Anna Faris began her Hollywood career with “Scary Movie,” which first demonstrated her willingness to go to places onscreen most actors wouldn’t dare. Whether revealing a yard-high batch of pubic hair in that film or injuring herself trying to imitate Marilyn Monroe over a steaming manhole in “The House Bunny,” Faris can be relied on to fully commit in the name of comedy. So it’s somewhat surprising to hear that her mother is a bit on the conventional side.
“My mom hates when I call her conservative because she’s very liberal politically,” Faris says. “But she doesn’t like anything raunchy. So I think she was a little bit embarrassed about my movies.” When Faris signed on to do the 2007 cult comedy “Smiley Face,” she had a frank conversation with her mother. “I told her, ‘I don’t want you to be upset, but this movie is about a stoner, and she is stoned the whole movie. But I love it so much, and I’m doing it for no money,’ ” says Faris. “She was upset. She said, ‘You are a role model; you’re a public figure; you shouldn’t be promoting drugs.’ And I said, ‘Mom, you have to know that I love you. But I never want your voice to be in the back of my head when I’m playing a character. And I don’t want to be a role model. I want to play really weird people!’ ” The story has a happy ending. “She really heard what I was saying. And now ‘Smiley Face’ is her favorite of all my movies!”
So what does Faris’ mother think about “Mom,” the new CBS comedy in which she plays Christy, a recovering alcoholic and single mother, who welcomes her former drug-addict mother, Bonnie (played by Allison Janney), back into her life? After all, Christy is sleeping with her married boss, has a sexually promiscuous teenage daughter, and has a mother who has been known to “lick cocaine crumbs out of a shag carpet.” Turns out Faris’ real mom is a fan of “Mom.” Says Faris, “She loves, loves, loves it. I mean, I don’t know if she’s going to get all the jokes. And I’m not sure I want her to.”
“Mom” marks Faris’ first regular TV gig, though she’s had memorable guest arcs on shows such as “Friends” and “Entourage.” She also shot two pilots early in her career, “Dog Days” and “Blue Skies”; neither was picked up. But the majority of the last decade has been dedicated to movies such as “Observe and Report” and “What’s Your Number?,” which Faris also produced. It was the underperformance of the latter film that Faris says “threw off” her career. “We had been developing some things, and after ‘What’s Your Number?’ didn’t really perform, things kind of slowed down,” she says. “I’ve said it before, but as hard as it is to get your first job, it can be even harder to get your seventh or eighth.” Hollywood frequently doesn’t know what to do with beautiful and funny women, and Faris is honest about the fact that she has seen her share of underdeveloped roles. “I’ve seen plenty of parts that weren’t necessarily well-defined in the script,” she says. “I think women tend to be saddled with exposition more than men. ‘We gotta get out of here; the thing’s gonna explode!’ Or some roles tend to be the ones where you’re serving the man, the comedian. You’re serving the setup, so you can’t be spicy.”
Faris says she also began to shift priorities after giving birth to her first child (with husband Chris Pratt) in August 2012. “I was toying with some independent films, but the offers were really kind of slowing down,” she says. “I didn’t know what was going to give me the most happiness. Maybe it was staying home with my baby and traveling around with Chris.”
Last December, a script in a plain manila envelope with no attached note arrived on her doorstep. Faris started reading the first episode of “Mom” without many expectations. “And by Page 2, I knew it was perfect,” she says. “It was such a blessing. It just felt like my voice. It was like the feeling of Cinderella putting on that shoe. A perfect fit.” The show came from producer Chuck Lorre, the creator of such hits as “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men,” whom Faris knew a bit socially. Lorre tells Backstage that though “the pilot was written without having anyone in mind,” Faris soon shot to the top of the list. “Once we had a first draft and sat with it for a while, it was clear that Anna was our only choice,” says Lorre. “We were very lucky she said yes.”
To hear Faris tell it, she’s the lucky one, landing “Mom” as she became a new mom. “This is my favorite job,” she says. “And not only am I crazy about the work—the hours are good, and it shoots just down the street.” She says she is still adjusting to shooting a sitcom in front of a live audience. “The whole process of multi-camera TV—and TV in general—is still new to me. But in a way it reminds me of theater. Except the audience shows up and really wants to be there and are so generous with their laughter.” Perhaps the hardest part of the role is tapping into Christy’s sarcastic side. “My approach to comedy is the same as drama, which is sincerity. That’s part of my personality too because I’m not a sarcastic person at all. And Christy is sarcastic, and I really struggle with those lines. Is she coming off like an asshole?”
Faris also feels fortunate because, in her words, “I’ve always been a pretty specific person to cast. I’ve never really been at a place in my career where scripts are piling up on the doorstep. I feel like I’m not a muse, if that makes sense.” Point out that she just might be Lorre’s muse, and she laughs. “That would be amazing. I would love to think that!”