Interview: 'Mom' star Anna Faris on why it's fun to be a mess and hard to fall down
Now it's time for your semi-regular reminder: Few comedies on network TV take more risks and offer more interesting rewards than CBS' "Mom" and CBS' "Mom" is shifting to a new time period at 9:30 on Thursdays.
They've been having a rough go of things recently on "Mom," with the death of Kevin Pollak's Alvin. And rather than following the normal sitcom blueprint of letting characters grieve for a scene or two, "Mom" has kept those emotional wounds open.
Of course, as always on "Mom," it hasn't been all wallowing. Yes, her father just died and her mother may be cracking up a little, but Anna Faris' Christy got a promotion at work and with a new-found interest in the law, it's possible that Christy may have more direction than ever before. And that, of course, means that it'll soon be time for Christy to fall on her face again.
Last week, I dropped by the "Mom" set and was able to chat with Anna Faris, Emmy winner Allison Janney and a few guest stars. My conversation with Janney dropped a few spoilers, so I'm holding it for a few weeks, but she gave me some interesting insights before sitting down with Faris.
Thanks to the "Scary Movie" franchise and roles in films like "The House Bunny" and "Smiley Face" and "Just Friends," Faris came to CBS as a known comedic quantity, but "Mom" has let her expand on the dramatic range that sometimes appeared in small roles in "Brokeback Mountain" or "Lost in Translation." As she discusses, she didn't expect that when she signed on for a Chuck Lorre comedy, but she's loved the opportunities.
In our conversation, Faris talks about the importance of having Janney with her for this project, the fact that physical comedy never gets easy and Christy's new-found direction. She also says that she wouldn't mind getting to see Christy become more messy as well.
Remember the new 9:30 "Mom" time slot and check out my chat with Anna Faris below...
HitFix: So, I was just talking with Allison about the idea that the darkness of this show and the seriousness has to some degree snuck up on you guys; that it wasn't initially what it felt like you were doing. Is that the same with you?
Anna Faris: Yeah it definitely felt like that. I think when we got the pages about Violet, my daughter, being pregnant, which was first or second episode, it felt like, "Oh they've got to change this. There's no way that we can do this." And it's been kind of amazing. It used to make me a little crazy; my curiosity, I would always want to know what was going on and I'd try to pry the writers and Chuck [Lorre] for information about where we were headed because it felt like we just couldn't possibly go down all these dark, serious roads and they wouldn't tell me anything. And now I kind of take comfort in it because I just don't think my brain could handle it anymore. But it's been really, that element has been so rewarding. I don't mean to speak for Allison, but I think for both of us, and certainly for me, getting to have quiet performances sometimes. It feels really good.
HitFix: Well something Allison was saying was that she usually prefers to do the emotional stuff without an audience, but that you often prefer to do it with an audience and that she was impressed by that. ["Oh, interesting!" she says, reflecting.] Have you not felt like that was a difference?
Anna Faris: No. I think I like to do it in front of the audience, if we've done it without the audience. I love to feel the difference. So I prefer to do it like a pre-shooting day and then if I'm allowed to I'll say, "Is there a chance we can do this in front of the audience?" because the stakes are completely different. It's not necessarily that I feel like I've given a stronger performance, but I love how it changes the performance. And sometimes it kind of messes you up though, because the audience will seem to be a little vocal. They'll say like "Ooooh!" or "Ohhhh!" and you're like, "Wait. No. I want to acknowledge that you're here, but I also might need to..." so it's different but I like to do it both ways. Mostly, too, it's because we move so fast. Often times we'll do two takes and I still feel insecure about the idea of having it, "Do we have it?" And so that's the long rambling answer.
HitFix: But you know, obviously if you're doing a comedic scene in front of an audience and the audience laughs you at least have a sense that you got what you were supposed to get out of it. Is there any sort of feedback that you have on a dramatic scene in front of an audience where you have any sence if you did it right?
Anna Faris: Sometimes I feel like if we've done something dramatic and it's made an impact, there will be silence. And there's such volume in that silence, if the audience feels like they were impacted and hopefully we told the story right and hopefully they're emotionally invested in the character. So I think that part adds to it as well, I guess. But then there's the moments when they're like "Awwww!" and you're like, "No I didn't do it."
HitFix: So then when you do something really hard and emotional is there something almost relaxing and comforting about going back to like a physical comedy scene where Christy trips and falls on her face? Is that like coming home to some degree?
Anna Faris: No. You know, it's kind of the opposite. It feels like there's something really relaxing about doing the more dramatic stuff. I've been doing comedy for so long and physical comedy and it's still enormously challenging. And it's so fulfilling to be able to, I guess, trust my quieter moments a little bit more now that I've given a little opportunity I trust in myself a little bit more, hopefully, to be able to deliver an impactful performance. But falling on your face is still hard. It's just so hard. It is so much harder than anybody thinks. And it hurts. And I've done a lot of it. And I think that the end result is fun, but it is undeniably difficult.
HitFix: Do you have to prepare differently for a heavy physical comedy episode?
Anna Faris: Oh yeah. Yeah. I think your body is just kind of sore. Because I'm new to this I still feel very new to this format, I sometimes don't know when I can really milk a moment and when I should downplay or throw away a moment. And I think Chuck [Lorrre] has a a great gauge for that. But it takes me by surprise sometimes. The moments he'll tell me, "No, no that's a throwaway joke. Don't hit that at all." Or he'll say, "No have fun with that. Do a crazy weird dance." I'm like, "Alright. I guess I am but a puppet." The mental state I think that you have to be in to do some of the more comedic bits, you have to I think be willing to release any idea of vanity. And I comfort myself by imagine that I'm diving into the deep end of the pool and if I don't touch the bottom I'm just going to look like a jerk. Because with a lot of this stuff you really cannot have half-ass deliver it. You've got to own it. And that's thrilling but also really challenging because the risk is, is that everyone is going to think that you are your character.
HitFix: What is the necessity of trust with your costar? What does it do for you knowing that Allison is also diving into the deep end with you?
Anna Faris: Oh, she completely inspires me. We're really close. I'm so grateful for that. I'm so grateful that we're doing this show together, because I really depend on her. I lean on her. The process is so mentally intense from getting a script on Monday and shooting a live show on Friday with so many changes. We have a really dense show, as Chuck likes to put it, in that we tell like what on a normal show -- or maybe I shouldn't say "normal" show -- but on a let's say any other show maybe... Whatever, a normal show, I don't want to dig myself into any place, but there would be like a laundry basket episode or something where it's like, which is awesome and valid if you have brilliant writers. It feels like we packed 10 storylines or themes into one show, so mentally it's a hurdle and I could never do it without Allison sort of her friendship and also her ability is incredible. So I'm really grateful and totally I feel like we are partners in crime. I don't know what crime we've committed, probably a lot.
HitFix: Now one thing I've been very relieved with this season is Christy finding herself in terms of a future plan. Because there were a lot of times last season where she was going into the restaurant and that was just all it was and this season now she suddenly seems to have a goal. Were you frustrated at all last season with the fact that she didn't seem to want that?
Anna Faris: You know, it wasn't so much that, but I did feel like she being sort of newly recovered and going through a lot of traumatic events first season, that she just had so much weight on her shoulders, I felt like that she was carrying such a heavy load for everybody. She also had to do a lot of repair work so she didn't have time to indulge a lot of her own passion and interest. So this season that's been really fun. And I love it especially when she's guilty. The gambling s***, I love and like anytime she's messy and flawed. I really loved playing with the role reversal of "Mom." We kind of juggle it a lot. The first season, I was pretty much the mom to everybody most of the time, second season it's been changing; sometimes Violet is the mom to us, to Allison and I, sometimes Allison is my mom. It's really fun to play in all those rolls of being a child and just the nuance to one's own personalities. As a woman, you kind of realize as an actress, that that is just so rare. And then when you finally get to play with somebody who has a lot of dimension, it feels just unbelievably rewarding. So did I sort of answer your question?
HitFix: Sure. And when she got to sort of the idea that law was going to be her destination, did that make sense to you for the character?
Anna Faris: You know, I think that Christy she always had, even though she dropped out of school, I think she always, unlike most of the characters I've ever played, I think she always had a little bit of confidence in her intelligence, I think. And I've never played that before. And I think she has a good heart. She wants to give back. I think she also likes being in charge and likes feeling like her voice is being heard. So yeah it does make sense to me.
HitFix: And that feels like something to you that's going to sort of stick?
Anna Faris: I have no idea. The most I'll know is like if Octavia [Spencer] is coming back on Monday or whatever that's all know. I scrap together information. Last season I asked Chuck I was like, "Hey, so can I ask you about some upcoming storylines?" And he said, "You can *ask* me anything." And I was like, "Alright, so I guess I won't ask you anything then."
HitFix: What do you make of that secrecy? Is that just how the process works you think?
Anna Faris: I guess so. This is my first time sort of deep in this world so I don't know if all shows work like this, but I do know to our great benefit, Allison and myself, I know that Chuck is really interested in exploring stuff that he's never really done before in this format. And I think that is just awesome. I hope we continue to do crazy stuff. When Alvin passed away, Chuck pulled Allison and I aside to tell us that that was going to happen, which is I think the only time that's happened. And he said, "You know, the thing is is that life goes on and these things happen in people's lives and we've got to explore it." And I loved that. I love it that it's not always sunny for the Plunkett family.
HitFix: I feel like Bonnie has hit bottom a couple times and Christy has not yet hit bottom. Are you looking forward to it?
Anna Faris: Oh I hope so. Oh my God I would love that. I think from the little information that I can sort of gather is that I think if that ever were to happen, which I'm not sure it would, but I think that they have to make sure that the kids are protected, that Roscoe and Violet are protected. And I hope that if she doesn't necessarily relapse, I hope that she unravels in other various ways because it's so fun to play.
HitFix: I mean even the gambling addiction was a relapse of sorts that didn't require a full relapse. And I don't feel like she's necessarily gotten to that grieving point with Alvin yet.
Anna Faris: Yes. I think you're right. And I had a couple of love interests last year, but I think that she's not quite there in her life either and maybe if we're fortunate enough to continue to make the show for a while maybe there's that. I don't know what kind of vulnerabilities that will bring up in her, especially growing up basically without parents essentially, and so what kind of abandonment issues or all kinds of intimate issues that she may have, and so I'm excited to explore all that stuff.
HitFix: But you're ready to go there.
Anna Faris: I love it. I love it. It's so fun to be a mess. It's so fun. Yeah so I hope we get to go down those roads too.
"Mom" airs on Thursdays on CBS now at 9:30 p.m.