Zach Galifianakis on His 'Baskets' Brawl and the Emotions of Arby's

The Emmy nominee celebrates the small, passionate fandom of his FX comedy and Louie Anderson's performance.
Colleen Hayes/FX
Zach Galifianakis of 'Baskets'

After his double performance as Chip and Dale Baskets didn't earn an Emmy nomination after the first season of Baskets, Zach Galifianakis upped the ante and picked a fight with himself. 

The second season, which included an episode largely built around a knock-down, drag-out tussle between Chip and Dale, as well as moments of unexpected sympathy for the previously hissable Dale, was enough to put Galifiankis in the field for his quirky FX comedy.

A movie star after the Hangover franchise and winner of multiple Emmys for his short-form work on Between Two Ferns, Galifianakis knows that Baskets wasn't made for as large an audience as some of his other work, but he seems appreciative of the polite fans who have responded to the show and his work on it over two seasons. He's also incredibly appreciative of Louie Anderson, who won an Emmy in 2016 and is nominated again now.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Galifianakis discusses the different ways he's approached by fans of his very different work, the challenges of shooting a scene in which you're brawling with yourself and the emotions that come from shooting at Arby's.

Your Emmy category has so many different kinds of actors from different kinds of shows. Do you have any time to watch TV, and do you watch any of the other shows in your category?

The simple answer is I don't watch a lot of things. I haven't, to be honest. It seems terrible to say that, but it is the truth. 

I assume that's just a time issue, right?

Yeah, that is a time issue. I mean, I'm still trying to get caught up on Gilmore Girls.

It's a little uncommon for Emmy voters to recognize performances in the second season of a show if they didn't catch on when it was shiny and new. How gratifying was it to get this recognition in its second season?

I didn't even know they were being announced. I've never even thought about it, and then my phone, I realized that my phone there's a lot of texts coming in, and I remembered thinking, "Well, that must be an emergency. I'm not going to check my phone." It's an honor, it's a great honor. You know, I didn't expect anybody to really ... to ever see anything, and the fact that the show's getting seen and people are liking it ... It doesn't make any difference to me that it came first or second season. I'm just kind of flabbergasted at the nomination, to be honest with you. And that's not even false modesty. I mean, you've seen Baskets. 

When it premiered, I said it was going to be like 150 people's favorite show ever, but that that was going to be what the audience was. It's clearly a bigger audience than that. Have you been surprised that more than that core 150 have found the show?

I'm just under the assumption, Dan, that it's still 150 people, so I'm not 100 percent sure. These smaller things that you sometimes get involved in, it kind of reminds me of when I was doing stand-up only, and I had this small built-in crowd that would come out to see me sometimes. It feels like that, and that can be really rewarding. There's a lot of reward in the smaller numbers, I think. I've cast wider nets before, and sometimes when you cast a wider net, the comedy has to be cast wider, and I kind of wanted to rein that wide net in a bit with this.

Well, have you started getting Baskets specific responses? And do Baskets fans seem clearly different from, say, Hangover fans?

Baskets fans are very polite. Very polite, and it's just a different type of person I think that watches it. Other stuff that I've been in, people feel free to just pull my pants down in public, so it's nice to be kind of respected a little bit with the Baskets stuff.

Are you at the point now where you can kind of recognize somebody coming and see from the look in their eyes which of those two things they're going to be?

Oh, if I recognize somebody coming, I will make an exit right then ... no matter what. Yeah ... I mean, the Baskets people just kind of whisper something and move along. It's almost as if they're embarrassed that they like it. Then the other stuff is kind of ... the other stuff I guess I've been in is just louder and more of an audience, so it does bring a different fan, if you will.

This season's big Chip and Dale fight was fairly dazzling and ambitious. How hard was it to do that scene, and was that the kind of thing that once you've done it you go, "OK. Now we never need to do that again."

I say that after every day of work, "We never need to do that again." But I, yeah. when the writers write it, it's so exciting. That whole episode, we wanted to do the fight the whole episode. We wanted to see if we could get away with making the whole episode a fight, and then when you watch the next episode, the fight continues, but that was so ambitious. Yeah, that little fight scene, it's just ambitious. It's not hard, it's just strategic. But Jonathan Krisel, the director, he can masterfully do anything, so I don't worry about it too much. There's just a lot of changing back and forth in clothes, and hair and make-up, and that kind of stuff. Yeah, sometimes I'll drive home from work and I do ask myself if I'm masochistic.

I have to imagine that scene is insane for the continuity people. 

I think, if I'm not mistaken, that the technical difficulty is about not crossing a certain line, and also you're playing two parts and then you're acting against or with another person that looks like you. What's funny is that the stand-ins sometimes have to act back to me, and that always is so weird to have somebody dressed like you saying your lines that you just did. But it's just all kind of fun. There's a lot of joy on that set, and it allows for the creativity to flow a lot, lot faster than if there wasn't. Sometimes I've been on set where people are nervous. We don't have any of that stuff. It's just people pretending, and pretending as if they were children, and that's kind of the onus on set, that nothing's really hard, it's just sometimes technically challenging.

I thought that Louie Anderson was great in the first season, but the second season took it so much deeper. I'm curious on your reflections going back to your initial expectations for that character versus what Louis Anderson has brought to the table over two seasons.

First, the reason Louie got hired was because of his voice. There was a voice that I needed, I liked, which is a bit nagging, a little droney, and that was kind of it, so there wasn't much thought about ... sometimes you get these inspirations in your gut, it feels right. We didn't really know the depth in which Louie was going to bring this character. That's all Louie. That's Louie, and also the show wanting to be as goofy, but yet also as real as possible in moments. So, Louie brought that. He had been channeling his mom in his stage performances for years, which I wasn't aware of either, so he came with this whole history himself, and didn't even really let us know until we started working. 

So, a lot of comics, a lot of comedians are very emotional people. They're quite deeper than you expect them to be, and Louie's one of those people. He's incredible thoughtful, a sweetheart of a man, and I think a lot of times that vulnerability that you see from Louie, it comes from pain, and tenderness comes from pain, and I think that's what you're seeing.

The second season made Dale more sympathetic. It kind of gave an idea of what makes this guy tick that's different from what makes Chip tick. Does it make your job harder when you have to dig for more specificity and the characters aren't polar opposites?

What made it harder, I think, is I wanted to start off with both characters not being likable, because I just don't understand why everybody has to be so likable. It's not a reflection of life. It just isn't. I mean, I know. I understand about wanting to get behind someone you like. That's human nature, but I want these characters, at least for Chip, to learn, if the audience is willing to be patient with that, to learn to watch this person learn and change. Dale, yes, you're right, the second season we needed to make him a little bit more complex and emotional, and not just be this kind of a blabbermouth idiot that is just loud. This show allows us to bring out these emotional things, and it only helps, it helps the show a lot, so it's a slow build. I want these characters, I wanted them to be rolled out not likable, and I'm hoping that they become a little bit more likable. That was the trickiest thing to me, was "Oh, we're showing, at least the protagonist, there's not much to grab onto." But luckily through patience, the fans that have found the show, I think they're seeing that he's slowly changing, and Dale will too.

How strange is it to do emotional family scenes acting in an Arby's?

Well, Arby's is always emotional, whether you're acting in an Arby's or ordering in an Arby's. I mean, well, you've got to get the horsey sauce. But, yeah, the one thing about the Arby's and the Costco, people ask me like, "Are they paying you?" No. There's no plan. There's no exchange. There's no quid pro quo. We wanted to put the show in these realms because frankly every town in America looks the same. There's an Arby's and there's a Costco, and I don't see that reflected, ever, on television. So, the blandness and the corporatization of our neighborhoods is kind of what we were trying to do there, and make fun of that a bit, whether that translates, I'm not too sure.

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