Pamela Adlon wears many hats—she’s an actress, voice actress, screenwriter, and producer. She won an Emmy for her voice work as Bobby Hill on King of the Hill, appeared on Californication, and served as a consulting producer and guest star on Louie. Adlon’s latest project, Better Things, is her most personal project to date. Not only did she create it, but she also stars in it as an actress and single mom raising three daughters, all while juggling the insanity of Hollywood. We caught up with Adlon in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, to find out just how this project started for this real life multi-tasking Mom. Stream Episode 1 of Better Things, and make sure to tune in to Episode 2 tonight at 10/9c on FX!
You were great on Louie and I think a lot of fans wanted to know when you’d be back! It’s exciting that you’re launching your own show—what inspired you to create the show now? What was the driving force behind it?
I’ve always kind of looked at my professional life through windows of time that I’ve been experiencing personally. I got pregnant with my first daughter when I was doing King of the Hill, and a lot of other animated stuff. I didn’t really feel like pursuing other on camera projects. After my second daughter and third daughters, I decided I had to start going out for stuff so I started doing on camera stuff again. And then there was Lucky Louis! Louis and I started working together as writers, and I did Californication and Louie at the same time.
Then John Langraf [Editor’s note: President and General Manager of FX] asked Louis what he wanted to work on next, and he wanted to do a show with a woman. Louis pitched me, and I was like “Dude, when am I going to do that? I have these 3 girls and I’m doing these 2 shows.” But it’s really all about windows—windows of opportunity. And honestly, if I didn’t start taking those opportunities when I did, I wouldn’t be here right now. And I had to literally beg, borrow, or steal every second of time that I could to get to get the script written, and then get this whole season written. FX is definitely the only network that would take a gamble on me being the lead of a show. The timing turned out right. I guess that year I took off doing everything so I could finish watching Breaking Bad was a good idea!
Why do you think FX would be the only network to invest in you as a lead?
Because they’ve proven that they can. I’m just not network material—I’ve been fired. I’ve replaced people, and I’ve been replaced. Every single kind of thing. I don’t fit in any kind of category that would work. I think it’s just a fertile place for somebody like me.
I always consider myself kinda on the fringe, like a raccoon. I would go up for parts, and then there would be a room full of beautiful blondes or cool, just natural, like real people. It’s basically about a different kind of struggle, and I’m trying to show that without hitting audiences over the head. So it makes me happy if that’s translating and people are seeing that.
When did you know you wanted to be an actress?
I grew up in that world because my dad was a writer and producer. I just wanted in! Whether I put words to it, I actively, openly pursued it when I was about 11. I always knew I wanted to be a part of this world. Wanted to be a part of television in particular.
And when did you realize that writing was a thing for you?
It’s something that I’ve always done. My dad used to say “Even if you write one sentence a day, it’s a triumph. But you’ve got to put something down every day.” So I’ve always written. I’ve always journaled. I wrote poems and songs. I’ve always been documenting. I had a video camera or a Super 8 camera on my eye for the entirety of my teens through my 20s.
Did the show change from your initial pitch or from your initial vision?
It’s a lot stronger. The original pitch was really just the pilot show. I really made a pilot purely to tell that story and the original pilot was far more relentless. My inspiration was All That Jazz, the Bob Fosse movie. Once we got through the season, it kinda informed the lead cut of the pilot from where it was going. I can’t even believe it. It got richer! The pilot got richer and then the whole season emerged.
How autobiographical is the show?
There’s a lot of stuff that’s real life, and then there’s a lot of stuff that’s like “I wonder what would happen if I did that?” And then I get to play with that, and it’s just nice details that come into play. Conflict and confrontation are never comfortable, but it’s great for comedy! Thinking back to those kind of things, I always think “What can I cultivate and put into my show?”