In "So Did the Fat Lady," a provocative episode of the FX comedy "Louie" that aired Monday night, actress Sarah Baker plays Vanessa, a funny, friendly and self-assured waitress who asks Louie out on a date. Despite her eminent charm and breezy confidence, Louie is reluctant to accept her advances because, though he never directly admits it, she is not as thin as he'd like her to be.
Louie eventually gives in, though, and the two spend a lovely romantic comedy-worthy afternoon strolling around the city, opening up and making each other laugh. All is going beautifully until Vanessa airs frustrations about the challenges of being a single, thirtysomething "fat girl" in New York, and Louie counters by telling her she is "not fat." This prompts Vanessa into an eye-opening seven-minute monologue about men, women and body image that renders Louie speechless. (You can read the entire thing here.)
We talked to Baker, a busy performer who starred in the Matthew Perry sitcom "Go On" and the Will Ferrell comedy "The Campaign," about her memorable turn in "Louie."
So how did you get approached for this role? Did you have any idea what it would entail?
I got a call for the audition and Louie I think likes to keep things close to the vest. They didn’t send out sides [pages from a script] or a script or anything so all actresses just had to show up a few minutes early. At first they were like, "Show up 15 minutes early." Then they were like, "Show up a half hour early. It’s nine pages of material." I got there and read it.
It takes a little bit of courage to put yourself out there with a part like this. It’s so beautifully written, it’s such an incredible part, it’s obviously genius that he wrote this and he plays the guy who doesn’t totally get it. But Louis is the one who wrote all this so he totally gets it. I think I was maybe a little bit nervous about this. As an actor you want to push yourself. There are a lot of things that deal with weight that aren’t worth it, but I knew from being a fan of the show that it would be special and beautifully done and absolutely worth it.
So you didn't know before you auditioned that her size would be a central issue in the episode?
No I didn’t know, I think the description was like "a friendly waitress who’s comfortable in her own skin." I thought, knowing "Louie," it could have something to do with weight or something. I was like, I hope I don’t have to be naked or something. I hope there’s not like a crazy sex scene. Beyond that, I’ll deal with it.
Your entire monologue is delivered in a single, uninterrupted take (or at least it appears that way). That must have been tricky to film.
That was actually the last stuff we shot. It was the afternoon, we’d already been shooting all day. It was like, ahhhh, we have to get this! This is the question people ask all the time and it seems so trivial -- "Is it hard to remember your lines?" But this was one case where I was like, I just hope I can make all the words come out of my mouth in the right order. Once we did it once, Louis was like, "We’ve got it." So after that I felt like I could play a little. In the end he just had to pick his favorite one take. There might have been parts he liked of one and another he just had to pick his favorite. I think he knew he would use it all in one take because the light was changing.
Vanessa says, "the meanest thing is you can say to a fat girl" is that she's not fat. Did you identify with what she was saying?
I identified with a lot of it. I think to me what that means is if you were to say, "Yeah you’re a little chubby but you’re still cute," that’s fine. But to say that you’re not fat means that if you were to acknowledge that somebody was overweight, then you’re saying that’s the worst thing that you could possibly be. So then I can’t even acknowledge it because that’s like saying you’re a horrible person. I don’t know if that was Louis' take on it but that was my feeling about it. As if that’s the worst thing a human woman could be is overweight, so we have to pretend that’s not even the case.
Vanessa also suggests that average-looking guys like Louie are more scared of flirting with larger women like her because they are insecure. What did you make of that?
I think it’s funny, in the Hollywood version of it, obviously somebody who’s in the public eye like Louie has more opportunity to date amazing, beautiful smart women. One of my favorite parts is when I point sort of at the camera, and I say, "If you were over there looking at us, you’d see that we’re actually a perfect match." I think the outside world would see them as a great match, but maybe it’s harder for somebody like the Louie character to see that.
Your character in this episode is so confident and cool. It must have been fun to play someone like that.
I think most of the roles I’ve played by design don’t really have anything to do with the way the character looks. I’ve definitely played that sort of character before, who's not really concerned with that stuff. But for me as a human being, I would be nervous to ever even make a joke in front of someone like Louie, but she’s not intimidated by him at all. I was for sure intimidated by him, so to have to pretend I wasn’t maybe made things easier. He’s like a comedy giant, a television giant at this point. It was probably good that I got to feel comfortable in the scenes or else I might have been completely stifled by my own fear of ruining his television program.