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If you watch only one speech at this year’s Peabody Awards — and there will be plenty, from Norman Lear accepting a lifetime achievement honor to Ava DuVernay picking up a prize for her documentary 13th to Frontline winning for a report on ISIS — the one to wait for would be Pamela Adlon’s. She hasn’t written it yet (“I have no idea what I’m going to say,” she offers), but the 50-year-old star and co-creator (with Louis C.K.) of FX’s Better Things is seldom at a loss for words. On the eve of the 76th annual event — it’ll be hosted by Rashida Jones and broadcast June 2 on PBS and Fusion — Adlon spoke with THR about what a Peabody Award might mean for her show, why she directs it herself these days and the ups and downs of turning life into art.
Have you ever been to the Peabody Awards?
Oh, no, never. I wasn’t even aware of what it was. When we became finalists, I was like, “What the hell is this?” So I looked it up, and it turns out it’s so cool. They have this think tank of people [THR‘s Kim Masters served as one of this year’s judges] going through all this content and material — and then they have to come to a unanimous decision. It used to be the Pulitzer Prize of radio — that’s what I read about it online. It was all about radio documentaries and journalism. And then they opened it up in the past decade or so to entertainment. The more I read, the more excited I got about it. Especially because I feel like with my show I was making stories that mattered but that we were under the radar a little bit. So this means a huge amount to me.
How did Better Things come about? Did you pitch it to FX?
I’d been working with Louis C.K. on Lucky Louie for HBO, and he pitched me to FX because FX was looking to do a show centered around a woman. I was also doing Californication at the time, and my voiceover work [she’s the voice of Bobby on King of the Hill, among many other characters], not to mention raising my three daughters, so I was like, “There’s no way I can do that.” But you only get a certain number of opportunities in life, and Louis was like, “You have to come up with something!” I tried things that weren’t close to my life, but it was never as interesting as the things that were actually happening to me.
How autobiographical is the show?
I’m a single mom. I have three daughters and an English mother who lives next door, and I’m an actor and I do voiceover work. And those are the main bones of the character. It’s like the plagues at Passover: Divorce! Single mom! English mother next door! And then the rest of it is just what happens to these characters we’ve come up with. This new season that we’re shooting now was all written by last February, but every day something happens that I’m like, “Oh my God! I have to put all this horrible stuff that happened to me at the DMV into the show!”
You’re directing every single episode yourself this season. Why?
I directed a couple of episodes last season, and it just turns out to be easier. I don’t have a chain of emails and phone calls to go through. Everything is flowing through me — one vision, one eye, one voice. It’s super handmade that way. I guess because it’s such a personal show, it had to happen that way. It was meant to be.
This story first appeared in the May 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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