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Sarah Baker on playing the funny, confident ‘fat girl' on ‘Louie'

By Willa Paskin
Slate
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Craig Blankenhorn - FX
Louis C. K. and Sarah Baker in “So Did the Fat Lady,” a “Louie” episode.

NEW YORK

Sarah Baker has a long resumé, but unless you were a fan of NBC’s short-lived comedy “Go On,” you probably don’t recognize her. That should change after her indelible performance in “Louie” as Vanessa, the confident, funny waitress who seems a perfect match for the show’s hero, except he doesn’t want to go out with her because she’s fat.

As Vanessa, Baker delivers a long, intimate, searing one-take speech to Louie about what it’s like to be a “fat girl” and about his own double standards. It’s one of the most heart-felt explorations of this taboo set of issues I’ve ever seen on TV. Baker got on the phone to speak with us.

Q: How did this part come about?

A. I just got a notice for an audition from my agent. I’m a huge fan of the show so I was instantly like, “Whatever I can do, I will do it on this show.” Louis is pretty guarded with his material so there wasn’t any script attached, it just said, “Waitress at the Comedy Cellar,” something like, “friendly, funny, comfortable in her own skin.” That was it. He has these incredible, award-winning actresses do parts, so I just assumed it would be a tiny part.

Q. So was your speech entirely scripted?

A. I auditioned with that last scene. And it pretty much stayed the same from the audition to when we shot.

Q. Your performance has a very spontaneous feel. Did any of the other scenes in the episode change?

A. There were parts of it that were not specifically scripted. But the structure was all there, and definitely the last speech was word for word what he had written, so just little things were made up.

For instance, there was a part that said, “Louie and Vanessa walk around New York and enjoy it together.” I, just as myself, found a penny and showed it to him and was like, “Hey, see a penny pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck. Ha ha, I have good luck now.” And he was like, “What?” I said, “It’s a thing, it’s a common rhyme. Now I have good luck.”

And he says, “OK, I’ve never heard of that, but do that in this next take.” And of course he made up his funny rhyme after that.

Q.What do you think about that last speech?

A.It’s interesting. I think especially because a lot of people don’t know me as an actress, a lot of people will think, “That’s what that girl thinks about life.”

Q.Is it?

A. Well, she says, “The meanest thing you can say to a fat girl is that she’s not fat.” I think for Vanessa, what it means is, “Look, if you’re fat it’s not that big of a deal.”

Having someone say, “Oh, you’re not fat,” the reason they’re saying it is because, to them, saying that you’re fat is like saying you’re a horrible person. And I think she takes offense to that. “Yeah, I’m overweight, but who cares? That doesn’t mean I’m not a great, fun, funny person,” because clearly she is a fun, funny, confident person. So I think that’s what she takes issue with.

We see this character of Louie struggle to make meaningful, lasting connections with people, and here’s this woman who seems to pretty much have it together. She’s got a good job, she’s funny, she’s friendly, she’s kind and she’s reaching out to him with nothing but love and affection. And he can’t take it. He just can’t quite go there with her, and that’s really sad.

My favorite moment in the whole thing is when I essentially point to the camera and say, “Look, if you were over there, looking at us, what you’d see is that we’re a perfect match.”

I think that’s exactly right. They are a perfect match, and you see they have chemistry throughout the episode. The weight is one part of it, but it’s also that Louie is just the type of person who can’t quite get it together and make it happen with somebody that’s uncomplicated and nice and fun and normal.

He’s a beautiful, sweet, kind person but he just can’t make things work with people the way he wants to. And that’s the brilliance of Louis and his writing. He’s playing a character who doesn’t get it, but he gets it.

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