Louie Anderson’s Emmy-nominated turn is a loving tribute to his mom

Louie Anderson won two Daytime Emmys two decades ago for his semi-autobiographical animated series “Life With Louie,” in which he voiced his entire family, including his beloved mom, Ora Zella Anderson.

Now the 63-year-old comedian finds himself a Primetime Emmy nominee for playing Christine Baskets, an aching version of his late mother on FX’s existential comedy “Baskets.” Zach Galifianakis, who co-created the series with Louis C.K. and Jonathan Krisel, remembered hearing Anderson’s impression of his mother and took a gamble on the unique piece of casting.

“Louie anchors the show with his emotional arc,” Galifianakis says. “What he does with that character is so heartbreaking. There’s jokes here and there but he goes for heartbreaking.”

Anderson visited with The Envelope recently. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Q: I read a quote from you saying you stopped reading the reviews because you didn’t want Christine to become “highfalutin.”

A: I love that line my mom used to use, “highfalutin.” “They think they’re so highfalutin.” My mom’s delivery on it was really good. She was a very funny person and is a big part of Christine.

Oftentimes during the shoot, I asked Jonathan Krisel, “Can I say it like my mom would say it?” And that seemed to really help the character develop.

If you believe in divine intervention, I think my mom has her hand in this thing.

Q: Can you feel her presence in the work?

A: When I spew off some line that isn’t in me that comes out of nowhere, I go, “I think that was my mom who just took over, you know.”

Q: Once that door opened, were there other aspects of your life that came out?

A: You remember the Easter episode where my mom is belittling me for not becoming the cheerleader I could have become because I started putting on weight? My father always belittled me about my weight.

And I remember my dad telling the person doing radiation therapy on his prostate cancer these personal things about his childhood that he had never told me. It was a way of him sharing all that with me without having to look directly at me. And I found that really a profound thing at that time, and I was able to use that in a scene.

Q: Was Jeffrey Tambor’s work on “Transparent” an inspiration too?

A: I watched some episodes of “Transparent,” which is brilliant. One thing I watched that he did that was so positive for my character was that he didn’t try to become a woman. He tried to become himself. Does that make sense? He didn’t change his voice. He remained himself and maybe his true self. I’m a maternal person in my life. So I just embraced the idea that I’m Zach’s mom.

Q: I loved the episode where Mama Baskets makes the sugar pie for her friends and you see, later, that the pie hasn’t been touched. Your reaction is heartbreaking.

A: We all have one thing we think we can do really well. And people go along with it. It’s like Grandma’s green Jell-O with the carrots in it. You don’t really want it but it’s Grandma’s green Jell-O and that’s all she makes and she brings it. But at some point, somebody always says, like my dad did when he saw the green Jell-O, “What, did your aquarium freeze up?”

Christine’s sugar pie became her nemesis. I think people should say, “Listen, your sugar pie is no good. You’ve got to move on. How about some, you know, vegetable pie?”