Jonathan Krisel was executive producer of “Baskets,” starring Louie Anderson, which aired on FX from 2016-19. Anderson, who died at age 68 on Jan. 21, won an Emmy for his performance as Christine on the show, which also starred Zach Galifianakis.
Louie bought the entire crew Arby’s one night. He had already filmed his scenes for the day, but he wanted to spoil us. He even brought the manager from the Arby’s to help pass out all the food. He was just like that.
He knew everyone on the crew so well. When we’d be setting up a shot and the cinematographer and I would be discussing if we wanted the shot “dirty” — meaning in a close-up you see a piece of the off-camera actor — if Louie heard that, he’d immediately start singing “Ridin’ Dirty” by Nelly. It was like clockwork, and it was always extremely loud and somehow always funny.
I remember in Season 2 we filmed a scene where Christine’s mother’s death finally gets to her, even though she’s been trying to carry on. I knew Louie had it in him to do a great performance, but on the first take [he] was feeling a little scattered. I was telling him, “This is a big moment,” and he kept saying, “Oh yeah, don’t worry, I know.” But I wasn’t sure he was in the right emotional space. I thought, maybe by take four we might get close.
The first take was the one. I was so caught off guard by the depth of his performance that I just started crying watching it there live. He nailed it. And only seconds before, we were just chatting — like, there was no run-up where he needed to get there. It blew me away.
He would always say to me, “Let me say it the way my mom would.” The crazy part is, for four years of making the show, I barely ever saw him out of his Christine hair and makeup. Almost never while we were shooting. Louie would say, “I feel more comfortable like this.” He would tell me when he sat down to watch the edited final episodes that it was almost like he had no recollection of doing the scene, like it was truly channeling his mother and she was just flowing through him.
Zach had always kind of done a very nasal voice when the [Christine] character was being formed. [Series co-creator] Louis C.K. just said, “That’s Louie Anderson.” And everyone just started laughing, like, “That’s too funny or too insane, but we have to try.” Louie said yes on the phone about five minutes later. He got it. None of us guessed how good he was actually going to be.
When Louie won the Emmy, I was so happy for him. He made everyone on the crew official-looking Emmy certificates that said that each and every person had contributed to the Emmy win of Louie Anderson. Such a sweet gesture.
I’m making him sound like a saint, but he could be grumpy and annoying and like a big kid too. There were a lot of times when he needed to sit, take a break, where he was in pain. But one night, we had to shoot in a Costco at 3 a.m. and I was tired myself. Louie was on fire that night — and it’s one of the funniest scenes, with him buying frozen pizza for his sons. He said, “I’m a stand-up; this is the time of night when I’m at my best.”
Louie had so much empathy — he could just feel your emotions even though you might think your inner life was not all that obvious. I love him, and I miss him, and he’ll keep making us laugh for years to come.