The curveball you never saw coming on FX’s breakout hit noir comedy Baskets is the guileless and loyal friend Martha, described by her maternal pal Christine Baskets (Louie Anderson) as “the total package”.
This compliment was bestowed upon Martha for her steady gig at Christine’s favorite store Costco, and also because Martha has little if any surprises.
With a family like the Baskets clan, her predictable demeanor and lot in life is the stability this family needs.
Actor Martha Kelly was a longtime friend with one of the show’s creators (and the star) Zach Galifianakis, who contacted her about taking on the laconic role where she has turned deadpan reactions into an art form.
Martha, for many fans, is the show’s secret weapon.
Baskets, created by Galifianakis, Louis C.K., and Jonathan Krisel is at its core a family story.
Galifianakis’s sensitive Chip Baskets is a classically trained clown who has had to come home, and he is bedeviled at every turn by his seemingly more successful twin brother Dale (also played by Galifianakis).
Anderson’s Christine Baskets is the anchor and biggest cheerleader for her children.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s Martha was introduced in season one as a side character, a friend of Chip, and over time she has elevated her rank to an inner-circle confidante of Christine’s, a true blue pal to Chip, and an indifferent fling for Dale as she works as a Costco insurance adjuster.
Kelly’s success on TV comes later than most comics who transition from the clubs to the smallscreen.
An Austin, Texas resident (she is originally from California), Kelly takes all this newfound fame in stride with classic Martha wariness.
We spoke to her yesterday…
Monsters and Critics: You and Louie Anderson are so good together as Martha and Christine. Can you talk about that relationship?
Martha Kelly: [Laughs] Mostly the way that I approach working on Baskets is that I memorize my lines and then when we are shooting, just listen to Jonathan Krisel, the showrunner and director and try to…I mean I’m not an experienced actor so I don’t have a lot of…I guess I don’t put as much thought into it.
Also, I’m not one of the writers, but when I am shooting a scene with Louie [Anderson] it’s really fun and we are friends in real life and maybe that comes across as affection between two characters?
I’m not really sure. Sorry that’s not a better answer.
M&C: Let’s talk about the Yard Sale episode, how Martha’s persona percolated out when you had the purple hat on. Could you talk about that scene?
MK: I’m trying to remember the day we shot that, I can’t remember the hat thought.
M&C: The giant purple bonnet hat, the only one you wore…
MK: Yes, I don’t remember if that was in the script or if Jonathan [Krisel] while we were shooting, said, ‘Hey why don’t you try one of these hats on?’
I don’t remember how it happened but it was really fun shooting that because…well part of it is that it’s fun shooting every scene on the show.
But my mom and I both are…I am the same as my mom where I’m easily overwhelmed if more than one person wants something from you or you are trying to get ready for something and then there are complications.
I feel like it was pretty easy to present being overwhelmed at the yard sale, because in real life I probably would be.
M&C: You got into negotiating for a moment…
MK: Yes that part, err…in real life, I would not negotiate, I would just give people whatever they wanted, I’m not a negotiator at all [laughs].
M&C: Do you think that the writers might push you towards Chip romantically?
MK: I don’t know. I really…I don’t necessarily think so but I’m, like, for each season I went into the writers’ room for one day and just talked about different stuff for the character but some of it doesn’t end up being in the show.
So we didn’t talk about it, but I honestly am surprised by every script as much as anyone else, and I don’t really know if they’re ever going to have us ever be romantic. I would lean away from that but I don’t really know.
M&C: Louie told me he feels you are becoming part of the family…
MK: Yeah it seems that, it seems like Chip views my character more like brother-sister, I don’t feel that they have any romantic chemistry. That’s my personal take on it.
And it’s probably partly because Zach and I don’t have any romantic chemistry in real life and we’ve been friends for like 18 years and it definitely feels like a sibling relationship.
M&C: Is it true that Zach called you out of the blue to read for this role?
MK: Yes. He called me in January 2014 and I hadn’t seen him in about a year, and he left me a message saying he was going to do a TV show and was wondering if I wanted to do something on it and to call him back.
Then I called him back and got his voicemail and it was a week or two before we actually connected, so I didn’t really know if he was maybe was going to do a bit on a late-night show or something.
M&C: How did you feel the first time you went to the Television Critics’ Association press tour and sat on panel?
MK: That was fun because Zach was there, and I feel like he always makes stuff fun. Like people said [to us] before we went on, ‘Don’t feel bad if they show the clip nobody laughs or if you answer a question and try to be funny, nobody laughs, because it’s usually a pretty dry audience.’
But then because Zach was there people were laughing and having fun, because I think he brings that out in people. It’s fun whenever he’s around.
M&C: Do you enjoy Zach’s performance more as Dale or as Chip?
MK: I love both, but I would say for sure Dale is my favorite character on the whole show because he’s so ridiculous and says the wrong things to everybody and for no reason. Louie’s funny but that’s my favorite character.
M&C: Have any of you been contacted by Costco based on how much love you give the brand Kirkland?
MK: Not that I know of other than just, I think when they started the show Jonathan and Zach and maybe Louis C.K. communicated with them and said “Hey is it okay if we kind of make fun of Costco?”
I’m sure Costco doesn’t feel like it’s derogatory, but I think that was maybe the extent of it, “Is it okay if we mention Costco and have it as part of the show?”
M&C: When you are in Costco do you ever laugh?
MK: [Laughs] Well, I don’t normally, just because I haven’t been there that much since we started the show.
I used to go every week for my parents when they still had a house and they needed stuff and they were not up for that kind of shopping.
Last summer I was in Palm Springs at a Costco and a lady stopped me and said, “Hey aren’t you that girl on that show with Costco?”, and that was really sweet. But that’s about it.
M&C: What is your favorite all-time Martha moment?
MK: Well, there’s two. One of them is when I tell Chip I was just snooping around at the town dump. And the other is when I tell Christine Baskets when she says “Can you keep a secret?” and I say “No, I’m actually a bit of a snitch.”
I think Graham Wagner wrote both those jokes, either him and Sam Hunter, but I just love the dialogue that they write. Those are my two favorites.
M&C: Season 3, Martha’s future, crystal ball predictions…
MK: I don’t know. I wonder if they…honestly I don’t know. I am excited to hear what Jonathan and the writers, what they decide to do because the finale sets up a more exciting third season compared to season one which was kind of sad.
This season is more exciting, but I don’t know what direction they’re really going to go with it.
I asked Jonathan if they could write an episode with puppies in it or some goats, so maybe there will be a petting zoo or something.
I am excited to find out because I feel like the writers, Jonathan and Zach are so great. It will be fun to find out what they end up writing.
M&C: You are this big star on TV, you did a film…
MK: Um, no, because A) I’m not a big star on TV. I’m really lucky to be on the show and people seem to like it but by no stretch am I a TV star.
I did a feature last summer, a really small part in Spider-Man — and I have no idea if I will be in the final cut — and then I did a small part in an independent film called Infinity Baby which just came out at SXSW, but I was out in LA and haven’t seen it.
I don’t know how much of that I am in either but both of them were fun and they only really happened because Zach put me on Baskets.
M&C: Hey, if you could curate your own Austin City Limits for comics, who would you invite to your party?
MK: If I was going to put on an Austin City Limits, well I would invite for sure Zach and Louie Anderson and Louis C.K., and Kate Berlant and John Early are two of my favorite comics — I would want them to come if they could.
Like Maria Bamford and Jackie Kashian and Patton Oswalt…there’s so many (laughs), there’s no way…I would have to have weeks of shows to fit in everybody that I would want to see, because there’s so many great comics right now.
I couldn’t narrow it down to one show. Those are some of the people, for sure.
The Baskets Season 2 finale airs tonight at 10pm on FX.