Nothing could possibly top the magical, terrifying date Louis went on with Parker Posey’s Liz during the last season of Louie, but his non-date date with Vanessa comes pretty darn close. Played by terrific guest star Sarah Baker, Vanessa is a funny, super charming waitress who Louis likes but parks in the friendzone because, well, she doesn’t look like Yvonne Strahovski. He takes her out as a gesture and it actually goes great until Vanessa refers to herself as fat, and Louis tries to stop her, which she finds utterly disappointing. (What Vanessa tells him next is right up there with Gabourey Sidibe's amazing speech about confidence.) “Louis can’t even admit it because it’s like saying she’s so awful, like that it’s the worst thing a woman can be, overweight,” Baker told us. “Vanessa takes issue with it because it’s not that big of a deal.” Vulture spoke with Baker, who last starred in the NBC comedy Go On, about working with Louis C.K. on that lengthy final scene, why she had to will herself not to cry, and the story behind Ed Burns’s blink-and-you-missed-it appearance.
Were you familiar with Louie before you were cast?
Huge Louie fan, so it was incredibly surreal and exciting to think I was going to be on the show. Even watching the first two new episodes, my boyfriend was like, “I cannot believe you’re going to be on Louie,” and I was like, “I know! Like, I know Louis. I’ve been on the show. This is insane.”
How did you get the part?
They called about an audition. Louis is pretty guarded about his material so they didn’t send out a script or sides or anything. The description I think was just, “Waitress at the Comedy Cellar. Funny, friendly and comfortable in her own skin.” That was all I knew. They said come 15 minutes early so I could look at the sides, and then I got a call back and they were like, “Actually, come 30 minutes early because it’s nine pages of sides.” Oh, okay ... I’d been thinking if I get to be on Louie it’s going to be one line. Had no idea it would be this giant part.
So you auditioned with the speech at the end?
Yeah. I sat in this little room and read it and I just thought it was so brave and really beautiful and a little bit scary. I also thought, wow, Louis wrote this and yet he’s given himself the part of the guy who doesn’t totally get it and is surprised by this turn of events. He’s the one who had all these amazing insights into what is a women’s issue for the most part.
It reminded me a lot of the turn at the end of the episode where Louis goes on a date with Parker Posey’s Liz. Both women seem to have a very good handle on who Louis is, and at the end of the episode, they surprise him. Of course, Vanessa is a lot more together than Liz wound up being.
The look Parker gives at the end of that episode where you’re just like, What happened? She’s so profoundly sad. It’s incredible. Louis is just a smart guy and he’s an observer of people. Think about the way this whole episode is framed: he and his friend are two overweight guys out on the street ogling women, talking about losing weight and then doing this “bang bang” where they eat two meals in a row. And then ultimately they go, “Nah, I don’t want to exercise.” You see the hypocrisy, even within ourselves, all the things we tell and don’t tell ourselves, the things we let ourselves off the hook for. To be a comedian, I think that’s what you’re doing, or at least if you’re the kind of comedian Louis is. You’re examining the human experience. I think he sees it all.
Did you talk to Louis about the origins of that speech or the character of Vanessa? Parker’s was based on someone he had met.
We didn’t get into the backstory. I think he wanted to let it be my own character and my own process figuring out my feelings about her words.
That last scene is basically one uninterrupted seven-minute take. What kind of notes did Louis have?
It was important to him that it not feel like Vanessa was like balling Louis out. She likes him. That’s why they’re there. She sees something in him, the same way we all sit at home and see this tenderness between them. But this is something she’s encountered before with guys, and she sees how ridiculous it is and wants him to understand that it’s difficult. He also said it shouldn’t feel like a speech that she’s prepared. This is all happening in this moment. It’s a conversation, and these are things that are just coming to her. It’s not like she hasn’t thought them before, of course she has, but they’re all sort of spilling out right in front of him. And I think she sees, like she says, that Louis is a good person and she sees that vulnerability in him, and that she can share these things with someone like him, and that he will get it.
What do you remember about filming it?
I mean, it was crazy. I basically worked two days and I was in every scene in those two days, so it was a lot of work and not a lot of time in between to think about things. In a way, that’s good because it’s less time to worry about everything. The speech was the last thing we shot on the second day. It sounds so trite, because as an actor a lot of times people will say, “Is it hard to memorize all the lines?” and there’s so much more to it than that. But in this case I was like, Holy crap. There are so many words that have to come out of my mouth. Beautiful, important words, and I’m saying them to the person who wrote them, so I want to make sure I get it right. I was just terrified. Once we got it all out once, the whole thing, I was like, Oh! Okay, I know it! Thank God. Louie was so nice. He knew it was a lot. He was like,” That’s great. We have it once, so now if that’s all we did, if the cops came right now and the cops made us go away, that would be fine. We have it.” That made me feel like, OK, now we can sort of play with it. And we did. But in the end, he had to just pick his one favorite take out of all the takes we did and use the whole thing.
You said before it was a little bit scary.
Yeah, putting myself out there in that way was. All the characters I’ve ever played have really had nothing to do with looks. There’s a lot of things that are a lot more interesting to me to play than that. So it was hard to do something that was so specifically about weight. But to me, being a fan of the show, knowing how things are handled on the show and the way he framed it so beautifully, this was the time to do something about weight.
Did you tell Louie how much you liked it? Is that too weird?
It is, but I did a little bit! We were walking away after our last shot. I think he’d seen how nervous I was that day, so I think he was trying to tell me, “Look, you’re good, and you’re going to get these challenges. So you need to be confident that you can meet these challenges.” It was like he was giving me this nice post-show pep talk thing. And I said, “I just want to tell you I love your show so much, and this part is so beautiful … ” and then I felt myself tearing up and I was like, Do not cry in front of Louis. He will think you are super-weird. So I kind of just trailed off and walked away. Which is also fitting for Louie.
It's an emotional thing!
Yeah, and I was just so relieved I said all the words. It was a happy moment but also like, OK, let’s get the hell out of here now! I need to go lay down somewhere in a quiet room for a while.
Do you have a favorite moment from that whole thing?
He had us do it a few different ways but when I essentially point in the camera and say, “If you were standing over there looking at us, what you’d see is that we’re a perfect match,” and he kind of stands there looking into the camera. That’s the crystallized truth to pull from that whole thing. They do match. Often times we see Louis on the show struggling to make those connections with people and here’s someone coming to him with such an open heart and he can’t quite accept it. There’s something so sad about that. Here’s this seemingly nice, friendly, fun, together girl and he can’t quite go there with her.
Having said that, what did you make of Louis taking her hand in the end? Neat little bow or ...
I don’t know. There’s definitely a chemistry between them. As an actor, I knew I was just doing one episode, so I knew it wouldn’t come back. But as a watcher, you think maybe they’ll start dating. It’s hard to tell but it seems like they crossed a giant hurdle in that moment together. I guess that’s the beauty of the show. There are a lot of moments like that where these people come into his life in a really profound way and sometimes you see them again and sometimes you don’t, and they all affect and change him. Maybe the story with that person doesn’t continue but it certainly has an impact on him.
Finally, I have to ask: Ed Burns is in the episode for one second. What was going on there?
There’s a point in the speech at the end where she talks about hitting on hot guys and how they’re totally game because they’re not worried about about people thinking, Oh, what is he doing talking to that girl? There was more to that scene with Ed. Vanessa basically freaks out and says, “Holy shit, it’s Ed Burns. You’re incredible. I love you,” and he’s just super sweet to her, like, “Aaa! I love you too!” and makes her sit on his lap and kisses her on the cheek. He's very flirtatious with her and Louis is watching this whole scene. You see this guy who’s inarguably an incredibly handsome and successful totally on board with flirting with Vanessa. I don’t know why more of that scene didn’t make it in, but that was the feeling behind it.