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Pamela Adlon is making it up as she goes

The "Louie" alum looks inward on her new show "Better Things"

"Better Things" shows the balancing act of being a working actor and single mom.Colleen Hayes/FX

Pamela Adlon is just getting to the good stuff. Known for leading roles on “Louie” and “Californication” and her voice work as Bobby in “King of the Hill,” the sassy, raspy-voiced actor now has her own show that she writes, produces and stars in. “Better Things,” a new 30-minute comedy Adlon co-created with Louie C.K., is a semi-autobiographical series about Sam Fox, a working actor in LA who’s also raising three daughters on her own (like Adlon).
The show depicts Fox navigating the day-to-day ups and downs of being a working mom with a laugh and a shrug. In the world of “Better Things,” it seems, adulthood is about making it up as you go.
“I always felt like the log line for my show could be, ‘life is what happens to you when you’re too busy to make any other plans,’” she says. “You have to make room for things that are unexpected, all the time. You just can’t plan.”
We spoke with Adlon in advance of the “Better Things” premiere, which is Thursday, Sept. 8 on FX.
There are a lot of parallels between you and your character, Sam Fox. When you were writing the show, what was the balance of using your own life for material and creating anew?
I definitely had to look inward and tap into the rolodex of stories I’ve been hoarding. I’ve been looking at my life in an observational way for so long, and then as I brought in these other actors, everything just became more fleshed out. As I was doing each episode, I was finding her (Fox’s) voice. I didn’t really think, 'Oh this is how I’m going to be as Sam Fox,' or whatever, it just became more and more clear as I was doing the show.
She’s definitely kind of like me, 2.0. She’s much more, I guess, volatile. Things that are dormant in me or characteristics that I don’t have came to the surface with Sam. She’s more extreme than I am.
Inevitably, viewers and critics are going to compare “Better Things” to “Louie.” How did your experience on “Louie” influence you?
In terms of “Louie,” my association and collaboration on that show definitely helped form “Better Things.” The kind of brand of television that we are able to create. You know, I’m the daughter of a writer, but I learned so much about writing from “Louie,” it’s astonishing. And certainly I built muscles making my show that I didn’t even know that I had.
You’ve filmed shows, from “Louie” to “Californication,” in both New York and LA. What are some of the major differences between doing a show on the East vs. West Coast?
Doing “Californication” was like, oh my God, we would shoot in Venice, it kinda felt like being a walk around character in Disney Land. Like, there’s Cokie Smurf and Hank Moody on Abbot Kinney! It was kinda funny — and always very pleasant weather wise.
And shooting “Louie” in New York, we’d be shooting in Leroy Park at 30 below zero, freezing temperatures. Very different experiences for sure.
You were born in Manhattan, but you grew up bicoastal. What is your relationship with New York and LA?
California has been an amazing place to raise my daughters. When I was young and I was being shuttled back and forth between New York and LA, I kinda didn’t fit in anywhere, and I just wanted to always go back to New York. And then as I became an adult, I decided I didn’t want to have that mindset, I wanted to be happy where I was. And so I got very grounded in LA and put my roots down here with my girls, who are very much California girls.
The poster image is getting a lot of attention. We read that you purposefully kept your face out of the promos, to make it easier on your kids.
That was marketing’s concept. And I said, great, I’m all for that, as opposed to having my face be on a bus or a billboard and my kids and I having to drive past it. I much prefer my ass showing than my face. ​

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