‘Baskets’: Louie Anderson Goes Full Drag as Mom to a Circus Clown

Louie Anderson as Christine Baskets in Baskets
Ben Cohen/FX

When Louis C.K. rang up Louie Anderson to play Zach Galifianakis’s mother in the Hangover star’s new sad-clown tragicomedy, Baskets—a role originally intended for two-time Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn—Anderson accepted without hesitation. The 62-year-old gravel-voiced comedian, known best for ’80s stand-up and the partially biographical animated series Life With Louie, had been doing bits about his mom in his act for years. Drag, however, was not on his résumé.

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It may come as a surprise, then, that Anderson plays Christine Baskets, the disappointed mom to a struggling circus-performer son (as well as his more well-adjusted twin brother, also played by Galifianakis), with such subtlety. Donning a housedress and unassuming wig, Anderson uses no voice affectation to bring Christine to life. He was moved to model her after the memory of a very real person: his own mother, who raised the comic and his five sisters in the presence of an alcoholic father. “She really looked out for us,” Anderson says. “The person who does that for you—who saves you—that’s the person you gravitate toward in a lot of your life decisions.”

Embracing the idea, he worked with the costumer to create a look that would mirror his mother’s. “We were poor, but my mom always had a sense of what she thought ‘class’ was,” Anderson says. “So I tried to keep that in mind.” Engrossed in the part, he went Method on set, staying in character and even requesting that his trailer be labeled “Christine.” It allowed him to tap into a well of raw emotion. “I don’t think I ever played the parts right, early in my career,” he says. “I was just afraid. You don’t have any fear when you’re 62.”

So what would his mother—who passed away in 1990—think about his inspired turn? “She would be so thrilled,” Anderson says. “[But] knowing my mom, she would definitely give me pointers about what she thought I should do.”

Baskets, Thursday, Feb. 25, 10/9c, FX