Louis C.K. On Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, And Separating The Art From The Artist

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The fidget spinners were a surprise.

If you know anything about the way Louis C.K. operates professionally, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that he’d show up to the Toronto International Film Festival with a secret movie – one he wrote and filmed on the down low – and one whose plot has been shrouded in mystery. It also shouldn’t be a surprise, especially if you’ve ever seen his television show, Louie, that there’s a lot to unpack in I Love You, Daddy. (After the premiere, C.K.’s publicist texted me to ask what I thought of the movie. My reaction was “there’s a lot to unpack.”)

The problem of drawing a line separating art from the artist serves as a major theme in I Love You, Daddy. Filmed in a style inspired by Woody Allen’s Manhattan, its cast includes John Malkovich, who plays a revered director with a reputation for dating underage women – who then starts dating C.K.’s character’s 17-year-old daughter, played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Now, C.K. won’t admit it’s specifically, 100 percent about Allen (as you’ll see ahead, and I ask him a lot), but the film grapples with this idea, and when watching I Love You, Daddy, there’s little doubt that C.K. is also slyly addressing some of his own demons.

I met Louis C.K. in the backroom of a bar in Toronto. He was siting with a few other members of the cast, including Edie Falco, Charlie Day, Pamela Adlon, and Ebonee Noel. The conversation that follows touches on everything from the commodity of internet outrage, to Woody Allen and Bill Cosby. C.K. is not someone who shies away from controversy and, as he says ahead, his movie (which just sold for $5 million) will have a lot of people talking.

And, yes, the whole cast had fidget spinners, provided by Pamela Adlon. I have to admit, with some of the topics ahead, the fidget spinners came in handy.

There’s a lot going on in this movie.

Louis C.K.: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s a mess.

So, do you still like Woody Allen?

Louis C.K.: [Laughs.] Yes. I do.

You were in a Woody Allen movie.

Louis C.K.: I was in one movie with him. And we kept in touch a little bit. I never hung out with him except for when we were doing Blue Jasmine, but I only know Woody in terms of my interactions with him personally. And he’s a mensch. He’s a sweet guy. He’s always been very nice to me. And again, it’s a distant relationship. You know, a couple emails per year. But I do. I like Woody, yes.

Do you think you’ll still get those emails after he hears about this movie?

Louis C.K.: I have no idea. No idea.

Because I don’t know how he’s going to react to that.

Louis C.K.: I don’t either. I don’t think this movie decides anything about anybody.

I agree, I don’t think it decides. But it’s hard to ignore the Manhattan-ish feel of this movie and that character.

Edie Falco: I don’t know, I didn’t get that. I’m out of my mind. I just didn’t, you know?

Louis C.K.: I mean, what I mean is, I get it. In my mind, this movie has a lot more in common with Michael Roemer’s movies and with a lot of ’40s movies. The scene at the Emmys with Charlie Day, to me that reminds me of Raging Bull. He reminds me a lot of Pesci and it’s like when they’re at the Copa and stuff like that. That’s what I remember. But I don’t try for those things. When I was watching the scene, it feels like fucking Copa in Raging Bull. You know, Woody and I are both people that love New York City and love black and white films, so we’re both seeing the same cinematic conclusion. So, to me, there were some times where I felt like this feels like Manhattan – and I thought, well, let it in. Don’t try, don’t resist, it’s okay. And then as far as the character goes, I mean, the guy doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to Woody, to me. He’s an eccentric and he’s cagey and then he’s able to slide into warmth when he wants to and become a cold wall when he wants to. I don’t think that’s him at all. He’s very different.

Pamela Adlon: He’s Roman Polanski.

Louis C.K.: Yeah, he’s Roman Polanski. Or he’s Sumner Redstone. Whatever, you know? Fucking, he’s also quite old. To me, Woody is still 45 in my head. You know what I mean?

But I didn’t see a lot of Chinatown in this movie. You do see a lot of Manhattan.

Pamela Adlon: That’s true!

Louis C.K.: [Laughs.] Yeah, I mean that being in the world was an inroad for me. I don’t want to hurt anybody else, but David Lynch is in this for me a little bit in the character – in the way he talked and his intent. David Lynch is this guy who’s like, “I dream and I make movies about my dreams.” So I saw him when Malkovich talks about making episodes of television. So none of this is Woody to me. In the world of, you know, where we love to put things – this is here, this is there – I know people are going to do that. But that’s fine. It’s not up to me what people think of the movie.

I think in this case it’s hard to ignore. There’s a lot.

Louis C.K.: I get it. Again, I get it from the perspective of people watching the movie in today’s world. And for me, it’s not about like I have an opinion about this that I want to share. It was just this area is interesting and I want to explore it from many points of view – from all the different people in the movie from how they feel about it and just let it lay there un-concluded. To me, that’s my favorite kind of moviemaking. And when the lights come up like they did last night, talking. Everybody’s talking. I love it. To me, that’s applause, is them talking.

With this movie, some people are going to really love it and others, it won’t be for them.

Louis C.K.: Sure. I think it’s okay for both of those things to be true. I think that because of the social media world, we’re all a big village now.

Your publicist asked me what I thought, I texted him back and he told me he showed you my response…

Louis C.K.: “There’s a lot to unpack.” Yes. And I think some people don’t go to movies because they don’t want to watch something that is hard to unpack. They don’t. And so, they shouldn’t see it. You know? Tell your readers that if you like to sort of “know what you’re going to see and you want to have all of your morals satisfied,” or even if you just want something safe to watch that’s just fun, it’s probably not for them. Although the movie, essentially, it’s romantic. It’s tragic. So, on the surface, it really is just a fun movie to watch. But some people like to watch movies about some things, some don’t.

I’d like to see the Venn diagram of the people who watched your television show and the people who watch this movie and the overlap of who likes it and who doesn’t.

Louis C.K.: Yeah, I think that that is very interesting. It is. But to me, that’s what happens after the movie’s made. So all of it’s okay. All of it’s okay. It’s okay that some people won’t like it. It’s fine.

When Louis C.K. calls and says, “Be in my movie,” is that an automatic yes?

Louis C.K.: I tend to call. I try to reach people personally when I’m casting.

Charlie Day: I always want to read it first because if I’m going to be covered in fire ants for seven weeks in the Amazon, I don’t care who the guy is, I’m not doing it. But also you want to read it because you’re excited to read it. If you’re like me and a fan of Louis’ work, I couldn’t wait to read what he wrote.

You all have fidget spinners. I’ve never held a fidget spinner in my life.

Pamela Adlon: It might be time. It might be time. You hold the middle and you spin it. It’s like a modern-day dreidel, I like to call.

Oh my God, these are great.

Pamela Adlon: But you keep it going. You get a little momentum…

Edie Falco: Now you look Italian.

Louis C.K.: It’s like a top. It’s a gyro —

Charlie Day: Pamela brought a lot of toys, which was nice.

What are you trying to say with this movie? Like I said, there’s a lot to unpack…

Louis C.K.: I don’t really think it’s things I’m trying to say, it’s just observations. It’s observations and explorations. It’s shedding light in this corner, in that corner – hearing then trying to give voice to this idea, trying this idea, seeing what happens if these two kind of people talk to each other and what kind of mess that makes. It’s a cycle that happens in America I think over and over again. I mean, I can think of black-and-white movies that really ripped the skin off of a very tough issue that go all the way back. I mean, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Sidney Poitier, that movie was made at a time when there was plenty of color movies out there. It’s when people went back to black and white for the first time…

Pamela Adlon: But that’s a color movie about a black guy. With white people.

Louis C.K.: I thought it was in black and white? Okay, it’s a black and white movie because there’s a black guy in it and white people in it.

So to you all the episodes of I Spy are in black and white.

Louis C.K.: That’s right.

I just realized I accidentally made a Bill Cosby reference. He’s such a part of popular culture, you forget…

Louis C.K.: Yeah. It’s hard. You can’t edit him out of history. You just can’t. You can’t.

The Cosby Show was an incredible show.

Pamela Adlon: It is incredible.

Charlie Day: Well, God, I mean, I’m going to say something I shouldn’t say. But that guy is such an interesting topic, too. Obviously, he has done some horrible stuff. He’s probably the most prolific rapist in the history of the world.

Louis C.K.: Boy, that word with “rapist.”

Charlie Day: At the same time, he did amazing things for African-Americans.

Ebonee Noel: Yeah. That’s the point that Dave Chappelle makes in his comedy special about Bill Cosby.

Charlie Day: Oh, really? I haven’t seen that. Chappelle beat me to it.

Ebonee Noel: Sorry to break that to you.

Charlie Day: But anyway, that’s an interesting thing. But it’s nice to be in a movie that’s dealing with the complexities of human nature.

Louis C.K.: I think that’s what people end up wanting. You know, like with comedy, over and over again, people choose comedians that are disruptive and a little crazy and profane and say inappropriate things. Americans chose that over and over again; every generation, over and over. And then once every few years, it’s like to cover themselves, I think a little bit because they feel guilty, “We can’t be saying these things anymore!” But once you’ve been through a few – I’ve been doing this for 32 years, stand-up, so none of this fazes me that much, the kind of outrage. Because it’s like, yeah, I know, you did this back in the late ’80s, you did it in the mid-’90s. Once in a while everybody goes, “That’s not us.” So that kind of comedian will always rise, because I think it’s a healthy, positive thing and people will end up choosing it. And I think with movies, too. When Borat opened, I mean that movie was insanely inappropriate, and I never really saw any controversy about it.

Pamela Adlon: Oh, my mother was so upset because she heard about something anti-Jews and she said, “Well, we can’t watch that movie.” Then I finally ended up seeing it. It just makes me so uncomfortable.

Louis C.K.: I know, you hate it because of that.

Pamela Adlon: I don’t like it when people prank people. I can’t stand it. But it’s hilarious how he puts himself out there and everything. But just it ootzes me out. So that stuff, it’s not for everybody.

Louis C.K.: No, it’s not. I think right now, too, that there is an economy of outrage.

I work on the internet. If you write an outrage piece, it can do extremely well.

Louis C.K.: Very well. So, generally, there used to be a natural barrier. Like, well, we just don’t go see that stuff if we don’t like it. We like this stuff so we’re enjoying it. But there’s a lot of money to be made by taking pieces from this, distracting them, and bringing them to these people who don’t want to hear it and saying, “Hey, guess what was said here.” And then there’s an explosion and a defense on this side and all this anger, and then money, paying off like a slot machine. So I think as long as there’s profit in it, I think that’s why this is a bit of a prolonged era of outrage, and I think it’s disingenuous to me, a lot of it. That’s another reason why I don’t believe in reacting to it or trying to negotiate it or trying to make something that’s going to make them all happy, because I believe them and they forget it in a fucking week anyway.

I’ll see someone tweet with the same level of outrage over an episode of a television show as Trump ending the DACA, which deserves a higher level of outrage.

Louis C.K.: That’s right. Then they’ll be as angry about something that means nothing, or more so. But also, it’s only a snapshot of their minds. They tweet and they’re feeling something. They tweet it, and it becomes a record forever.

Ebonee Noel: Somebody who’s so ready to rip apart something that they’re not really that invested in, it’s a piece of art, you could see it or not. But if you’re that ready to get on top of that, that’s about you, I think.

Louis C.K.: And they’re not. They sound really upset, but just like I’m sure you have this thing where you’re in a text conversation with someone you love and you write, “I’ll be there at four,” and they write, “Okay.” And you go, “What did I, what I do?” “What? What the fuck is your problem?” So some people, they just go, “Oh my God, that guy’s a piece of shit. He should die.” Then they forget they wrote it; they didn’t really mean it. And the guy who it’s about is like, “Oh my God.” And it’s a whole bunch of people – it’s like a corporation where people purchase off their liability for what they do, you know? But we’re going somewhere with it, I don’t where it’s going.

Ebonee had a scene that brought the house down when Louis’ character, arguably, makes a move…

Ebonee Noel: Well, the planning of it, I was very pleasantly – actually, they kept saying that. They were like, It’s one of the biggest laughs, you’re going to be excited. But the playing of it is very awkward. I was just doing it and then we did the moment and I was very invested in her feeling sort of surprised that this person she trusts so much would put that move on her. So, really, everybody else was telling me it was funny.

Where is the line on that between funny and horrible?

Louis C.K.: It’s like impossible to quantify.

Ebonee Noel: That’s it. I just saw you shift.

Louis C.K.: I shift in my seat.

Ebonee Noel: Just the shift and the hand.

Louis C.K.: And I put my hand on the couch to get a little leverage, and it’s fucking World War III.

Pamela Adlon: Explosion!

Louis C.K.: It’s the worst thing I ever did.

I feel like we’re close to solving this: What’s the line between the art and the artist? What’s the answer?

Louis C.K.: I don’t think there is one. I think people have to be uncomfortable. Life is uncomfortable. If you want to share the world, you have to be uncomfortable. You have to have mixed feelings about everybody. You have to have the humility to know that you don’t know everything and that there’s things that you’re just never going to get to know, that you can’t decide. And you have to live with that. Or you don’t have to! You can withdraw or stay, talk to your family. There’s plenty of people right around you.

For me, that was part of what happens in the movie – this guy is like all bent out of shape. He’s not even raising his fucking child. He’s not doing his job. He’s ignoring his co-worker and his daughter and he’s getting all excited about this other stuff. So, I think in the end, there’s no easy answer to any of it. We’re all colliding with each other and we’re all capable of hurting and helping each other. I think it’s easy to say I want to discard this person 100 percent, or embrace them 100 percent, but you don’t get to do either. I think you have to accept people’s flaws. You can just shut them out of your life. But if you want to be part of the community of the world, you have to accept your own flaws and other people’s and get what you can from them. That’s all. I don’t know.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.