As 2011 comes to a close, EW.com wanted to honor some of the hardworking names and faces from behind the scenes for their outstanding achievements. Here, Louis C.K., who contributes both on- and offscreen to his critically acclaimed FX series Louie, opens up about the groundbreaking, hour-long season 2 episode “Duckling,” which brought viewers an unfiltered look at life on the decidedly unglamorous USO tour in Afghanistan. With television like this, we’ll always wait for Louis… and follow him wherever he may go. For more behind the scenes access to the year’s best TV and movie scenes, click here for EW.com‘s Best of 2011: Behind the Scenes coverage.
As told by: Louis C.K.
The idea for “Duckling” came from my daughter, who was 4 years old at the time. We had these ducklings that she took home from school, and they were a lot of work. I’d been to Afghanistan for a USO tour, so she told me, “You should do an episode where you take a duckling to Afghanistan.” And that sounded so crazy to me. But I just thought, “If there’s a way to logically make that work, that’s going to be a great episode.”
We shot in a Navy Marine base in New Mexico that was meant to double as Iraq or Afghanistan. The military gave us a bunch of soldiers for the show, and it was great. When I was in Afghanistan, [cheerleader] Lilly Robbins was there with me. She really worked hard over there. So when I wrote the episode, I just thought, “Why get an actor?” And she was great in it. It’s fun to give TV parts to people who aren’t used to getting them.
That [episode] was extremely accurate about what happened to me in real life. We went to a very remote location with only about 20 soldiers on it, and we did this really awkward and emotional performance. [Country singer and former U.S. Army Ranger] Keni Thomas played that song, the same one he played on the show. And we played soccer with the Iraqi soldiers right before the helicopters came. The fear that I felt on the helicopters in the show? Well, I was really frightened. The helicopters are all open; there’s no doors. They’re just hurling towards these f—ng mountains and pitching over them at an incline.
In the show, there’s a general who gives a speech about what it’s going to be like for us over there. As far as I can remember, that’s exactly what that guy said to us in real life. He was head of operations in Afghanistan and he really blew my mind. I didn’t really know what I was doing there or what it was going to be like, and he ran down for us in no uncertain terms: “This place sucks for these kids. What you’re doing is important, and it’s dangerous.” We tried to re-create that almost exactly how it went down. I have a lot of mixed feelings about what is going on over there, but all I could show is what I observed.
[Oscar-nominated Restrepo filmmakers Sebastian Junger and Timothy Hetherington briefly consulted on “Duckling.” Hetherington was killed in Libya in April by mortar shells. “Duckling” was dedicated to him.]
I met Sebastian Junger at Sundance and he’s really good friends with [Louie producer] Blair Breard, as was Timothy [Hetherington]. When we started, our original intent was to go to Iraq and shoot in that country. And we went to the USO and they approved it, but it would have been really hard. They wanted us to go there for three weeks, and the only way for me to do that was to really join a USO tour. I didn’t have three weeks to give. So we reached out to Sebastian and Timothy about trying to find us some units that could help us when we were over there, or maybe in Afghanistan. So they got us in touch with someone at the Army. And in the middle of that, that was when Timothy died. Blair was really cut up about it. We had almost given up on the episode at that point, but that re-energized us to get the goddamn thing done.
(Reporting by Melissa Maerz)
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