Pamela Adlon Shares the ‘Dirty Little Secret’ to Being a Successful Mom — SXSW

The "Better Things" quadruple threat took the stage in Austin to discuss the show's gender-neutral writing, real-life inspirations, and nabbing Sharon Stone.
Pamela Adlon attends the FX TCA Winter Press Tour, in Pasadena, Calif2019 Winter TCA - FX Star Walk, Pasadena, USA - 04 Feb 2019
Pamela Adlon
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Pamela Adlon’s acclaimed FX series isn’t just for moms — it isn’t just for anyone — but the series about a working single mother of three daughters makes a special connection with fellow matriarchs.

“I have a saying that every mom is a single mom whether she’s married or not,” Adlon said during her SXSW panel Saturday afternoon. “Sorry, guys or ladies.”

Adlon was asked by an audience member — and fellow solo parent — what it takes to be a good mother.

“The thing that it takes to be a good mom and successful mom is to work and model that for your children, and live a productive life” she said. “It’s not enough to just be a mom. Because they’re going to grow up, they’re going to be gone, and you’re going to be left holding an empty bag.”

“That’s why I say there’s this dirty little secret: Your kids aren’t enough. You have to live your best life to your most productive abilities,” she said.

Adlon is doing a fine job of practicing her own advice. She’s directed 23 consecutive episodes of “Better Things” while also serving as producer and showrunner for all three seasons and starring as Sam Fox —  a character she describes as “like me in a cape. She’s like the ultra version of me.” Adlon went on to describe how her own daughters inspire the series, including her conscious efforts toward inclusivity and progressive attitudes toward gender.

“I want to write without gender,” Adlon said. “My kids and their generation, they hate that. They have so much disdain for being binary, and that’s the way I want to write — in a non-binary way.”

Adlon also said she makes sure to include trans people in “Better Things,” but never “points out” that they’re trans. “It’s massively important to me to show the diversity of the world I live in,” she said.

Olivia Edward, Pamela Adlon, Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood'Better Things' TV Show, season 3 premiere, after party, Los Angeles, USA - 26 Feb 2019
Olivia Edward, Pamela Adlon, Mikey Madison, and Hannah AlligoodFrank Micelotta/FX/Picturegroup/REX/Shutterstock

Later, speaking about Sam’s non-binary daughter, Frankie, Adlon talked about how her ideals and storytelling style blend together. Much of the show is told in brief vignettes: standalone scenes tied together by character development or specific themes, but not mimicking more traditional TV plot structures.

“There’s so much pressure because people need a label,” Adlon said. “They need an explanation. And that’s another thing about my show: I don’t label it, I don’t button it. [Frankie] is who she is, but [the kids] don’t even think about that. They don’t think about gender or sexuality. It’s all the same to them. They’re very fluid.”

Adlon said she wanted her series to be fluid, too, and that mentality is serving “Better Things” well. The series has received rave reviews throughout, and Adlon has earned two Emmy nominations in addition to a Golden Globe nod for her work. In fact, it was at the 2018 Golden Globes where Adlon was approached by a gushing Sharon Stone. The “Casino” and “New Pope” star “threw so much love” at Adlon, the showrunner decided to find a part for her in the new season.

“I was like, ‘Who is this fucking beautiful unicorn?’ I couldn’t believe it. Sharon motherfucking Stone!” Adlon said.

Fans will be able to see Stone’s debut this week (March 14) in Episode 3, “Nesting,” as one of many houseguests visiting the Fox casa. Sam’s brother Marion, played by Kevin Pollak, also guest stars (creating an inadvertent “Casino” reunion), along with a small, surprisingly dangerous monkey.

Yes, a monkey.

BETTER THINGS "Nesting" Episode 3 (Airs Thursday, March 14 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Sharon Stone as Reiki Davis, Greg Cromer as Jeff, Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox. CR: Suzanne Tenner/FX
“Better Things”Suzanne Tenner/FX

“The monkey was scary. The monkey brought the room down,” Adlon said, explaining how excited everyone was to work with the animal until its handler showed up and doled out dire warnings. “‘Don’t look at the monkey.’ ‘Don’t show your teeth to the monkey,'” Adlon remembered him saying.

“We’re all fucking terrified we’re going to get our faces ripped off by the monkey if we show it one of our teeth,” she said.

Adlon also shared the personal inspirations behind the series and Season 3 in particular. Sam’s father is a prominent figure this year, despite being dead for decades — he pops up twice in the pilot to visit his daughter and granddaughter, and recurs again later in the season. Adlon said she modeled the character (played by Adam Kulbersh) after her own father..

“I really recreated my dad from the ‘70s with the big collars and all that,” she said, adding that her father — who was a TV writer — was also “tortured” during his life and serves as her muse today.

“I lost my dad when he was 60,” Adlon said. “He was the first person I ever heard use the term ‘reinvent yourself’ […] so it’s not lost on me that my life exploded outward as a writer, producer, director, actor [at around the same age]. It’s like I’m living out his legacy.”

“Better Things” airs new episodes Thursdays at 10 p.m ET on FX.

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