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life with louie

Louis C.K.’s New Louie Editor Susan E. Morse Compares Him to Her Old Boss, Woody Allen

Louis C.K.’s FX series Louie is commonly wowed at for, among other, funnier things, his total creative control — he writes, directs, stars, and sits in with musicians giving the episodes their wompy bebop scores. And to complete his total grasp on everything, he edited much of season one and the entirety of season two — often, as he told New York last summer, in his living room or in coffee shops. For the upcoming third season, he sent out a nonchalant tweet in February — “Exciting: I have fired myself as editor of LOUIE for season 3 and hired Susan E. Morse. check her out, yo” — accompanied by a link which, when clicked through, revealed that his new editor was Woody Allen’s go-to editor for two decades. She’s Susan E. Morse, and she cut everything from 1977's Annie Hall (as an assistant) to Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Hannah and Her Sisters, all the way up to 1998’s Celebrity. Here, Morse tells Vulture how TV’s most wonderfully notorious control freak ended up with an editor, and just how similar he is to Woody Allen.

So how did Louis C.K. and Woody Allen’s editor-soul mate end up together?
It came totally out of nowhere for me. I had never worked in television before, other than a movie of the week — a remake of Don’t Drink the Water — with Woody. But my agent called to let me know that Louis had asked about me. I got to Louis’s apartment at about 9:30 at night, since I was working long hours on a documentary at the time. We must have sat for three hours just talking. We just felt very comfortable with each other. He said last season he had been cutting the show himself, and he realized that writing, directing, acting, and editing took an enormous amount of time. And so he wanted — or he was encouraged by Blair Breard, who is his sort of, like, soul mate and producer and she’s wonderful — she had suggested to him, “You know, you might actually consider having an editor onboard to save you time and give you an objective opinion.” So he gave it thought and told her to see if I was available. Which I thought was very, very flattering and, again, totally unexpected.

Were you in from the start?
I had never cut on Final Cut Pro. I said, “I don’t know how the learning curve is going to be, and I don’t know if you really want somebody to come on and, from day one, not really know the software.” And he said, “I want you for what you can do as an editor. I don’t care what you can do with the keyboard.” I just found it kind of stunning somebody would be willing to hire you without having prior experience on the program.

Has it been hard being in the position of easing Louis out of total control over the series?
It hasn’t been as frightening or harrowing as it could’ve been. The thing that’s most significant to me is the absolute confidence and support. It’s almost like the notion, with children, of unconditional love. He said, “I’d like you to work with me. We seem to get along, we seem to understand each other, you seem to understand comedy, you seem to understand dramatic structure, I think this should work out. That’s the important stuff. Pushing the buttons and how to make a trim, anybody can do that, we can make that work, let’s not worry about that.” That’s an extraordinary way of beginning a job.

How has the dynamic been since then?
He’s still the director, and like any other director, he can say, “I’d rather use this take” or “I’d rather shuffle the order of scenes.” It’s not as though he’s lost any control over it. All he was doing in hiring me was admitting as much as he might feel like Superman from time to time, and as much as he might look like Superman from the outside, he is a human being and only has so much energy. This way actually frees him to have time with his kids and not feel as though he has to steal time from them in order to do work. 

Were you happy launching into TV with Louie as your starting point, since the show can be so formally experimental and filmlike?
There is a similarity to my old days with Woody in the sense that Louis is given a similar sort of freedom to what Woody was given by studios. FX is very supportive of Louis. There’s a lot of confidence in his sensibilities. You don’t have an outside voice coming in and interfering with the process of just making something work. That’s, unto itself, less of an adjustment for me than it otherwise would’ve been. But yes, I do feel very lucky that my introduction to working in television is with Louie.

How many similarities have you clocked between Louis and Woody?
They’re very similar in the sense that they can write quickly, and if they see something isn’t working the way they envisioned it, they are both right there with a million alternative ways of expressing the same idea. There’s enormous flexibility there, and creativity, and that’s very helpful. Also, both are very open to discussion about things. I think that that’s not the way people on the outside view them, but when you’re working directly with them, they both really do want to hear what you honestly feel, and if it resonates with them, they’ll take that under consideration and very much be willing to go in a different direction. I’ve found all of that to be very similar to the point that I was talking about something or other with my assistant or whomever the other day and I found myself saying, “I’ll call Woody about this” instead of “I’ll call Louis,” so obviously I’m feeling a similarity.

Louis and Woody both have stand-up in common, but unlike Woody, Louis is still doing it. Do you find that striking?
I don’t find it in any way surprising or unusual. What I mean by that is I think a lot of what enabled Woody to be a director and to learn the craft of directing as quickly as he did — and regardless of how anybody measures this in time, he did learn quickly — I think part of what permitted him to do that was that he had done stand-up for such a long time. Because what stand-up does to you — I like the way I say this, as though I had done a lot of stand-up myself, but it makes sense — is that someone who has to respond on the spot to how the audience is reacting should be able to do likewise on the set. Onstage, he can milk a moment if the moment is working and, if it’s not working, he realizes he has to let go of that and go someplace else. When you’re shooting something, it’s the same sort of thing. In a cutting room, you have to make the same choices, but you obviously have more time. 

Will the same visual and formal playfulness be intact in season three?
I don’t even think it warrants trying to compare it in any way to prior seasons; what’s interesting about Louis is that he keeps reaching out for something different. That’s another sense in which he and Woody have something in common, something very crucial, that they both really want to do something new, they don’t want to repeat what has been successful for them before. They want to explore, they want to come up with new observations, they want to stretch themselves. That’s part of the allure of working with either one of them. 

Any favorite moments or episodes from Louie’s two existing seasons?
For my own idiosyncratic reasons, the poker game episode was my favorite, specifically the discussion of the word faggot. I thought the way he handled that was particularly moving to me. It was just terrific. And I think the Joan Rivers episode was the other one I found particularly touching. It’s interesting I should say charming and touching so much in reaction to Louis, because I think certainly there would be people for whom those would not be the first words to come to mind in describing him or his show. But I think part of what’s special about him in the honesty realm is his willingness both to make fun of something and at the same time to show you the other side of it — to show you the tender side or the vulnerable side. That’s part of what’s enormously appealing to me about his stuff. 

And he’s such a family-oriented person.
It’s great. I am as well. And, much to nobody’s particular awareness, Woody was — well, is — as well, and he was when people were hating him over that breakup. When my son was born, Woody encouraged me to bring him to work so that I could continue to breast-feed him in the adjacent room. As my son was growing up, Woody was totally comfortable with my going off to his school for a parent-teacher conference or a play in the middle of the day. There are priorities in life; kids are your priorities. Woody would always go home and make sure that he had dinner with his kids. And Louis is exactly the same way about his kids. He’s totally devoted to them. I think that all of that is part of what I find special.

Have you kept up with Woody’s work?
I liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona a lot. I particularly liked the Javier Bardem–Penélope Cruz moments in that. I thought that was vintage Woody. There were elements of Midnight in Paris I particularly enjoyed. I was amused by the opening montage of Paris because it reminded me of conversations we had when we were doing Manhattan. That was special to me on a very idiosyncratic, personal level. It’s amusing to watch things from a distance and imagine the conversations you would have had if you were working with him.

Have you ever thought about passing Louis over to Woody, saying, “Hey, check out what this guy’s doing”?
I think it would be absolutely great for those two guys to work together and to collaborate on some level. I think they would appreciate each other. They have different and similar personalities; it would be interesting to see them together. I think one of the things Woody would love about Louis would be the fact that there’s no way in hell Louis would be trying to “do Woody,” if he were to take on the “Woody Allen role” in a film. That was always an exasperating thing that would happen when people were trying to carry that lead role, they would often try to mimic Woody’s delivery, whereas he encouraged them to be themselves. He was always happier if they took whatever he wrote and put it in a vocabulary that was natural to them, rather than to say things literally, the way he had written them. Nothing was to be taken as though it was etched in stone.

Would you return if Louie gets a fourth season? After spending so many years as one writer-director’s go-to, are you interested in moving in that direction again?
I think it would be incredibly brazen for me to suggest that I had any idea, after I’ve only worked with Louis for a very short span of time, whether or not he would want me to work with him next season. I’m enjoying working with him; I get the impression that he’s enjoying working with me. I’m flattered to be considered for something and grateful for the opportunity and happy in the moment. If something is good and interesting and character-driven or idea-driven in the fashion I find exciting, then I’m very interested in working on it. I don’t think in terms of those things developing into a twenty-year relationship with somebody, but yeah, hey, who’s to say no? I’ve developed a great working relationship with Marc Lawrence over three films [Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics, Did You Hear About the Morgans?], for example. And yes, I would love to work with Louis again.

Last thing: You edited Manhattan. Were you involved in the Manhattan-esque new promo for Louie?
No, not involved. But I thought it was charming. Do I use that word too much?

Follow Zach Dionne on Twitter @zachdionne.

Photo: null/© 2011 FX