Julia Louis-Dreyfus: How She Broke the Seinfeld Curse
Julia Louis-Dreyfus digs into her breakfast at a low-key joint in Santa Monica, CA, and, watching her, it's hard to believe this is the same person who played frumpy, insecure Elaine Benes onSeinfeld. She is the picture of confident womanhood, glamorous even in a casual top and jeans. We were prepared for goofy. Charismatic, sure. But glamorous? Radiant? Julia Louis-Dreyfus? This 49-year-old is clearly doing something very right, and, well, we want what she's having.
Certainly, hard-earned success and a career built on doing what she loves contribute to Julia's glow: At 21, she was the youngest woman ever to join the cast ofSaturday Night Live. ("Really? I didn't know," she replies when I mention it.) Her nine-yearSeinfeldrun earned her worldwide fame and multiple Emmy nominations. Her current hit comedy, CBS'sThe New Adventures of Old Christine, in which she plays a divorced mom, gave her an Emmy win, breaking the so-called "Seinfeldcurse," which doomed every show starring its former cast members to failure.
In the cutthroat, male-dominated world of comedy, Julia has managed not only to hold her own but tolast— no small feat, when you think about all theSaturday Night Livefaces that have ended up in the "Where are they now?" files. And unlike many comedians, who seem glum, even a little depressed, in person, Julia is upbeat and funny. (When asked what gives her an instant laugh, she replies, "Um... it would have to be a fart. I'm not an intellectual.")
So how does she hang in there — and keep getting better? Julia credits her husband of 24 years, the writer Brad Hall, with helping her stay grounded. "I rely on him," she says. The couple regularly take their two sons, Charles, 12, and Henry, 17, on far-flung adventures but equally cherish the downtime they share at home. In many ways, she's a typical mom: She arrived a few minutes late to our interview because she'd forgotten to give her son his permission slip. Add to work, marriage, and family a few deep, longtime friendships — in two days she'll celebrate her birthday with some of her very favorite women — and you've got Julia's simple but essential life ingredients. Here is a woman completely at ease with her choices and where they've taken her — and why wouldn't she be? "I'm in a really good place," Julia says, flashing a wide, warm grin, "I feel grateful to be here."
You and your character, Christine, both juggle very full lives. What have you learned from her over the past five seasons?
Absolutely nothing! I've learned whatnotto do. And as the years have gone by with this show, Christine has just disintegrated into more of a mess than ever before. She's a very well-intentioned person for the most part — certainly regarding her own kid. But despite those good intentions, she's a fool.
Well, it makes for perfect TV.
It certainly does!
You've been an important member of a number of boys' clubs over the years —Saturday Night Live,Seinfeld, and you have two boys of your own. How did the experience of being around all those men influence your work?
If you are thinking about gender, it will get in your way, so to a certain extent, you have to toss it aside and push forward. But I've worked around men a lot, and I'm probably more assertive as a result. I'm also much more confident now than I used to be.
Is there anything women can learn from men, and anything men can learn from women?
Totally. I mean, I love men. And I like the directness of the male sensibility. And I like the sensitivity of women. So, you know, it's a good mix. I'm hoping that's something I've been able to impart to our children. I'm not the sole imparter of that, of course. My husband is a sensitive guy too. But there is a softness and a sensitivity to other people that I hope my boys are learning. And I think they are.
You've said before that you feel like it wasn't until you hit your 40s that you started to feel great about your body and style. What changed?
I don't know. I think... Well, I started working with a costume designer who was interested in me wearing more fitted clothes. And I didn't used to do that. I was shy. Because I'm so short and small, I used to wear things that were too big for me, that weren't flattering. So I got some good advice that helped me find more body confidence. I mean, I'm not a superskinny person at all and I always... I guess I sort of wanted to be. But now it's like,Yeah, I'm womanish. I can take that, it's cool.I started to own it. "I am totally womanish — so stick that in your pipe and smoke it!"
When would you say you feel most beautiful?
When I'm superskinny. [Laughs] No, but I always feel good after I exercise. I run, hike, do Pilates. I try to change it up.
You and your husband have been together for over 20 years. What does it take to make a relationship work over a long period of time?
You've got to find the right fellow. It is kind of basic, but very crucial. Brad and I certainly have similar goals and sensibilities; we're on the same page in terms of how we want to raise our children and what we like to do. We're always trying new things together — having adventures is a great way to be with your partner.
What kind of adventures?
We do so much. We travel a lot. A couple of years ago, we went river rafting in Chile. It was unbelievably exciting.
What do you love most about your relationship?
What I love most is that at the end of the day, [my relationship] is the most important thing — and I can rely on that. My husband's opinion is important to me. I want to know what he's thinking about. He's a real moral compass for me in so many ways. I'm never not interested in his point of view. So that's a primary thing.
Do you have a favorite recent memory?
This past Christmas was really lovely. I can't say that anything gigantic happened. It was very cozy. We went for a big family beach walk. But it was spectacularly calm and just sort of a profoundly happy day.
You and Brad are both very involved in environmental projects, another place where your sensibilities link up.
We've both been working on that cause for years. Norman Lear once said, "Celebrity is something you can spend." So I try to raise awareness for grass roots organizations, like Heal the Bay and the Natural Resources Defense Council. It feels like the right thing to do.
What's one of the biggest challenges you've faced as a mom?
Staying calm in the face of anything you perceive as a crisis.
How do you do that?
I don't know. I'm still trying to do it. Let me get back to you in 10 years. Well, I don't even know if I'll be able to then.
Has it been hard to raise kids while working on a hit show?
Yeah, the working-mom thing is definitely tricky. Guilt is a bitch. It's so useless as an emotion, for me anyway. It clouds things. I'm not saying people shouldn't feel guilty, but for me, it makes certain decision-making more difficult. And I have felt guilty. It's one of the reasons I haven't made a lot of movies. Network television is a full-time job, but it's manageable. I also think it's good for my kids to see me have artistic desires, work hard, and have success.
Has that gotten easier as they've gotten older?
Definitely. When I was doingSeinfeldand my oldest son was a babe, I had a nursery set up at work. I would nurse him, then run out onto the set, and I always felt like,Who am I, here?
On the show, Christine has to deal with some catty moms. Have you ever had to negotiate parenting peer pressure?
Not to the extent that Christine has, but there is an element of that. Many years ago, I went to [my child's] school and ran into a mom who said, "Oh, Julia, I can't believe I'm seeing you. We never see you anymore!" I was already consumed with guilt because I'd been working a lot. But I just put a huge smile on my face and said, "Oh, really? I guess you haven't been here when I have."
Has anything surprised you about being a mother of boys?
Well, I have four sisters. I went to an all-girls school. So I just assumed I'd have girls. It didn't evenoccurto me that I might have a boy, let alone two.
Sounds like you never lacked for female company.
Oh, I loved it. There's a certain way in which being around women is very comforting. In fact, I've got a birthday coming up in a few days, and I'm going to be getting together with a bunch of my women friends. We are just going out to dinner, but I love doing that with my girlfriends. That's fun.
Do you have more guy friends or girlfriends?
I spend most of my social time with women. Obviously, I have friends who are men. But when it comes to lunch, or going hiking, or anything like that, I do it with one of my girlfriends. I'm also very, very close to one of my sisters who lives out here. These women are a safe haven for me.
Are you looking forward to your birthday?
I always look forward to my birthday, and then as it approaches, I get anxious. But only because I want to do something of significance, and I can never figure out what that should be.
Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self?
Well, sure. Wouldn't we all love to be able to take what we know now and give it to ourselves 10, 15, 20 years ago? On the other hand, the journey of getting to where we are now is kind of fabulous, so... I guess really the bottom line is, "Trust your instincts."
So we should trust your instincts.
Everybody should trust my instincts. That is my advice to all of your readers.
Video: Julia Louis-Dreyfus / Elaine Marie Benes / Seinfeld Bloopers PT 3
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