Q&A: Jason Alexander on Directing His Career-Making Play, 'Seinfeld' Cast Friendships
The actor revisits Neil Simon's 'Broadway Bound' and talks Jerry, Elaine and Kramer: "We never became social friends"
Before he became known to millions as Jerry Seinfeld’s hilariously insecure best friend, George Costanza, Jason Alexander was a Broadway baby, playing Joe in the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth show Merrily We Roll Along in 1981, and performing opposite Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli in the 1984 musical The Rink. His big break came in 1986 playing showbiz hopeful Stanley in the Pulitzer Prize finalist Broadway Bound, Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical classic about his fractured family life growing up in the Bronx.
Last year, when Alexander went down to the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in southeast Los Angeles County to see a production of the play starring his close friend Gina Hecht, the two got into a discussion after the show. “The next thing I know I got a call from them going, Hey, we got the opportunity at The Odyssey,” Alexander tells The Hollywood Reporter. “How would you feel about doing it?” Evidently he felt just fine about it, because he’s now directing the current production of Broadway Bound starring La Mirada holdovers Hecht, Allan Miller and Ian Alda (Alan’s nephew), at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in West Los Angeles through September 28.
How different is this production compared to the Broadway version you were in back in 1986?
If you were looking just purely at the physical production of the play that I did and the play that I’m doing now, you would probably say there’s more similarities than not. By the same token, we are emphasizing different things, different performances, different characters. Instead of a big proscenium stage and theater, we’re in a very intimate 99-seat house.
Returning to the play, do you see differences in yourself as a performer and as a man?
The biggest difference is when I first did it I was 27, so the part of the play that I understood on an innate level was Stanley and Eugene, the kids, their desire to begin their career, begin their lives, make a name for themselves, get out of the house, break away and try and take care of the family. The travails of Mom and Dad and their breakup and the travails of Grandpa and his nonexistent relationship with his wife, all of those things, I appreciated them, I didn’t have the tools to understand them. Now I come into that thing at 54 and go, Oh, now that all makes some sense that it didn’t make before.
Is this where you see your career going, more toward directing?
If I could really move my career much more into predominantly directing, I would jump at that. If you’re asking me would I ever start a company like Reprise again, I probably wouldn’t endeavor to do that in Los Angeles. And then there’s the standup show, which I’ve been developing probably over the last three to five years. Is it my end-all and be-all to become a standup comic? No. Was Vegas a blast? Yes. Would I go back and do more? Yes.
You did the Super Bowl episode with Jerry Seinfeld for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. You guys keep in touch much?
We were workplace friends. We spent so much delicious time together as a foursome working and enjoying each other. But even during those nine years we never became social friends. So when the show ended we had no history of doing that and we all kind of went our separate ways. So we do stay in email contact. When we do see each other it’s like no time has passed. It immediately becomes those relationships again.
It was surprising that a show about nothing would catch on the way it did.
The show was not an obvious success or a likely success in its early incarnation. Normally in that situation actors tend to get very selfish and just try to get a good piece of tape that they can use to get their next job. But somehow our group, despite all the upheaval, became very supportive of each other. And that sort of generosity quickly made us into an ensemble and we took care of each other very quickly. I think the success of the show was in large part due to that.