Emmy voters, Becky Ann Baker is playing your mother in HBO’s Girls. Nominate your mother, please.
HBO’s Girls will wrap up its 6-year run next year. As it readies for its end, the writing team, including star/director Lena Dunham, has given each Girls actor a beautiful gift of at least one major, memorable scene in its most recent season. Perhaps no one on the show has benefitted quite as much from this renewed sense of clarity and excellence as actress Becky Ann Baker. Baker plays Loreen Horvath, mother to Hannah Horvath (Dunham) and wife to newly outed gay man Tad (Peter Scolari). This surprising turn – and Loreen’s varied reactions to it – elevates Becky Ann Baker to MVM status: Most Valuable Mom.
Becky Ann Baker has several epic scenes in season five, mostly centering around a girl’s weekend Loreen and Hannah embark upon in Girls‘ “Queen for Two Days.” One scene in particular is a prime example of Baker’s range as an actress. Loreen listens to a table full of bitter and troubled women talk about their middle-aged romantic lives. Baker has few lines, but the performance is uniquely in her face, reacting to all of the trauma and distress around her.
This is a classic scene from a classic actress who deserves an Emmy nomination for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
AwardsDaily TV: So, Becky Ann Baker, whenever we at ADTV do an interview, we always ask each other for questions. One of the best comments I received was, “Please tell I her have a huge ‘mom crush’ on her.”
Becky Ann Baker: [Laughs] That’s great! That’s a wonderful compliment. That’s so great.
ADTV: Given the number of “mom” roles you’ve worked on over the years, what’s the challenge in keeping them unique?
BAB: That’s a great question. I think certainly… well, like in Freaks and Geeks for example… she was kind of the perfect mom. The 50’s mom. A woman who grew up without any kind of terror in her life and was innocent to anything that her kids were doing. She was always caught unaware, and then we flip to somebody like Hannah’s mom who’s aggressively telling her that they’re cutting her off from any kind of money from the first season on and trying to school her in a totally different, adult way. I think the big difference is always going to come from the writing. Happily in both of those situations – both produced by Judd Apatow – there was a lot of creative discussion. On something like Girls, we have our table reads and, if anybody is having questions or thoughts about things, they’re openly discussed. Happily, we have a really wonderful relationship with the writers, and I’m a huge fan of the writers from Girls and from the old Freaks and Geeks days.
So, I just feel incredibly lucky – especially those two jobs – to have amazing writers that are writing things that are true. One [Girls season six episode] that we just shot was written by another woman – we’ve got a lot of women on the Girls writing team – so that’s really the key to it all, the writers and their perspectives. And of course Lena [Dunham] and Jenni Konner, who is our showrunner, really helm this show in a way that makes it considered one of the best jobs in town. I really tip my hat to those two and the writers in terms of picking up my cues in terms of how these women are different. That being said, what’s great in my life is that I am a mom of now an adult young woman. She and Lena have become friendly, and it’s pretty great to see how our kids change as they get old.
ADTV: I know most of the detail is in the script, but in terms of making sure your character’s actions are true and honest, do you draw a lot of inspiration from your own relationship with your daughter?
BAB: Absolutely. I mean, our circumstances aren’t the same because my daughter is nothing like Hannah Horvath, but certainly the relationships and how we speak to each other… But also I think I’m incredibly lucky because Lena and I have from day one had a remarkably open working relationship. It’s incredibly easy to relate to her as my daughter. And then the crazy thing is we’re shooting the scene, playing these two roles, and then I realize when we cut that she’s calling “Cut.” She’s thinking of it in a totally different way while we’re working it as actors which always surprises me… to watch her multitask is pretty amazing. I’m her biggest fan. Having a daughter that’s similar age helps, but it’s also, I think, that openness that Lena works with has made it so easy to make ourselves feel like we’re mom and daughter. We talk to each other, we gossip, in a way that informs that relationship.
ADTV: One of the things I love the most about Girls is that the characters are not static. We’ve just finished up the fifth season, and there have been so many changes through the years in all characters. What are some of the changes in Loreen that have excited you most as an actress?
BAB: Well, of course, my husband coming out to me as a gay man [on the show]. That’s been huge and fascinating because I’ve watched marriages break up at a later age for various reasons and watched friends of mine negotiate what it’s like to be, all of a sudden, alone in a time when they thought they were going to have companionship. How do you conduct the rest of your life thinking, “What am I going to do with the rest of this life now that I’m on my own?” I think it’s particularly interesting of a woman that’s of my generation to find herself… You know, it’s been a 30-year marriage… my own marriage, which is still in tact [to actor Dylan Baker, Happiness], has been a 30-year marriage as well… so, it’s just fascinating to see what we’re working on here with this woman all of a sudden thrust back out into the world all on her own and not knowing how to cope with that. It happens a lot, so I think it’s kind of great that we’re exploring it. Loreen doesn’t always handle it very well which I think is also wonderful. There are some scenes coming up in season six that are pretty harrowing. Sad but true. It really is an interesting place to find yourself at a certain age.
Having a daughter that’s similar age helps, but it’s also, I think, that openness that Lena works with has made it so easy to make ourselves feel like we’re mom and daughter. We talk to each other, we gossip, in a way that informs that relationship. – Becky Ann Baker
ADTV: Wow. I’m both sad and excited for season six, but I want to get into that a little later. So, you’ve broken my heart twice as an actress. Once, in Freaks and Geeks in that Halloween episode when you realize your daughter, played by Linda Cardellini, doesn’t want to hand out candy anymore with you. Second, that mother / daughter retreat with Hannah in Girls and your reactions to the other women at that dinner scene are truly heartbreaking. Were you put on this Earth to personally torment me?
BAB: [Laughs] I don’t think so, but the scene where we go away was written by a woman named Tami Sagher… I thought that was just genius what she did. I can’t say enough about her really. I thought she captured so many things in that episode, including writing the things that were being said around me as in that table scene. It’s wonderful to be able to interpret things like that.
ADTV: Yes, that episode was really some of the finest work I think I’ve seen you do. Both not only with the dialogue scenes you have with Lena Dunham, but also the silent reaction scenes you have at that dinner table. There’s not a great deal of dialogue for you there, but it’s all in your face. I actually want to ask a few questions about that episode [“Queen for Two Days”]. Have you ever been to a female empowerment seminar like that?
BAB: You know, I haven’t. I’ve been away to little spa getaways with girlfriends and things like that, but I’ve never been to something along those lines. Interestingly enough, one of the women that episode was written about was on set and talked about that experience at length. It sounded so fascinating, and now I’d kind of like to go just so that I can see what’s going on. It’s really odd and peculiar and, I’m sure, helpful to many, many people but just not quite my cup of tea but I’d love to see how it works. I don’t really see myself being someone… who’s driving to grunt and thrust my body around. I thought that was pretty interesting stuff, especially for somebody like Loreen who has not been in touch with herself in a more organic way. She’s been more sheltered than that.
ADTV: There’s a scene with you and Hannah when you first arrive at the retreat, and you’re getting ready for bed. Loreen is having that initial conversation with her about how she’s convinced their bad marriage has ruined her ability to have a healthy relationship. Then, you close that scene with you asking about Hannah’s dental habits. Is that “mom code” for “Can’t you even do that right?”
BAB: Yeah, I mean, there’s so many mixed messages in that scene to me. I’m still mom-ing her while I’m telling her that she should be standing on her own… There’s so many crazy mixed messages in that scene. It’s sort of wonderful to witness if not to live if you know what I mean.
ADTV: Let’s get back to the dinner scene. Tell me what was going through your mind as you were filming that scene.
BAB: What’s great was the way we shot it. The other women went first, so I really got to listen to everything they were saying. I had a lovely kind of warming to listening to their stories and their gab… Loreen is just looking for some iota that everything’s going to be okay. She’s looking for some kind of guidance from these women – some drop of encouragement… And then everything they say, every story, even their disdain for my husband coming out as a gay man… Everything single thing they said was something that Loreen is listening to for their guidance, and, of course, she’s just knocked down every time with what they say. It was just a wonderfully written scene. I think just the tool of listening in that scene was the big thing.
ADTV: Another big scene – a smaller but impactful one – was your last scene of the season where you’re sharing a 40 with Elijah [Andrew Rannells].
BAB: Oh my god, isn’t that a great scene! With Andrew! Oh I love that scene so much!
ADTV: What’s behind that scene for you personally as an actress?
BAB: What’s lovely for me as the character of Loreen is that she’s kind of getting along… so many things have been shot down in her life but she’s still enjoying somebody like Elijah’s character. She’s not so bitter and mean that she still has that willingness to be open and watch her daughter’s performance story and then continue on with Elijah. I love that scene so much and that we got to end there for the season. To me, that signals there might be a little bit of growth in Loreen and in her acceptance of this wonderful friend of Hannah’s. We’ll see how that kind of thing can go forward… If there can be real growth in this woman who at the top of season one seems pretty immoveable.
ADTV: So, we’ve talked about season six a little bit, but what can we looking forward to for Loreen in the final season?
BAB: You know, without giving anything away, she continues to try to grow and expand her world but also definitely she is searching for what her life now going to be. When somebody’s kind of blindsided and surprised by their change of life circumstances, she’s definitely searching for her new identity as a single woman. I think that’s probably the best way to put it.
ADTV: What do you think she’s going to be doing in ten years after we leave the series?
BAB: Oh that’s a great question. I think in ten years… call me crazy… but I think Loreen’s definitely going to get out of her small world and probably will move to a larger city. Maybe be closer to Hannah. She’ll be a terrific parent later. Maybe she wasn’t so great in certain ways, but I think she’ll be closer to Hannah as she goes in ten years. I think she’s definitely headed to a larger city in ten years.
ADTV: That’s great. That’s a very hopeful, positive message. That’s a nice thought to leave the character.
BAB: Yeah, I definitely think she’s opening up.
ADTV: So, in closing, what’s next for you as an actress after Girls?
BAB: Well, we’re shooting season six this summer. I’m also involved in a recurring series called Doubt for CBS [starring Laverne Cox]. I play Elliot Gould’s assistant in this one. It was supposed to shoot in New York City but now it’s filming in LA so that may change things a bit. I hold high hopes for that. I’ve been doing a lot of theater. I’m currently in a production of [Ibsen’s] Peer Gynt here in New York City at the Classic Stage Company. That runs for a few more weeks. I’m really hopeful for Doubt. It’s an amazing cast, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed. It’s picked up for mid-season so we won’t start shooting for a little bit.
HBO’s Girls finishes its six-season run in 2017.