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Emmy-nominated Pamela Adlon lifts the veil from single motherhood with 'Better Things'

Emmy-nominated Pamela Adlon lifts the veil from single motherhood with 'Better Things'
Pamela Adlon earned a comedy lead actress nomination for her FX series "Better Things." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

It took Pamela Adlon several years to get her FX comedy "Better Things" off the ground, partly because she was busy acting on such shows as "Louie" and "Californication," partly because she was raising three daughters as a single mom and partly because it took her awhile to understand that she needed to dig deep and tell her own story. (Binge-watching "Breaking Bad" didn't help, either.)

"Better Things,​"​​ co-written with Louis C.K., premiered in September, earning acclaim for the honest way it depicted the challenges of parenthood and the choppy waters of adolescence. It was pretty damn funny too.

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Adlon earned an Emmy nomination as lead actress in a comedy, recognition that absolutely floored her.

"I've been working my whole life as an actor and to be recognized as an actor is just amazing," Adlon told The Times shortly after learning she was nominated.

"Nothing can top the way I feel in my heart and my spirit right now," she added. "Never in a million years did I feel something like this could happen to me."

Before the nominations were announced, Adlon, 50, stopped by The Times for a video interview. Here are a few excerpts from the conversation.

You were so anxious for people to see the show because you'd worked so hard on it. Was the reaction what you thought it would be?

Each step of the way was something that was so intimate and personal. I always tell young people, when I'm trying to encourage them, that you have certain windows in your life and you have to take advantage of it. You've got to jump through because they will shut on you.

Pamela Adlon, creator, writer, director and star of "Better Things," says, "It was the exact right moment" for her FX show.

I like to encourage people. I like to be inspirational. I like to let people learn from things that have happened to me.


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Do you feel like you're good at encouraging young people? Because it feels like that happened a couple of times in the show this past season, you giving advice to people.

My kids … I think they take it in, you know? But they're not like, "Oh, tell me more, oh, wise Mommy." They don't give a ... really, but their friends are. [Adlon leans forward, elbows on her knees] To be able to influence and be a positive role model to their friends and then other young people that I meet and just people ... it doesn't have to be kids. I like to encourage people. I like to be inspirational. I like to let people learn from things that have happened to me.

It's interesting that it took you so long to be able to make that leap and use your own experiences [for a show].

Once I got my head out of my ... about, like, "This is my show and I'm going to be ..." It's becoming clearer to me all the time that it's about the experiences that I've had in my life, as a person, as a young girl, as an actor.

I've always been kind of a raconteur and a storyteller, but I'm not a comedian, a joke-teller, you know? So this is kind of the perfect place for me. And I also have said that I don't think that I ever could have done this if I hadn't done it exactly when I did it.

The timing was perfect.

It was the exact right moment.

As a parent of teenagers, what I loved from the first season was like, the last episode, you used that Laurie Anderson song ["O Superman"] so well in that episode, where you're just showing just ...

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Can you believe she gave me that song? I mean, for like nothing. I've got to send it to her because it means everything to me. And that sequence, it's like a ballet and that song just makes it so haunting and incredible.

It gets across what I think gets across in other episodes too, just the crushing ...

Relentlessness.

The relentlessness, it never stops, the work of being a parent. But then there's a hopefulness, I think, to your show too in that you do show the rewards.

You know, in the scene where I'm watching my daughter do ballet … It makes me emotional because my kids are all older now… [Adlon wipes away tears] You know, when I'm smiling at her, it's because she's smiling at me and she's sharing that moment with me. And so it's so hard when you're a parent to share those pure moments with your kids.

[Still teary] Anyway… Sorry. Oh, my God. Are you Barbara Walters? What happened?

Sorry …

I have a tissue. I'm Jewish, I carry tissues.

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