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Baltimore-born Anna Faris talks 'Mom,' new podcast and life in the spotlight

Contrary to the name of her podcast, Baltimore-born actress Anna Faris is clearly qualified to be a star.

LOS ANGELES — Anna Faris never set out to become the Queen of All Media. But maybe she's inching toward the title.

She's enjoyed a successful movie career, in roles ranging from the "Scary Movie" horror-spoofing franchise to supporting turns in such films as "Brokeback Mountain" and "Lost in Translation," not to mention comedies like "The House Bunny."

She's about to wrap her third season as star of the CBS sitcom "Mom" (where she gets to work alongside Emmy-winning Allison Janney).

And now she has a podcast — "Anna Faris Is Unqualified," a decidedly free-form advice show where callers get to pick the brains of Faris and her guests, who have included Janney, Lisa Kudrow, Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Evans.

As if that weren't enough, she's also married to Chris Pratt, who's starred in two of the most successful movies of the past few years, "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Jurassic World." Which makes her, perhaps, not only a media queen, but half of a Hollywood power couple?

"Power couple?" she says with more than a hint of incredulity. "I just want to know where the power is. I'm waiting for the power in 'power couple.'"

OK, maybe "power couple" is a stretch. Nobody's mistaking Anna Faris and Chris Pratt for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Faris isn't exactly a top box-office star or an awards-show staple.

But the 39-year-old Baltimore native, whose father was a sociology professor at Towson University (the family moved to the Seattle area when she was 6), is clearly a star. And while that's a label Faris has worked hard to earn, she's not always comfortable with all the trappings.

"It's a weird thing, the fame," she says while taking a break in a Toluca Lake, Calif., restaurant before taping another episode of "Mom" at the nearby Warner Bros. Studios. "I sort of fly under the radar, but Chris is experiencing this surge in fame. And I think it's an element that is … I don't know if some celebrities love it. Clearly some do. But I think Chris and I, that is the element of our industry that we kind of struggle with."

That's become especially true, Faris says, since the birth of their son, Jack, who's now 3 1/2. "We are very protective of our son," she says.

Not that Jack seems all that concerned.

"The other day," she says with a laugh, "we picked him up from his preschool, and there were some paparazzi. He just looked at them and said, 'Cheese!' And I'm like, 'OK, I'm glad that's how you're feeling now.'"

If Faris is flying under the radar, it's certainly not for lack of success. "Mom," a comedy about two women in rehab in which she and Janney weekly rewrite the rules governing mother-daughter pairings on TV, is a continuing bright spot on the CBS lineup.

Even if it does tend to be a little raunchy. Just ask Faris' own mom.

"I'm grateful that some of the jokes go over her head a little bit in 'Mom,'" Faris says, noting that her mother has a history of being embarrassed by some of her daughter's career choices — as when she played an unsuspecting actress high on weed-enhanced brownies in 2007's "Smiley Face."

"My mom said, 'Oh, honey, you cannot take that role, you cannot do that. You are a role model.' And I said, 'Mom, I don't want to be thinking about you every time I make a choice in the characters I want to play. I want to play horrible people, I want to play wonderful people. I just want to play interesting people.'

Now, Faris says with a satisfied grin, the result is one of her mom's "favorite movies."

Karen Faris concedes that "Smiley Face" might have made her just a little apprehensive. "When she first told me what she was going to do, playing a girl who was stoned, I did squirm," she says. "I thought, 'I don't know what message that is going to send.'"

Still, she says, she had faith in her daughter and her talent. "I just thought it was an incredibly funny movie," she says of her reaction to the film (which won Anna a coveted, bong-shaped Stonette of the Year trophy from High Times magazine). "I thought she did it just perfectly. I don't think anybody else could have done it in such an intelligent way."

So it is with "Mom," apparently, according to Anna. "I know that [Karen] gets a little uncomfortable with the sexual stuff and everything. But she loves the show," Anna says. "If she does cringe, she doesn't tell me too much about it."

While allowing that "I sometimes wish they wouldn't go so far with the sexual stuff," Karen Faris says she both likes and admires the work her daughter is doing on "Mom." There have been times when she and Anna have been together, she says, where women have approached to say how much they appreciate her work on the series.

"I am so impressed that they have touched on issues that are really important," the actress' real-life mom says. "They're not afraid."

Like her work in film and TV, the "Anna Faris Is Unqualified" podcasts frequently touch on the risque. Faris and her guests, along with the show's producer, Sim Sarna, are clearly having a good time on the broadcasts, even if some moments seem especially unguarded and a tad naughty. But the shows, split between the host chatting with her guests and listeners calling in for cheerfully unprofessional relationship advice, seem fun for everyone.

"I wanted a format where a celebrity could come and not feel like they had to talk about themselves," Faris says. "They can if they want to. We try to ask them light questions, and if they want to talk about some personal stuff, that's awesome, they can totally do that. But I think it's fun for a celebrity to be able to talk about somebody else's life and attempt to give them advice."

The idea for the podcast, she says, came from listening to "Serial," the true-crime exploration of the case of Adnan Syed, convicted in 2000 of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee while they were both attending Woodlawn High School.

"I've always loved radio," she says, "And I'm enjoying the podcast format very much. I've always loved talking about relationships. And I've always loved advice columns."

Put those all together, add in some equipment she bought on Amazon and has set up in her dining room, and make sure the expectations are realistic ("I wasn't looking to make any money, and we haven't made any money," she says), and you have "Anna Faris Is Unqualified."

"People love the fact that she is kind to everyone, that it isn't one of those snarky podcasts," says Sarna, who has known Faris for some 16 years. "She is absolutely kind to all of the listeners [who call in], and she is also extremely entertaining."

Where else can you hear Olivia Munn talk about her first kiss, Chris Evans ruminate on his personal grooming habits or Lance Bass offer his take on topless coffee huts? All that, plus (as the show's site promises) "not-so-great relationship advice from completely unqualified Hollywood types."

"The most important part of the podcast is that it's all under the umbrella of 'unqualified,'" Faris says. "We really have no idea what we're talking about. That cannot be stressed enough."

She seems to have this career thing down. And she's happy with all the moving parts.

"I just love to work," she says, getting ready to head out for another "Mom" taping. "Which is probably why I've made some of the choices I've made — for better and for worse."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

twitter.com/chriskaltsun

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Anna Faris' Charm City memories

Anna Faris moved from Baltimore when she was a young girl but says she retains fond memories of her hometown. Among them:

“The aquarium, of course. When you’re a kid — I hope they still have them, those massive bubble columns? [They do.] When you’re 6, they’re probably the most fascinating things. That was always a highlight.”

“We loved going to town and having crabs. ... I remember just big crab feasts and camping at the Shenandoah, and the Eastern Shore and how beautiful the Eastern Shore is.”

“But mostly, I feel like the kindness of people. I feel like it was a really easy place to make friends. I still feel that way when I get back there.”

“We had some fun trips into D.C., too. My mom took us to the museums a lot, and that was great. Having access to D.C. is just incredible as a kid. You never forget seeing the monuments.”

“The big ship in the harbor, the Constellation. That was fascinating, too.”

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