‘Overboard’ and ‘Mom’ star Anna Faris is making motherhood fun again
If Anna Faris hadn’t gone into acting, she’d have made a great therapist.
Here you are, just trying to interview her about her new movie “Overboard,” a remake of the 1987 Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn rom-com, and before you know it she’s slyly asking the questions instead — about childhood, work, the firefly population in your area. (She’s way into bugs.)
This is an unusual trait in an actor; the profession frequently requires a certain level of narcissism. But it’s a quality that has made Faris successful as host of the podcast “Unqualified,” in which she chats with famous guests but also dives headlong into her callers’ problems, often getting borderline choked up as she talks them through heartbreak or dysfunctional family dynamics or the planning of marriage proposals.
“I just wanted some interactions that didn’t have to do with celebrity,” says the 41-year-old Faris, clad in a T-shirt and ripped jeans. Her wide-eyed face still bears traces of the makeup from our cover shoot at a sunlit Santa Monica house, where we’re hanging out upstairs in the art studio.
Before she started her podcast in 2015, she says, “I was getting to feel like every time I talked to somebody, it was like I didn’t have any kind of genuine connection. I found myself becoming really introverted, even agoraphobic. And I didn’t want to stop exploring — this sounds so f–kin’ lofty — the idea of human connection. And of loneliness.”
This quiet, introspective woman is a marked contrast from the slapstick comic who an hour earlier had our entire Alexa crew in stitches, and who got her start in the satirical “Scary Movie” series, parlaying her four-film run into a career of outsized roles: a past-her-prime Playmate in “The House Bunny”; a neurotic hedonist in “What’s Your Number?”; a coked-up, sword-wielding version of herself in the Key & Peele comedy “Keanu.”
“Keenen [Ivory Wayans, director of ‘Scary Movie’] told me one day that the reason I was cast was because I had no idea what made me funny,” she says. “I cherished that. I pondered it. I never thought I would make it as an actor in general. I had never been part of the comedic world.” Does she know what makes her funny now? “I think it’s my ridiculous faces,” she says after a pause. “Or the fact that I desperately want to be taken seriously. Probably a combination there.”
She’ll be using those comedic chops again in her just-released film. “It was terrifying to remake a movie that I loved so much growing up,” she says of the original “Overboard,” which saw Hawn playing a bitchy socialite whose amnesia is exploited by Russell’s blue-collar carpenter to make her think she’s his wife and the mother of his four unruly sons. In the updated version, Faris takes on the Russell role: She’s a working mom who hoodwinks an obscenely wealthy man-child (played by Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez) into taking care of her house and daughters while she studies to become a nurse.
“At first I was like, ‘What do you mean, we’re switching roles? I want to be the one with the crazy character arc!’” says Faris, who could easily emulate Hawn’s look. But ultimately, she says, she embraced the swap, and points out that the love story between the couple (arguably the most uncomfortably retro element of the original) isn’t front and center in this version. “I like that my character is just sort of too burdened with her life to have [romance] be any kind of focus,” she says. “As a person who’s been — in my personal life and in the characters I play — trying to please everybody around me and win a dude or whatever, I just appreciated that.”
This makes sense, given what’s been going on in her life lately: Faris split from her husband, actor Chris Pratt, last year after eight years of marriage, and the media scrutiny has been intense. Adding to the awkwardness of this was the arrival of Faris’ 2017 memoir, also called “Unqualified,” written before the split but published after it.
Both Pratt and Faris have said publicly that they’re still good friends and committed to co-parenting their 5-year-old son, Jack. At the moment, much like her characters in “Overboard” and the CBS sitcom “Mom,” Faris is squarely focused on her kid and her career. Sure, she’s got more resources than her working-class film counterparts, but says she still struggles against expectations to be the perfect mother.
“As a woman, especially, there’s that inevitable loss of identity,” she says. “I feel like I get judged on mom e-mail chains, if I didn’t contribute to the thing, but I meant to, or whatever. There’s this constant undercurrent of guilt.”
She aims for Zen and usually lands somwhere near good enough. “Am I doing this right? Do I care? Not really,” she says, giving voice to the narrative in her head. “Is he gonna put those Legos in his mouth? Maybe. Do I care? I’m not sure. He’s gonna vomit in the pool. Do I care? Not really.
“But,” she continues, “I think he’s a little stronger because I’m not so much of a helicopter parent. When I watch Jack overcome a fear or work something out on his own, I’ll see him look at me across the room and I’m like, ‘You got this, dude.’ And my heart will just fill with pride as he figures it out and is brave.”
An English-major graduate of the University of Washington, Faris was a self-proclaimed angry teen whose drama-club crowd was nicknamed the Bat-Cavers.
She’s long agitated for roles that are more complex than Hollywood has generally offered women. Her brief, devilish 2003 appearance as a ditzy actress in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” is one of the film’s underrated pleasures. In 2007, she played a stoner named Jane in the indie “Smiley Face,” which remains one of her favorite parts.
“I think that movie made about 200 bucks. But I would wake up so thrilled that I would get to say these delicious lines from this f – – ked-up character who wasn’t chasing a guy.” It inspired her, she says, to push for changes to her subsequent role: “I tried to make a case in ‘The House Bunny’ for no love interest,” she says. “But you win some, you lose some. I love Colin Hanks, so … that’s OK. But,” she says, brightening up, “Christy hasn’t had too many love interests.”
Christy would be Faris’ lead role, nearly five years running, on “Mom,” where she plays a single mother and recovering alcoholic gradually reconciling with her own unorthodox mom, Bonnie (Allison Janney). The show is notable for its largely female cast and an unwavering focus on the process of addiction recovery — not, at first glance, the natural stuff of comedy.
“It feels refreshing,” says Faris. “I love the moments when we all get to be broad and funny but then also get the opportunity to be intimate, especially in that multicamera format, and to reach out and move people in some way. The lines, you know, are rarely even really gender-specific.”
On the show, whose season finale is May 10, Faris’ character struggles with a new temptation (after previously nearly relapsing on alcohol). “Christy succumbs to a weakness, which is gambling, something I am really not good at,” Faris says with a laugh. “I think you could probably read every expression that’s crossing my face.”
That transparency is channeled on her podcast, which she says has made her feel more in charge of her own narrative.
“I feel like I can tell my story the way I want to. Not that I want to share everything,” she says, “but at least knowing I could is really nice.”
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