Nearly two decades after "Seinfeld" went off the air in 1998, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is once again on what might just be television's funniest show, HBO's "Veep." The comedic stalwart was a breath of fresh air when she first showed up on "Seinfeld," even if she wasn't meant to be there in the first place. "They had made the pilot of 'Seinfeld,' and then NBC said, 'Put a chick in it,'" she recalls. Louis-Dreyfus hasn't looked back since. For this year's Royals portfolio, we paired her with Priyanka Chopra, the Bollywood star who swept into our televisions on ABC's "Quantico."
What was the very first audition that you did?
The very first professional audition I had was for Second City in Chicago. I was still in college. I got in to the touring company. It was a big deal and it wasn't super fun, to be honest with you. But then I subsequently went on to do theater with my friends who had started a theater company in Chicago. And that was gobs of fun.
Were you always interested in doing comedy or you would audition for both comedy and drama?
I auditioned for everything. I studied to be an actress. I did dramatic roles and comedic roles. I just tended to get more roles that were comedic. Inexplicably.
[Laughs] And then from Second City you you went to "Saturday Night Live"?
I actually went from doing a show with The Practical Theatre Company in Chicago to SNL when I was 21 years old. It was unusual to be that young and inexperienced and catapulted into this huge universe of SNL. During the mid-80's, when I in junior high and high school, I was the audience for the original cast of "Saturday Night Live." It sort of felt like Cinderella goes to the ball.
Did you have a favorite SNL player?
I was always a huge fan of Jane Curtin when she did the news. And I was a huge Bill Murray fan. And Gilda [Radner], of course. I mean, I just loved it all. I thought it was all incredible. "Hamburger, hamburger, hamburger." You know?
What was your first day like at 30 Rock? Did you plan an outfit?
I'm sure I planned an outfit for my first day. I can't remember what it was, but I'm also sure that it was hideous. Those were not great times fashion-wise. Although now I see looks coming back, which I can't even believe what I'm looking at. But anyway, I remember we were asked to do some of the sketches that we had been performing in Chicago for the writers and cast. That didn't work out very well. [Laughs]
They didn't laugh? Oh, no.
Then you met Larry David there. I did. Larry was at Saturday Night Live my third year that I was there, and we became fast friends, bonded by our misery.
So when Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld were doing "Seinfeld," did you have to audition? I sort of had to audition but kind of not. It was very relaxed — it was not your typical audition experience. NBC already knew me because of Saturday Night Live. And of course Larry knew me, so it was really a question of meeting Jerry and did we get along. Which we did. We read a scene together, just the two of us, and it felt very natural and good. Then we made a deal. It was really pretty lickety-split.
On "Seinfeld" there was kind of a curve. It started out being not terribly successful. I think you had the shortest pickup order of any show.
Yeah. They had made the pilot of "Seinfeld," and then NBC said, "Okay, look. We'll order four episodes." [Laughs] So it was a real seal of approval. And they said, you know, "And put a chick in it." So that would be me, I wasn't in the pilot. So I did the first four. And then after that we got an order of 13. And so after that we finally got a full order — and that was, you know, ostensibly year three. So it was kind of a slow to become the thing that it became. Which is fine. It felt organic, and it gave us a chance to sort of wiggle around in what it was we were trying to do, and I think that was nice. Success is fantastic, but it can be burdensome and it can have a cursed feeling to it. It can get in your way.
You could have segued to all kinds of things [after "Seinfeld"]. What is it about television that you really like?
Well, there are three things I like. One is I like to be home. I had two young children. I was not interested in going away on location. I like the immediacy of television. And I know television, you know? I knew it. I know it. And it was a regular gig. It was pretty steady. And then you get these hiatuses that correlate with the kids' summer breaks. It was good for my personal and creative life.
And now you have "Veep." You're in your character so much. You sell those lines completely
Yeah, it's so fun to be in the skin of that crazy lady.
Do you ever take her home? I certainly do not. As soon as that wig and those tight clothes come off, I'm in my Birkenstocks and I am out of there.
Well, her wardrobe is kind of brilliant. Everything does look like a second skin.
The whole idea is to constrict. It's a good metaphor for the character, who feels restrained in this powerful position.