Julia Louis-Dreyfus Reveals What Happened Behind the Scenes of Emotional 'Seinfeld' Finale
"I remember Jerry saying something like, 'We’ll always have this and we’ll always be tied to one another, because of this experience,'" the 'Veep' actress recalls.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus says she was “very undone” on the last day of taping Seinfeld, when the iconic series ended its nine-year run in 1998.
“Oh my God, that was unbelievable, I have to say,” she said. “Talk about nostalgic. You know, I think we were all caught by surprise by how emotional we felt. We used to do this thing before [the shoot]. We always would come together in a huddle, the four of us [Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards, Jason Alexander and Louis-Dreyfus], and put our arms around each other and just do a little getting-jazzed moment together. And on this night, we all got together and we all just started to cry. And it was very surprising. And I remember Jerry saying something like, ‘We’ll always have this and we’ll always be tied to one another, because of this experience.’”
Her eyes moistening, she added: “I can’t even talk about it, but it was pretty intense and it was a bittersweet day. It was beautiful, but it was bittersweet. It’s hard to say goodbye to good friends.”
Asked if she’s stayed in touch with her co-stars, she said: “Yes. We don’t talk all the time. But it’s really great.”
The actress was speaking April 6 at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV, where she took part in the ongoing Hollywood Reporter interview series The Hollywood Masters.
She expressed shock at the recent news that Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had adopted the campaign slogan used by Selina Meyer, the U.S. president (formerly vice president) she plays in HBO’s acclaimed comedy series Veep.
“Can you believe it?” she said. “[These parallels] do happen often, but in this instance, this was a guy who’s running for [prime minister]. He’s using this new campaign slogan, ‘Continuity with change or change with continuity,’ which was Selina Meyer’s campaign slogan. We thought it was the most empty, moronic [idea]. And he's gotten a lot of crap for it at this point. I wonder if he’s changed it. He might want to. That, to me, is the most extraordinary example of life imitating art, and back and forth.”
Louis-Dreyfus said the current U.S. presidential race had shifted her view of her series: “When we began Veep, we thought of it as a satire, and now we think of it more as a somber documentary.”
She said she did not think current politics would change the future direction of Veep, however, or the fine line she treads between satire and reality, which she compared to “threading the tiniest possible needle.”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I mean, we’re not parodying any one particular politician or party, for that matter. We’ve created this alternate universe on our show. But it’s quite remarkable, what’s going on right now. In fact, I saw the former president of Mexico on television recently, in response to [Donald] Trump's talking about building this wall: Vicente Fox was saying, ‘We’re not going to pay for that f—ing wall.’ On television! And I’m like, ‘Huh? What's going on, man?’ What happened to political discourse? Bye bye.”
As to her own politics, she declined to say whether she prefers Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton: “I’m a Democrat, and so I’m just going to be behind whoever the nominee is. Period. End of story. Tried and true Democrat.”
A full transcript follows.
STEPHEN GALLOWAY: Two years ago, you made a documentary about your father and his art collection. What prompted that?
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: My father — who is 82, soon to be 83 — all his life, or a huge portion of his life, since the early ‘60s, has collected art. And he has amassed a huge collection of over 3,000 works of art. And a couple years back he decided that he would take all of this art and he would make it a part of an endowment to be gifted to the Harlem Children’s Zone, which is an extraordinary school program in Harlem, the brain child of a genius named Geoffrey Canada. Probably many of you know him from Waiting for Superman. He was very much featured and he’s been everywhere. He’s a pioneer in terms of education reform. So he’s amassed this art collection in an endowment and the idea will be that the art will slowly be sold over a period of time and those proceeds will go to benefit the Harlem’s Children Zone. And so we made this documentary about this gift and about the art within the collection, which is very much off the beaten path, and about the artists, some of the artists who are featured in the collection, and about Geoffrey Canada. My father is a great believer in social justice and eradicating poverty and particularly and specifically in social justice for African-Americans and believes that the first step is, of course, education. And so we made a documentary about it. I wanted to, when my father told me he was going to do this, and I have to say that I was somewhat stunned by this decision — because I wanted the art for myself! No, I’m kidding.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It was such a beautiful decision of his, and I wanted to document it for, frankly, selfishly, for our family and for the kids, and then it turned into something a little bit greater, and it’s now sort of a marketing tool for the collection itself, this very documentary.
GALLOWAY: Did you grow up with that art around you?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I did. Yes.
GALLOWAY: Was there a piece that particularly moved you? Or an artist’s whose work really shaped your view of things?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. It was familiar to me, the art. It was sort of a friend, which sounds kind of stupid. But it was something that was there and you saw it and it became kind of the air you breathed. And so in that sense, it’s really beautiful to have art and the idea behind it surrounding you.
GALLOWAY: Do you collect any art yourself?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: A little bit, but I sort of leave that to my dad, because I don’t have the eye for it. I have actually an eye for it, but I don’t have, frankly, the pocketbook for it, and I sort of feel as if that’s his area of expertise.
GALLOWAY: He’s French?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, originally. But he’s French and American both. He was born in France and came to the States during the war.
GALLOWAY: Do you feel any connection with France?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I do. Do you?
GALLOWAY: Well, I do. My mother’s French.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh she is? Do you speak French?
GALLOWAY: I do, yes. Do you?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Not really.
GALLOWAY: Oh. So I could pretend.
GALLOWAY: You made a short film set in Paris.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes, I did. Picture Paris.
GALLOWAY: With your husband, Brad Hall. What led to that?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: We made this short film together about a woman whose youngest son is going off to college and she’s about to become an empty nester, she and her husband, and they drop the kid off at college, and as they are about to leave to go on this trip that she would become obsessed about, which was going to Paris and living a French life and really immersing herself in the culture — right before they’re meant to go, the husband tells her that he’s been having an affair for quite some time and he’s leaving her. And anyway, she goes to Paris without him.
GALLOWAY: With a twist at the end of the film.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: With a big twist.
GALLOWAY: You, unlike this woman, you’ve been married for 28, 29 years?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes, soon to be 29 years.
GALLOWAY: How did you make that work, when you’re in Hollywood, you have different careers?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, you find the right guy, which I did, and I don’t know, I don’t really have the magic bullet answer to that, except that I like my husband and I love him and that seems to work as a good combination. And we have two children — and we like them, too. [LAUGHS]
GALLOWAY: Now they’re safely packed off.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don’t really know. It’s just worked out quite well.
GALLOWAY: Was it difficult when your son went to Northwestern? You went there too.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I did. Yes. It was incredible, actually. We didn’t see that coming. We didn’t expect him to go there. It wasn’t on our radar. We didn’t think he was interested in it, and then all of a sudden he was interested and then he went and so it was a very extraordinary, full-circle moment that we had never anticipated. And it sort of caught me by surprise, the nostalgic element of it. and I’m very thrilled about it.
GALLOWAY: Are you a nostalgic person generally?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. Yeah.
GALLOWAY: For what in particular?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, I don’t know. I mean what’s not to be nostalgic about? I don’t know how to answer that. But yeah.
GALLOWAY: What moves you the most? Film? Art? Poverty? The environment?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: All of the above. I don’t know. Shit, I don’t know how to answer that question. I apologize.
GALLOWAY: You don’t have to.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Are we allowed to swear on this show?
GALLOWAY: We bleep it.
GALLOWAY: Your parents split up when you very early and I wonder how that changed things for you.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, you’ll notice I’m married.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I definitely wanted to avoid that in my own life. My parents split up when I was very, very young and then both got remarried when I was four and five, in that area, so I did the back-and-forth thing, although I lived primarily with my mother and my stepfather, but I went to go visit my dad and my stepmother, you know, regularly. And I would say that that transitioning in and out and between homes was pretty brutal. Not because of anything they did, just the reality of the circumstances. So I’m somebody who adapts.
GALLOWAY: You spent time in Sri Lanka.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes. It was wild. I was there when I was, I believe, seven years old, and it was called Ceylon at the time, and I was there because my stepfather worked for an organization called Project Hope. My stepfather is a doctor and at the time he was a thoracic surgeon and the objective for Project Hope was to go to Third World countries essentially and teach; it was a teaching medical ship and they taught doctors various techniques and so on. So we not only lived in Sri Lanka, but also in Colombia and Tunisia. But we lived in Sri Lanka the longest and it was total immersion in another culture. Like, people were walking elephants down the street the way you would walk a dog. It was an extraordinary thing to live there.
GALLOWAY: Was it difficult to come back to Washington or New York or both?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It was. I went to Washington. I’d been living in New York and then I went from New York to Sri Lanka and then Sri Lanka to Washington DC, where we moved and stayed for the remainder of my youth. I miss New York, that’s for sure.
GALLOWAY: You do still?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I missed it then. It was such a big transition, coming back. But, you know, you would again adapt, adjust, and I did.
GALLOWAY: Was there one moment when you decided I want to be an actress?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, not really. I’ve always had moments where I thought, “Oh, that was interesting. I like that.” There was a never a moment where I thought anything other than I would do this. I didn’t have another passion in the same category. Nowhere near it. I do remember I was in some silly play when I was like in fourth grade at my school and something called Serendipity and I was supposed — I played a queen — and I was supposed to faint, and I did, and I got a laugh, but I didn’t mean to get a laugh. But I liked it.
GALLOWAY: There’s also a story about you stuffing raisins up your nose.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, yes, I did that, too. [LAUGHTER] Yes. When I was even younger. I was about three, and I put raisins up my nose and showed my mom, because that seemed to be such a funny thing to do, and she laughed, so that was good, and then she said, “Take them out,” and I went like this [inhales] — and up they went.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And anyway, we went to the emergency room.
GALLOWAY: I’ve never met anyone who’s gone to the emergency room for having raisins up their nose.
GALLOWAY: Why Northwestern? And what did you learn about acting there?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, Northwestern because I wanted to study theater, but I didn’t want to go to a conservatory because I wanted to have, I don’t know, I had an instinct that maybe it would be a good idea to take other classes outside of the theater department, which I think was a good one, although looking back on it all I did was theater when I was there. I took other classes, none of which I can remember, to be honest with you, but the theater ones I certainly did. And who I met, it’s really the people that I met when I was there who completely changed my life. There was a show at Northwestern that’s somewhat famous there, which is called the Waa-Mu Show and it’s been around for a bazillion years, however long Northwestern’s been around, and it’s essentially a musical review and it’s very, shall we say, earnest, and it has people dance and sing and kids write music and it’s fabulous, but it’s pretty straight-down-the-middle, at least it was when I was there. So there was a show that was born as a satiric answer to it and it was called the Mee-Ow Show and it was a sketch comedy show. And I auditioned for that my freshman year at Northwestern, and I got in, and that was the beginning of all sorts of amazing things for me. Really, truly. I mean there’s the people that I met.
GALLOWAY: Your husband.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: My husband. I met him through somebody who was in the show and as a result of that, my friend, Paul and my — not husband then, but my boyfriend or even just friend then — Brad, they started a theater company and I did shows with their theater company and blah, blah, blah and on it goes. But it was an incredible, life-changing experience. And actually, it was also the work, I should point out, which was doing sketch comedy and putting it up on its feet. It was an amazing time to be able to play with other actors who were funny and devised stuff and I’d never done anything like that before. That changed my life.
GALLOWAY: Did it scare you ever to go on stage?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, I don’t think so.
GALLOWAY: What does scare you? I mean, professionally?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh. I almost stepped on a rattlesnake the other day.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: That was really scary.
GALLOWAY: Well that’s pretty scary.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, I was hiking. It was like about this far from my foot.
GALLOWAY: Where were you hiking?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Paramount Studios. No, I’m kidding.
GALLOWAY: The human rattlesnakes.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, exactly. That’s a professional experience. Just over in Will Rogers [State Park]. What scares me professionally?
GALLOWAY: What scares you professionally?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, failure, of course. When something doesn’t work. I’ve had a couple of moments of exceptionally bad auditions, or sometimes there are certain things I’ve done that I can’t possibly watch.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I’m not going to tell you what they are.
GALLOWAY: I know. I’m not going there. But you can tell us about the worst audience.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, I can tell you about a couple. Let’s see. Well, once I auditioned — this was back when I was living in New York — and I auditioned for a musical and I — oh my God! Right! I remember now what happened. It was a musical, can’t remember the name of it. I had to sing and then I had to act a scene, right? Well — oh, this scares me professionally. What’s wrong with me that I blocked this out? I blocked it out. I’m scared of singing in front of people live. And I can sing, but there’s something about doing it live that just makes me die. [LAUGHTER] And so I went in for this musical audition and I sucked so bad. And my voice was trembling., I can’t seem to control my voice when I, I get a kind of a stage fright. And so it was horrendous and I was mortified, but then I had to do a scene afterwards. And the scene was somewhat of a dramatic one that required me to cry. And let me tell you, I nailed that. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, it was really [great], and they said as much. They said it was a performance-level audition, vis-a-vis the scene. The song, not so much.
GALLOWAY: Oh wow.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: So I do have that fear. In fact, once I was doing a fundraiser for the NRDC, the Natural Resources Defense Council, here in Los Angeles, and it was over at UCLA at the big thing that starts with a W —
LOUIS-DREYFUS: There you go. And it was with Carol King and Jewel and they were singing “This Land is Your Land” and Carol King said, “You’ve got to come out and sing a verse with us.” First of all, how do you say no to that? Right? But I was so frightened. And guess what happened? Right before I was meant to go on, I spiked a fever. I think I got so flipped that and it was like I was boiling up. I went on and I did it anyway. But that’s how scared I got. Anyway, just talking about this is making me anxious.
GALLOWAY: Oh, sorry. You didn’t graduate from Northwestern, you went straight from there to SNL, right?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I did. Yes. I was doing a show in Chicago between my junior and senior years at Northwestern and the show was with the Practical Theatre Company, which was my then-boyfriend’s theater company, and it was very popular. It was actually a big success in Chicago. It was a sketch comedy show. And it was very exciting, it was going so well. And one night, unbeknownst to us, the producers of SNL were in the audience. And after the show they came up to us and said, “We are offering you all jobs on SNL.”
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. There were four of us in the camp.
GALLOWAY: Without even an audition?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Correct. It was very head-spinning. I was 21. And so they offered three of us to come and be in the cast and the fourth guy in our show, Paul, was offered a role as writer on the show, and so off we went. Yeah. So there you go.
GALLOWAY: And said goodbye to Northwestern in that moment?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. “Adios. I’m out.”
GALLOWAY: But you’ve got an honorary doctorate from them since then so, —
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. Yeah. [LAUGHS]
GALLOWAY: And by the way, you know who just passed me as I was walking here? Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, getting an honorary doctorate today. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if he ended up on stage and I asked him about Seinfeld?”
GALLOWAY: Did you meet Lorne Michaels early on?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, he wasn’t producing the show then. This was in the sort of the dark eras of SNL. Dick Ebersol was producing the show then. I was there from ’82 to ’85, so this was Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo and Billy Crystal and Marty Short and stuff like that. Those were the people then.
GALLOWAY: You’ver said it was a Cinderella experience, but also that you were not happy there. Why?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It was a Cinderella experience in the sense that I had grown up watching Saturday Night Live at it inception, I should say, and I would say to a certain extent its heyday, really. And this was in the ’70s. I was in junior high and high school and watching Belushi, Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Gilda [Radner], etc., etc., do their thing as a 14-year-old girl. I was just like goo goo gaga about the show. It was the show. By the way, I felt it was the only show on TV that spoke to my generation, which I think is probably true. I remember I had cut out a picture of Gilda Radner and had it up on my bulletin board and stuff. And so then to get this offer was just like…That’s what I mean by the Cinderella of it. However, when I got there it wasn’t quite like [that], as many things in this business are, frankly — nothing is quite as it seems. For instance, I’m like a horrible person in real life.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I should preface this by saying I went there very, very naïve and green. I had no business experience to speak of, other than doing theater in Chicago, including Second City. I’d done that, too. But that was it. So I went in thinking, we’re all going to work together, it’s going to be an ensemble, it’s going to be so exciting to meet these new friends, blah, blah, blah. I had no idea that it was very dog-eat-dog. It was very misogynistic. And I didn’t have a bag of characters that I could pull from. And there were also an enormous amount of drugs going on that I was strangely oblivious to. We’d be at a table read and the sketch would be 17 pages long and the writers who wrote it would be like, “Ha ha ha, ha ha ha, ha ha ha.”
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And I would be like, “God, that’s so weird. He finds that so funny. I didn’t get it at all.” Anyway.
GALLOWAY: Well, let’s take a look at a sketch with Julia in Saturday Night Live.
GALLOWAY: Do you remember doing that?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Vaguely. Yeah. I remember doing Donnie and Marie, but I didn’t actually remember that sketch. That, by the way, was Gary Kroeger, with whom I was in the show in Chicago. He was one of the guys that came.
GALLOWAY: Were you comfortable doing outright sketch comedy or did you prefer having a more fleshed-out character?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I prefer having a more fleshed-out character.
GALLOWAY: You haven’t been given that many purely dramatic roles. Why?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don’t know. I mean, yes I do. I think the jobs that I’ve gotten have been comedic. I guess I naturally go there. And I think to a certain extent you get kind of pigeon-holed in this town, so that when certain dramatic things have come up, I’m not the first person to come to mind. But it’s something I like doing, that’s for sure.
GALLOWAY: Is there a role you wish you could play?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh gosh, right off the top of my head, not at this moment, but I bet if you give me about 10 minutes, I’ll try.
GALLOWAY: OK, we’ll come back.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. Or don’t.
GALLOWAY: You don’t long to play Lady Macbeth?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Actually, I would. That would be fun.
GALLOWAY: You met Larry David on SNL.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don’t remember the actual moment, but I remember hanging out with him the whole year that he was there and commiserating about how miserable we both were. He was very unhappy there. And I sort of liked that about him.
GALLOWAY: Well, he’s professionally unhappy. Why was he unhappy there?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Because he couldn’t get a sketch on the air. They weren’t giving him any respect. And I felt the same way, so we were soul mates as a result.
GALLOWAY: Did you decide to leave or did they decide that you should leave?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It was at the end of that regime. Dick Ebersol and the guys around him left after my final year, and it never even occurred to me that they would want me back, so I didn’t go, and I knew that they wouldn’t, so I didn’t stick around to be fired or let go. But the answer is nobody came and said to me, “Please come back, we beg you to come back.” So I guess I was fired in absentia.
GALLOWAY: So in your mid 20’s, suddenly you’ve gone from this high to being without a job.
GALLOWAY: How did you look at your career at that point? You moved to L.A. around then.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I moved to L.A. about a year later. But I was really happy to be done with it — and I really mean that. It was a very hard thing to do for three years and I was eager to move. What I took away from it is that I would never do anything again quite like that. In other words, I was going to really make it a goal of mine to have fun, and that wasn’t quite enough fun for me when I was there. So I made a distinct mental note: I’m not doing this anymore unless it’s fun. Because it had been fun when I was doing theater in Chicago. And I knew that was attainable. It hadn’t been happening. And so I made that decision and I’m happy to say that that has worked ever since. But then I was trying to get work and I wasn’t really getting much work and that was also very hard. So I came out here to Los Angeles for what was called pilot season. I guess it’s still called that, but now it feels like there’s no pilot season. So I came out for pilot season and lived in the Oakwood Apartments on Barham Blvd. And I got a pilot. I got a spinoff of Family Ties and that didn’t get picked up. But I got a job and they paid me for that and that was nice. And shortly thereafter, I actually moved to L.A. in ’86.
GALLOWAY: You worked for Woody Allen on Hannah and Her Sisters.
GALLOWAY: And you flubbed a line.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes. Yes. That was terrible. Oh yeah, that was scary. You were asking me about fear. That was f—ing terrifying. What happened was, at the beginning of Hannah and Her Sisters — I’m telling you, I was like an extra with a line, OK? — but I was in a couple scenes with Woody. And it was at the top of the movie and he’s playing a guy who’s producing a show like Saturday Night Live and I was a PA type and he thinks he has a brain tumor, and so within this scene he has to say, his line is something like, “Wait a minute. Stop. Does anybody hear that ringing?” Or something to that effect. But remember, he’s also the director of the movie, OK? So as he’s saying, “Wait a minute. Stop. Does anybody hear that ringing,” I was supposed to cross the scene behind him, or something. So he goes, “Roll camera, action.” He goes, “All right, wait a minute. Stop.” And I stopped.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: “Oh no, no, no, that’s the line in the scene.” I go, “Oh my, God, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” Understand that I’m like, I’m just like this lowly-on-the-totem-pole-person in the scene and I’m goo goo gaga to be there, because I adored Woody Allen. And so, “Roll camera,” we do it again, “Action.” “Wait a minute. Stop.” And I stopped again.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Isn’t that awful? I remember he made sort of a joke at that point, when we were trying to set up for the third take of something at my expense. I can’t really remember what it was. And I was like, ha ha ha, trying so hard to keep my shit together. But anyway, that was pretty bad.
GALLOWAY: Did he remember you? Because you did Deconstructing Harry.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I didn’t dare ask. And I don’t know if he remembered me. I was frightened to ask. But I had more to do in that thing.
GALLOWAY: What interested you about him?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: What interested me about him was that he was very eager to discard his own material. And well — wait a minute, eager’s not the right word. Happy to in the interest of if something else worked better. Which I very much respect, because he wanted things to feel natural. That was my big takeaway from working with him.
GALLOWAY: Do you like to improvise?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Very much. And I think it’s really helpful. I think all actors should, if they can, try to cultivate or work that muscle.
GALLOWAY: During rehearsals or when you’re actually shooting?
GALLOWAY: And do you like a long rehearsal period?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: A long rehearsal, no. I like a medium rehearsal period. But only because I think you can over-rehearse something.
GALLOWAY: And the life goes out of it.
GALLOWAY: How do you keep it alive? Because it’s so real sometimes, and, depending on the role, the tone is so precise. Especially with Veep — it’s so believable and yet slightly satirical.
GALLOWAY: Do you prepare a lot?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I do prepare a lot, I do sit with the script, I work with actors, I work with writers, the director. I work hard at getting that tone. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s unbelievably difficult work. It’s very gratifying, but it is absolutely threading the tiniest possible needle you can think of, that part.
GALLOWAY: Do you thread it wrong sometimes?
GALLOWAY: Are you aware of it or does somebody tell you?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Both. I mean you have to rely on [others]. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here. This is a group effort, believe you me.
GALLOWAY: And to thread that needle, do you picture a person in your mind?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don’t know. I mean, there’s so many elements. I wish I could find a specific — let me think — a specific moment to exemplify. Oh God. The needle is: you’re trying to do two things — you’re trying to make it plausible and then sometimes the biggest joke might be shoved in there. The biggest comedic moment that might seem too broad, but you have to keep it grounded and sometimes just pulling the camera back helps. We do a lot of the comedy on a wide shot. And sometimes we do a lot of the comedy off camera, so that it’s reactive. In other words, if somebody’s got a punchline, you’re not necessarily on them. And I think that helps.
GALLOWAY: Is that the same as when you did Seinfeld or is it a different?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Completely different.
GALLOWAY: Let’s watch a clip from Seinfeld.
GALLOWAY: Tell us about meeting Seinfeld for the first time.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Larry David had sent me these four scripts. They’d made a pilot of the show, and NBC said, “Well, we’ll pick it up, but you need to add a woman and we’ll give you a four order.” Big stamp of approval.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And so these scripts were sent to me and I read them and thought that they were really unusual, which they were. They were not like anything that was on television at that time. And so I went and I met Jer and Larry, and I didn’t know Jerry, because I don’t really know standup, the standup comedy world, but I recognized him a little bit and he was eating cereal and we just sort of hung out and talked. Not unlike the way we do it here on the show. And we got along immediately. We read a scene together and that was it. And we made it. I mean like a couple days later.
GALLOWAY: How defined was that character? Did you work with him to develop the character?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: That happens sort of naturally. It was defined somewhat, but as a series goes along, the actor brings stuff to it. You work with the writers and things open up. Not just for my part, but all parts.
GALLOWAY: Did you ever get bored?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, I didn’t get bored ever. I got tired, but never bored. I gave birth to both of our boys during this time, so I was certainly juggling a lot. But you never get bored, because the work was so much fun. Back to the fun idea. That, and I always felt as if we were doing a show that we would like to watch. And we always used to say, “We think we, the four of us actors on the show, were the show’s biggest fans.” You know what I mean? We really got a kick out of these jokes and we really laughed hard in rehearsal in the making of the show.
GALLOWAY: Is it fun because what you’re doing is funny? Or is it the people you work with?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, it’s both. If you’re enjoying the journey of making a scene comedic and working on the comedy, and you’re doing it with people who have a great sense of humor — and we all have this common goal — it’s being on a sports team to a certain extent, except the goal is to get the laugh as a group. And we did. It was really satisfying.
GALLOWAY: Were you ever surprised by where the laugh came, in front of an audience?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes. There’s nothing like performing in front of a live audience and that is the beauty of the multi-camera thing. And I will admit, I miss that I adore doing material in front of an audience. But one thing that’s interesting that happens on a show that becomes popular is that laughs come in anticipation. People know these characters, and then all of a sudden you don’t have to do much and you’re getting these laughs. It’s an interesting thing to have happen.
GALLOWAY: Is that why, when you did the show with your husband, you switched from being single-camera to multi-camera?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, it’s because NBC made us do it. We had done this show called Watching Ellie, which was a single-camera show. I would say it was ahead of its time, and with a bunch of great actors, including Steve Carrel and Don Lake and Peter Stormare and Lauren Bowles. And it was single-camera and very few people were doing single-camera television at that time and NBC didn’t love it and it wasn’t getting the ratings that they were happy with, although I’m sure if you looked at those numbers now your mind would be blown. And then they said, “OK, we’ll bring you back for a second season, but you have to make it multi-cam.” So we sort of had a gun to our head. It was like, “Well, we can walk away from this or try to make it a hybrid show,” which is what we tried to do, and then it got canceled after that. That’s what happened. And I remember the president of NBC saying at the time, “I’m never going to make another single-camera show again.”
GALLOWAY: Seinfeld struggled at the beginning.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It did struggle. It struggled for the first three years.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Wasn’t getting the numbers. I think we were losing to some show called Jake and the Fatman. And Home Improvement, I think, was beating us all the time and stuff.
GALLOWAY: Why did it become the phenomenon it became?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: First of all, the audience was growing year to year to year. It had a demo that was pretty impressive. And then they gave us a better time slot and then we took off.
GALLOWAY: How did fame change your life?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, how did it change my life? In ways that were sometimes unexpected. I mean there’s a lot to be said, there are a lot of good things being famous and some not so much. But certain opportunities become available, work wise. Jobs are a little bit — I’m not going to say they’re easy to get; they’re not — but they’re a little bit more available. And sometimes you can get into a restaurant pretty quick.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: That’s nice. Actually, it’s really nice. So that’s been great. And it’s been a gift. I’m not going to complain about it.
GALLOWAY: When the show ended, were you involved in those conversations?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: The show ended because really, honestly, Jerry felt as if we’d done it and it was best to leave on a high. To be honest with you, we probably could have done another year without feeling as if we had worn out our welcome, though at the time I didn’t feel that. At the time, I was frankly eager to sort of have some down time with these two babies at home and just kind of chill out. But the decision was made over Christmas time.
GALLOWAY: Were you on the phone with him? How did that shake out?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I think that he called me. I don’t quite remember. But it was really his decision to make. He did call me to discuss it. And I was down with it.
GALLOWAY: The very last day, what did you do?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh m dy, God, that was unbelievable, I have to say. Talk about nostalgic. I was very undone. You know, I think we were all caught by surprise by how emotional we felt. We used to do this thing before [the shoot]. On a multi-cam show, I wonder if they still do this: before they start filming the show, the cast will come out and they’ll be introduced and take a — what am I trying to say? —
GALLOWAY: Take a bow.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes. And so and we would always do that. And before that moment, we always would come together in a huddle, the four of us, and put our arms around each other and just do a little getting-jazzed moment together. And on this night we all got together and we all just started to cry. And it was very surprising. And I remember Jerry saying something like, “We’ll always have this and we’ll always be tied to one another because of this experience.” I can’t even talk about it, but it was pretty intense and I was very — it was a bittersweet day. It was beautiful, but it was bittersweet. It’s hard to say goodbye to good friends.
GALLOWAY: Have you stayed in touch with them?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes. We don’t talk all the time. But it’s really great.
GALLOWAY: When you did the Comedians in Cars with Jerry, I felt you hadn’t seen each other for a while.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It had been a while.
GALLOWAY: And there’s so much affection between the two of you.
GALLOWAY: And it was really interesting to watch because your very different humor plays off each other so well.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. Yeah, it was really fun to do that. It was just lovely. It couldn’t have been more fun, actually.
GALLOWAY: So you did another couple of series. The New Adventures of Old Christine, the one with your husband. And then of course Veep, which I'm going to come to. But before we do, I want to talk about the film that you made with James Gandolfini, Enough Said.
GALLOWAY: You recommended a clip but I actually chose a different one.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Damn you.
GALLOWAY: It's a bit longer. It's the dinner scene. So shall we take a look?
GALLOWAY: I love that. First of all, I love some of those other actors, Toni Collette.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Forget it, so great.
GALLOWAY: But what is really interesting is: you're playing this pretty dramatic scene where you're bullying this guy, but you play it the opposite way, with such laughter and joy that it takes us a while to realize what's really going on. When you got the script, what was your thinking in creating that?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, the script was very much intact. It was really solid, strong material, and I got this script and I thought. “Ooh, I'd love to nab this part.” Because it felt it had a lot of comedy in it, but it had an enormous amount of drama too, and it felt like a really good. It was something I was most eager to do. And so I met with Nicole Holofcener, who is the writer director of this movie, and is a stone-cold superstar. And we got along really well, and I felt like, “Oh, this might really happen.” And then I remember I never quite got the call like you got it. I just remember she was calling me a lot saying, well, because she was trying to cast the male lead. And asking me, what did I think of X? What did I think of Y? I remember saying to my agent, “She keeps asking me about these other parts, but I mean, do I have this job?” Anyway, I got the job and that's how it happened. We just connected over lunch and talking about the part and we have children the same age, and talking about mothering and kids, because there's an aspect of this film in which both Gandolfini's character and mine have daughters who are going away to college in a few months. So we're f talking about that a lot. That's a theme of the show, this separation.
GALLOWAY: So when you go into this scene, what was the challenge for you?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: The challenge for me the whole time was keeping it very small and real. I had come off of doing the first season of Veep, which is more arch than this, even though I think it has a reality. But this was really dialing stuff down. And having it feel as — when you're making a movie, the camera is here, and so if somebody's acting, and you see them acting, you're really aware of it when you're this close to them. So it's a different mechanism.
GALLOWAY: Mechanism or scale?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Scale. I don't know, it's instinctive for me, but you’ve got to look at the words through a different lens. I don't know how else to say it.
GALLOWAY: Did you think of playing that scene in different ways? Or did you actually play it in different ways in rehearsals, in the shooting?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No. It occurred to me to play it like that. People will say things in conversation and very often they mean what they say, but very often they mean something different. Like even right now, I'm trying to talk but I'm really trying to be charming and keep everybody interested. [LAUGHTER] Really, you know?
GALLOWAY: By the way, that's what I've always loved in film, that you don't often get in television. That gap between the word and what's going on underneath it.
GALLOWAY: Do you watch dailies?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, I do.
GALLOWAY: And then do you make little —
LOUIS-DREYFUS: — adjustments? Sometimes. I like to see when we're doing. On Veep, I like to watch playback right in the moment. Because sometimes it can give me — it's like having a compass with you on a hike.
GALLOWAY: Are you a good judge of your own work?
GALLOWAY: Michael Caine was here, and he said the hardest thing for him is laughing. You laugh so naturally.
GALLOWAY: Can you do it for multiple takes?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I can. But it's exhausting. Sometimes you can start fake laughing and then it can go into a real one. But it can be very exhausting. In fact, there was a scene in Veep between Tony Hale and I, in which we become hysterical laughing in a bathroom.
GALLOWAY: That's the one we're going to watch.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh really? Boy was that tiring to do.
GALLOWAY: It's such a great scene. I want to ask you one question about James Gandolfini before we do watch that. You were surprised he wasn't that confident in his acting?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh no, not at all. And I was very surprised. Don't you find that surprising? I got the sense he was sort of embarrassed almost to be an actor. And he has such presence and confidence as an actor, or seeming confidence. He was a very instinctive guy, and just a teddy bear of a man. Teddy bear. Very similar to the character he played in this movie, as opposed to Tony Soprano, which he did so brilliantly. But that was not him. This was more him.
GALLOWAY: Did you rehearse a lot with him?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Not tons. No. We rehearsed maybe two days. And then it was really done on the set, in the moment.
GALLOWAY: Did you get to know him at all personally?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: A little bit. You sort of get to know somebody while working with them. I don't even mean like I know his whole life or anything; I just mean you get to know the inner [person]. It's an intimate thing, particularly on a movie like this, an intimate thing to have scenes with somebody. So there's an aspect of yourself that you have to open up, even in just discussing a character and your instincts about a particular scene. You reveal something about your thought process.
GALLOWAY: Do you come from a particular school of acting? Method acting?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, I don't. I don't even know what any of that stuff means. Actually that's not true. I don't apply a technique. I just do my thing. Which is to hang over the language for a while, and see how real and appropriate it feels, and authentic. And I explore within. It's going to sound like mumbo jumbo.
GALLOWAY: When you say hang over the language, do you mean looking for what's behind the language? Or the structure of a scene?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Both. Finding ways to tease things out of the material. Which is super fun. I mean there's so many elements. It's a lot. It's a lot.
GALLOWAY: It's difficult. [To the audience:] Keep your day job, guys.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: At the end of the day, it's an instinctive process. You've got to feel it in your bones. You’ve got to feel it in your bones. Maybe it's a little bit like playing music. You work on scales, you do all of that, but I'm guessing a musician who's worth something can just do it and it becomes a feeling as opposed to a technique. Does that make sense?
GALLOWAY: Do you have an actor or actress who's particularly stamped you?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I'm a huge Diane Keaton fan. And I think what she did, what she's always done, is bring a very approachable authenticity to everything.
GALLOWAY: She's just extraordinary.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Right, she's amazing.
GALLOWAY: Let's take a look at Veep. It’s the bathroom scene. I love that, when you have two great actors working together.
GALLOWAY: I just find that astonishing. I've seen it now many times, and I can't see the mechanics. What was difficult about it?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: What was difficult was keeping up that level for that whole time. And staying there. That was the challenge, and incidentally, a good back story behind this is that one of our writers, who is a wonderful woman named Georgia Pritchett — this was of her making. And when she gets excited, she gets nosebleeds. And when we rehearsed this, which we did—
GALLOWAY: She got a —
LOUIS-DREYFUS: — she got so excited about what we were doing, she had to run out because her nose started bleeding. Isn't that touching? [LAUGHTER] But anyway, we rehearsed this and in rehearsal we decided this should take place in a bathroom. Because, oh well, because we thought it was the most inelegant place for it. And so we rehearse it in this tiny little bathroom in a hotel, where we were rehearsing, actually here in LA. And that's how it began. And I remember Tony being sort of dear and talking down to me in that moment when he said, “Well, of course you will, ma'am, there's, there's always hope in the world.” When I said “I'm going to be president.” That was of his making, that idea of coming at it that way. Because it would stand to reason: it's such an outrageous sentence for me to be saying to him, that I'm going to be president. And then of course what we pulled out of that bag was that was just us working with the props department trying to find different [things].
GALLOWAY: What about the laughing? At what stage did that come into the script?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: God, I have to be honest with you. I don't remember. The rehearsal and writing process are so enmeshed, that it's hard for me to remember who came up with what.
GALLOWAY: How are they enmeshed?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: A show will be written, a scene will be written, we'll get it up on its feet, we'll start rehearsing it. And then we'll come up with ideas, improvise ideas that shape the scene, that maybe change the scene. Sometimes a little bit, sometimes entirely. Then that's folded back into the writing and then we do it again. It's like a thing that you sort of are simmering down, you know? And then you build it back up and you put more jus in, and then it simmers down again. Until you get sort of a thick paste.
GALLOWAY: This role was written before you became involved, and you had a three-hour meeting with Armando Ianucci, the executive producer. What was that conversation?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Actually the part wasn't written yet. It was an idea, a concept that he was developing at HBO. And we met, the idea being that it was telling the story of an unhappy female Vice President. As soon as I heard that I was like, “Yeah, sold! Where do I sign?” And then we met, and we're meant to meet for a 45-minute tea, and it went on for three hours, just talking about our observations about politics, and life inside the Beltway and all of those bits and pieces, and it was in that conversation, I remember, I talked to him about this [thing] which I called the “thist,” which is [makes a gesture with her thumb over his closed fist] this is a gesture that politicians use, and only politicians who are running for office will use this gesture.
GALLOWAY: Bill Clinton was the first that I ever saw use it.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, possibly. It's an incredible gesture, because if you do it, you feel like there's something's wrong with your body. [LAUGHTER] Right? Doesn't feel right at all, no.
GALLOWAY: You met Joe Biden and did that funny sketch with him in the yellow car.
GALLOWAY: He's not a bad actor.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Fun, right?
GALLOWAY: You had dinner with him. What did you talk about?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh it was great. I really like Joe Biden. He's honestly a very, very good human being. And it was nice to talk to him, and ask him questions about being Vice President and what that's all about. I got a similar response from him as I did Al Gore in terms of how they categorize their role, both saying that it very much hinges on the relationship you have with your President, and both of them saying that they had the best relationship with their President.
GALLOWAY: Did you believe that?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I believe that they believed it.
GALLOWAY: Great answer.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. Well, I've been doing this a while.
GALLOWAY: OK: Hillary, Bernie, Donald? I can't imagine you're a Donald guy.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: What if I said right now I was a Donald Trump fan?
GALLOWAY: I would love you. Because I would get so many clicks on the web that we would all die happy. You were an Al Gore supporter.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes I was.
GALLOWAY: And now?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I'm a Democrat, and so I'm just going to be behind whoever the nominee is. Period, end of story. Tried and true Democrat.
GALLOWAY: OK. Let's open this to questions.
QUESTION: If you could speak to your 18-year-old self, what would you tell her?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Wear sunscreen. [LAUGHTER] Hey, you know what? I am not f—ing kidding about that. [LAUGHTER] And I would say, “It's going to be OK.”
QUESTION: Recently the Australian Prime Minister used Selina Meyer’s campaign slogan as his own campaign slogan.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Right? Can you believe it?
QUESTION. Do these sort of parallels happen often, and did they surprise you?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes, they do happen often. But in this instance, this was a guy who is running for [prime minister].
QUESTION: There is an election this year, so he'll be running for re-election.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: He'll be running, and so he's now calling his approach to his style of government — he’s using this new campaign slogan “Continuity with change or Change with continuity.” Which was Selina Meyer’s campaign slogan. And the reason it was is because we thought it was the most empty, moronic — [LAUGHTER] — really. And he's gotten a lot of crap for it at this point. I wonder if he's changed it. He might want to.
QUESTION: Yes he has.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: So anyway, that, to me, is the most extraordinary example of life imitating art and back and forth. That one.
GALLOWAY: The current presidential race is just so extraordinary. How is that going to shape Veep? All these things that seem surreal—
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I know. When we began Veep a, we thought of it as a satire and now we think of it more as a somber documentary. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Is it going to make future seasons more ludicrous?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don't think so. I mean, we're not parodying any one particular politician or party, for that matter. We've created this alternate universe on our show. But it's quite remarkable, what's going on right now, and in fact I saw the former president of Mexico on television recently in response to Trump's talking about building this wall. And I think it was Fox, Vicente Fox, [who] was saying, “We're not going to pay for that f—ing wall,” he says. On television. And I'm like, “Huh? What's going on, man?”
LOUIS-DREYFUS: What happened to political discourse? Bye bye. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, incredible.
GALLOWAY: Do you watch Fox a lot?
GALLOWAY: I didn't until Megan Kelly and she's amazingly good.
QUESTION: Over the years, you've been on a lot of different shows, with different senses of humor. How has comedy changed while you've been in the industry? Especially now with the notion [of needing to be] more politically correct?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don't know about that. I guess people are talking about being politically correct, but I'm not seeing [it]. I feel like, I don't feel that that's in place. I think comedy's changed in the sense that there are more female actors out there, actresses out there, doing comedy in a variety of different ways. I think it's been great. And I'm thrilled about it. Between [Amy] Schumer and Amy Poehler and Tina [Fey], and the list goes on, there are lots. It seems there are many more opportunities for women to be funny in ways that are not the standard cheeky girlfriend, patient wife — kind of stupid parts.
GALLOWAY: What comedy do you like? What do you watch generally?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I'm a binge watcher and I like to watch drama. I just finished Narcos. Oh lord, it's just fabulous. And I'm trying to think what else. Of course now I can't think of anything, but — oh my god. There's this show out of Finland called Occupied, which I encourage everybody to watch, if you haven't seen it. I think it's just remarkable. Another drama.
GALLOWAY: You weren't watching The People v. O.J. Simpson?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Just starting that now.
QUESTION: If Selina and Elaine had to go head to head in a presidential election, who do you think would win? Or who would you vote for?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Is there a third choice?
QUESTION: No. That's all you got.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I guess I'd vote for Selina Meyer? [LAUGHS] I guess. Only because I know she wants it that badly, and I think Elaine would be like, easy come easy go. And I'm not sure, although they're both very self-centered people actually, but I guess I'd have to vote for Selina Meyer, seeing as she is actually somebody who's been in government and has that experience. But I wish there were a third option.
QUESTION: What about the industry or about acting still surprises you today?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh gosh. OK, let's think. What surprises me about this industry? What surprises me? I have to think about that for a second. [To Galloway.] What surprises you about this industry?
GALLOWAY: I'll tell you something, but this is a very personal thing. We created a mentorship program for inner-city girls that we pair with high-level women in entertainment. And even some of the people I'm the most cynical about want to do something good. That’s been a wonderful surprise.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I liked your answer. [LAUGHS] I guess, gee whiz, I don't know. I'm always surprised to hear how much money all these other people are making! [LAUGHTER]. To a certain extent, I'm not that surprised by much any more. I've been doing it a while, and that's OK. I don't need to be surprised. What I like to be surprised by is great material, and when it comes around I feel like it's a really good, happy surprise.
GALLOWAY: Do you have close friends in the industry, or are they mainly not in it?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: They're mainly not in the industry. Most of my friends have nothing to do with show business. Of course, the friends I have in show business are going to think, like, “What?!” I do have some, of course, some friends in show business.
GALLOWAY: You're also starting to produce. Do you want to produce more?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, I do. I'm a control freak to a certain extend, and I've had a lot of experience now making stuff, and so I like to bring that experience to bear. I'm looking around all the time to see what I can fix.
GALLOWAY: Drama or comedy?
GALLOWAY: You're doing Soldier Girls.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes. It's a limited series that I'm developing over at HBO, based on a book by Helen Thorpe about three generations of women in Indiana who enlisted in the National Guard and then got deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
QUESTION: Going back to political correctness some people have said that it's ruining comedy. How do you feel about it?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: You know, to be honest with you, I'm always suspicious when people say political correctness is ruining anything. That's to me a red flag of sorts. And also, when people talk about being politically correct as if it's a negative, my antenna goes up. I don't see evidence. I'm actually curious what you think? Do people think it's ruining the entertainment that they're watching? And what would be an example of that?
QUESTION: I sometimes feel people who say that it's ruining comedy want an excuse to have open season on picking on whoever they want to.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I mean, you can feel if somebody's gone too far. And I don't think that's necessarily being overly politically correct, to be sensitive to [the fact that] a joke can go too far. And there are certain areas that are off limits, and you can feel it. And it may just be an issue of timing. When tragedies happen. You don't necessarily make a joke the day after 9/11. And I don't know if you would call that politically correct or just being a decent person.