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Californication’s Pamela Adlon on the Louie Rape Scene, Acting With Debbie Harry, and TV Recap Culture

23 Mar 2014, Burbank, California, USA --- Cast member Pamela Adlon attends the premiere of
Photo: Phil McCarten/Reuters/Corbis

On the latest season of Louie, Pamela (Pamela Adlon) delivers her first line — “Hi, stupid asshole” — right after literally kicking our antihero in the ass. “Why are you so mean to me?” he asks a few episodes later. “Why do you like it?” she replies. Louis CK and Adlon — an Emmy-winner for voicing 13-year-old Bobby on King of the Hill — previously shared acidic repartee as spouses on the series Lucky Louie, which HBO canceled in 2006 after one season (sample plot: Louie ruins a romantic weekend by calling his wife the C word). Before reuniting with CK for Louie, where she’s also a consulting producer, Adlon began a seven-season run as bikini waxer Marcy Runkle on Californication, which concluded with Sunday night’s series finale. We spoke with Adlon about the Louie scene that made us cringe, bar-hopping with Blondie, and reading porn penned by her dad.

It’s been four seasons, and I still can’t decide if I even like Pamela.
Yeah, when we were fleshing out the season and he told me I threw away his furniture, I was like, Okay now, she’s like a monster! A crazy person would throw away somebody’s furniture. [Laughs.]

Do you like her? Can you sell us on liking her?
It’s always been that she’s got a guard up for some reason, ever since season one. I think that she’s got so many good traits that people forget about, like [in season two] when they went into that apartment and I saw the old man in his underwear and I made him an egg. Or “Pamela” did. [Laughs.] No, no — I made the egg.

I did forget about that.
I think she’s a really interesting person. It’s funny reading the stuff on the internet — Louis and I have been talking about this recap culture and how people just, you know, start a big conversation while a season of television is running. All these fucking recaps, they’re crazy. It’s just the temperature of where social media is at now. A few episodes back on Californication, people in the first time zone watched one of the episodes, and then it’s all over Twitter, people going, “Karen’s alive!” And I’m like, “You guys are ruining it!” I love the conversation — I think it’s wonderful — I just think people are premature-ejaculating their opinions. I liken it to reading a book, and you’re halfway through and you put it down, and you say, “This is what happened in the book so far, and you know what? If this doesn’t happen I’m going to be so upset.” You know what I mean?

Or being halfway through a movie and doing half a review. And the fact people were talking about, Did Louie try to rape Pamela? Was that a rape? Or calling it rape straight-out, which was nuts, because I never saw it like that, because they had this kind of over-the-edge connection and relationship. They do a push-me/pull-me thing. I know that one thing that motivates Louis and drives him is characters that don’t explain why they do what they do. You just see things happen and play out, and you don’t get a neat little button at the end of it. Pamela and Louie are both as flawed as the next person, it’s not cut and dry.

Compare your personality to your character.
I’m more of somebody who’ll bend over backwards for people and, you know, wait at the back of the line until everybody’s taken care of. That’s really my nature. I’m not nearly as bold as Pamela, but I relate to a lot of the stuff. And also, she’s just being a very pure version of herself and a modern woman. She’s a single mom and she’s dealing with, like, her guy who moved to Europe and all this kind of stuff and it’s just complicated.

Back to the “rape” scene: That definitely made me uncomfortable. On the page, that scene couldn’t have had as much tension as what you two ultimately brought to it.
That’s something that Louis came up with on his own, and when I read it I was dying laughing, because in the script he said, “Louie approaches her closing off the ring” — which is like a boxing terminology — and then he said, “and she’s holding on to the walls and furniture like a cartoon cat.” So when I read it, it read hilariously. Then on the day that we were shooting it, I was like, “Let’s really get into it,” and I grabbed the dresser and all of that. And then at a certain point, I looked at him and I said, “Somebody might get mad.” [Laughs.] But, you know, people are saying that he forced the kiss on me at the end in the doorway, but actually, I’m standing there and he said, “We’re romantic and I know you want to do something with me so I’m going to kiss you now.” And I’m sitting there and I go, “Okay, maybe.” But — I don’t know. I certainly am an advocate for women’s rights and everything. I have three daughters.

And he has two.
The notion that we’re being careless and putting some kind of dangerous message out is offensive to me. But I can’t help what people feel and what reaction they give to things. I said something to Louis at the beginning of this season, which was that when we’re doing stuff, more than going for a laugh or anything — or a reaction — we’re going for a feeling. If we come up with something and we both go, Oh my God, that’s amazing, we know that we’re making a feeling that people are going to respond to and really like. The bathtub scene was something that, you know, I was in my tub one day, and I was like, Oh, God, I know what has to happen — we have to take a bath together. We’ve gotta get in the tub, we owe it to everybody. [Laughs.]

That was your idea?
Yeah, the tub, the water gushing over and everything. And Louis was dying, he was like, Oh my God. And we knew that that was going to make a feeling, and I never knew how it was going to translate. And when I watched the episode all cut together — personally, those last two episodes — I can’t stop giggling and smiling throughout both of them.

Was it Louis’s idea to bare his butt in front of the camera?
[Laughs.] He’s not afraid of doing that kind of stuff. He did it in Lucky Louie.

There was some full-frontal male nudity on that show. Do you think the Louie character is really in love with your character, or is that kind of like a knee-jerk reaction to how things ended abruptly with Amia?
I really think that they have feelings for each other, yeah. I feel like they both love each other, it’s just that he’s able to say it and Pamela isn’t. And I think that because of what happened with Amia — like for everybody who gets into a relationship, rebound or not — people really want a place that they can go and know that they can get something back.

Does Pamela have a job?
Um [laughs], hmm. We were talking about that. I guess — I don’t really know. I can’t say, I have no comment right now [Laughs.]

And to clarify, her son is named Sir, S-i-r?
It’s spelled like S-E-R-G. I always thought it would be funny if I called my son “Sir.” Like calling your daughter “Ma’am,” or something like that.

It’s fun watching you on shows that can be so subversive and kinky, partly because your career couldn’t have started off in a more wholesome way, with The Facts of Life and Grease 2 and 21 Jump Street. Have your kids watched all those clips on YouTube?
Yeah, they’re aware of all that stuff. My oldest daughter and I recently found some clips from 21 Jump Street [she played a psychic teenager who predicts disaster], and we were dying. It’s a hilarious part of my past, all the sitcoms I did in the ‘80s. And then all the animation — animation is amazing. It’s really been great. I’ve always played kind of darker characters, like orphans, drug dealers, thieves, street rats. But most of the time they have a good heart.

What do remember about acting alongside Debbie Harry in Wiseguy?
[Shrieks] Oh my God, that’s the best question ever! Are you kidding me? I was like 20 or 21 — but that was like the greatest. For me? That time was so awesome. It was like a whole bunch of us going back and forth from L.A., doing a bunch of shows in Canada. And then to be on this show with Debbie fucking Harry. I remember one night [in Vancouver], she and I went out to a club called Heartbreak. We were in there for about one minute, and they started playing “Heart of Glass,” and she started moving her head and she turned to me and said [accented], “That sounds really good in here,” with this thick Brooklyn accent. But she was amazing. I was in awe of watching with her and with Paul McCrane, who I worshipped from the original Fame movie, and Glenn Frey and Paul Winfield and Patti D’Arbanville and Deidre Hall. Tim Curry — I was dying over Tim Curry. Are you kidding me? That was one of my greatest. I loved that. God, that was good.

On WTF With Marc Maron, you talked about how your dad wrote and produced several classic TV shows (Chico and the Man, The Love Boat) but also — using pseudonyms — wrote softcore-porn novels. Have you read any of his books?
Oh, yeah, I have a couple [laughs]. One is called Super Doll and one is called Turn the Other Sheik, like “The Sheik of Araby.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa — your dad wrote book called Super Doll, and on Californiacation a very realistic sex doll was made in your likeness?
Yeah. [Laughs.] It’s pretty funny.

Californication’s Pamela Adlon on TV Recaps