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When Seinfeld producers approached Jerry Stiller to play the father of George Costanza, the legendary actor said he had never heard of the show and passed. The producers were shocked.
Stiller died Monday of natural causes. He was 92. Over his decades-long, illustrious career in show business, he was perhaps best known for playing the iconic Frank Costanza, which he talked about developing in an interview years ago.
Stiller, at first, had zero interest in doing the show.
“They said they want you to play the father of George Costanza on Seinfeld, and I said, ‘Who’s Seinfeld?'” Stiller recalled. “They said it is a very funny show and it is on the air right now. And I said, ‘Well, I am in a Broadway show. I am about to rehearse. I pass. [They said] ‘What?!’ I pass. I don’t want to do it.”
So, the late John Randolph was cast in the part, but it was not working out and Stiller explained that co-creator Larry David came back to him six months later, after his Broadway show had closed, and asked him again to do the role.
At first, David said he wanted Stiller to play the elder Costanza much more subdued and even-keeled, the opposite of the yelling, hysterical Mrs. Costanza, played by Estelle Harris. David also wanted the actor to wear a bald cap to match George’s hairline. Stiller said he knew right away all that wouldn’t work.
“We started rehearsing the first show, and she’s screaming at me all the time and I am taking it. And I said to myself, ‘I am going to get fired the same way as the other guy because nothing is happening on stage,'” Stiller recalled. “So when we shot the dress rehearsal, before we go on stage with a live audience, she started screaming at me, and I out of instinct, instead of just saying my lines, I [screamed back].”
Stiller continued, “Everybody starts laughing and David said, ‘Jerry, keep it that way.’ And that was the beginning of Frank Costanza. We established the character. Of course, get rid of the wig, just leave your hair.”
Stiller said the cast and crew were always a very tight group. “And I think that is one of the reasons the show was very successful. We weren’t thinking of our next line, we were just listening to each other. And we liked each other in a very big way.”
Watch the full interview segment below.
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