In April, when I spoke to Girls executive producer Jenni Konner about the upcoming 69th Primetime Emmy nominations, she immediately told me that all she and Lena Dunham, the HBO series’ creator and star, wanted was for Becky Ann Baker -- a longtime working actress previously best known for playing Jean Weir on Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks -- to get nominated for her work as Hannah Horvath’s mother, Loreen. And on July 12, when the nominations were announced, Baker’s name was one of the six mentioned for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series alongside Angela Bassett, Carrie Fisher, Melissa McCarthy, Wanda Sykes and Kristen Wiig.
“I was shrieking, I can’t even tell you,” Baker tells ET of her reaction to the nominations, before I told her of what Konner had said a few months prior. “That’s so kind. I actually found out from Lena.” Doing some dubbing work for a part on NBC’s The Night Shift, Baker was in the studio when her phone started buzzing. “All of a sudden Lena’s telling me, ‘You’ve just been nominated for an Emmy.’ I got to celebrate in this sound studio and, as it turns out, my recording engineer was also nominated for Stranger Things. So we were all jumping up and down together.”
While she was nominated for “Gummies,” a hilarious episode that sees Loreen overuse medical marijuana and learn that Hannah is pregnant, one could argue that Baker is being recognized for her series-long arc as Hannah’s often-tormented mother, who is first seen in the pilot reacting to her daughter’s proclamation that she’s a voice of a generation and makes her finale appearance in the series finale, helping Hannah with her newborn baby.
“I didn’t know, beyond the pilot, how long it would go,” Baker says of landing the part, which she credits to Apatow, who served as executive producer on Girls and has “given me the two best jobs of my career.” Optimistic about coming back, she soon found herself doing more and more episodes each season.
Baker says she and Dunham never discussed their onscreen relationship, preferring to see how it landed. “We didn’t examine it,” she explains, adding that she never really knew where Loreen’s path would take her. “What I didn’t see coming was our very kind of particular breakup and the fact that we got to examine what happens to people later in life when they lose their partner, whether it be through death or divorce,” she says of Loreen’s divorce from Tad (played by Peter Scolari, who won an Emmy for his work in 2016).
In fact, it was the breakdown of their marriage in season four, after Tad comes out, that set Loreen on an erratic path that saw her melt down during a dinner party (“There’s just a certain amount of history as well as drama”), go on a female-empowerment retreat and turn to marijuana to cope with her loneliness. It’s during “Gummies,” the final season’s fifth episode, directed by Jesse Peretz, that Loreen’s roller coaster peaks. During a visit to New York, she learns that her daughter is pregnant before the two argue about Loreen’s role as a grandmother. She later turns up at a Chinese restaurant, munching on a bag of cannabis gummies only to throw up on herself.
“At the bottom of it all, she’s just terrified. When you’re young, you’ve got some time to bounce back. But at a certain age, I just can’t imagine,” Baker says, who credits Peretz and writer Sarah Heyward for a standout episode.
However, for Baker, filming the episode turned out not to be so easy, especially when it came to eating the gummies. “I asked for sugar-free worms not knowing that there was a property in sugar-free candy that causes digestive problems,” she reveals. “We shot it from so many different directions that, you know, the rest of the day was very exciting.”
While Girls has since come to an end (the show wrapped filming in September 2016, while the series finale aired in April of this year), Baker remains busy, appearing on Woody Allen’s Amazon series, Crisis in Six Scenes, and episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and The Good Fight, which regularly features her husband, Dylan Baker, as Colin Sweeney. “I’m hoping I’ll do a couple more,” she says of The Good Wife spinoff, praising Michelle and Robert King for creating a series that gives New York actors regular work.
But for all the work she continues to get, none of it may live up to playing Loreen. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get writing like that again in my life,” Baker says. “It’s tragic that it’s over.”