.
Yeah, it comes naturally. It’s easy to say because it’s true.
It’s something that people point to as the reason why we’re having a golden age of TV — because people are getting these experiences.
Well, it’s shifted. This kind of show would never be made into a movie now.
I mean, I’m sure this pitch happens all the time.
[laughs] “It takes place in Bakersfield!” “Where do I sign up?” [laughs] I was just saying if this idea was brought to a movie studio there’s just no way that there’d be any interest. I don’t know why that is.
Talk to me about finding your cast. I know you knew Martha, and she kind of talked about getting cast from her perspective.
I knew Martha. I knew I wanted to have a character that this Chip guy could be a little bit mean to, in an irrational way, and I wanted him to have a friend that was also lonely. Their forced friendship seemed to work on camera because they don’t have anybody else.
Martha’s deadpan is super special to me. I call her the voice of Ambien [laughs] and her monotone is very… You just don’t see it that much. You don’t see that kind of character. Martha was kind of a built-in character. Louis Anderson came about because, I kept saying to Louis C.K. it was a voice that I heard as this character and I imitated the voice, and Louis C.K. said you mean Louis Anderson’s voice and I said yes.
He legitimately surprised me.
He steals the show. I think he’ll get some attention from the show. His performance is really great. It’s heartbreaking, it’s funny and he just happens to be playing a woman. We’re very lucky that he agreed to do it because without him the show would be cancelled. [laughs]
Do you have a sense from FX of what they’re looking to get out of the show before you get a Season 2?
I don’t know what their decision is when saying yay or nay to something. But if it does get cancelled, I’ve told Louis and Martha that that show was supposed to be a miniseries anyway.
You should submit it in the miniseries category, for the Emmys.
Oh, is there a miniseries category?
Yeah, that’s where they put stuff like “True Detective” now, so it’s considered for different awards.
Oh, that’s a good idea.
That’s why “American Horror Story” has won a billion and a half Emmys.
I didn’t know that.
A random detail I’m curious about, at what point did the idea of playing your own twin come in, and what did that give you as an actor and a creator?
I’ve been playing this twin character for a few years. It started in high school. As we were writing the show, we talked about me having a twin. The idea of a mother being disappointed in twins and then adopting other twins, [laughs] it made me laugh. To adopt a new set of kids just because you’re so disappointed in your natural born twins, and to discriminate against them and to hate your own blood made me laugh.
I didn’t want to play my twin but Jonathan Krisel, the director, talked me into it. I’m glad [Dale’s] in it because Chip barely talks in this show. I wanted Chip to be quiet. He yells and stuff, but he’s pretty quiet. But his brother’s very verbose and that character’s a lot easier to play.
I know you don’t know if you’ll get it, but do you have an idea for a Season 2 in your head?
No, I’m desperately trying to think of something, and I haven’t had that ah-hah moment yet.
Is that because Season 1 feels whole to you?
This show, we’ve decided, it’s the family dynamic and the Martha dynamic that we like. The rodeo has become more of a backdrop. So I think we’ll focus on the family for the second season, if there is one. I’m not going to sit around wasting my time unless it gets picked up. [laughs] Hopefully, it’ll come to me. I mean, we start the writer’s room in February. I’ll sit there and chat with the writers who are incredibly helpful. And they’ll come up with good stuff.
“Baskets” airs Thursday nights on FX.
READ MORE: Review: ‘Baskets’ Adds Up to Less Than the Combination of Its Creators