Interview: Julia Louis-Dreyfus talks Veep, Seinfeld and James Gandolfini

The Emmy-winning actress moves onto the big screen with Enough Said

Four-time Emmy award-winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus is remarkable in so many ways that it's difficult to know where to start: The nine years on Seinfeld; her brilliant performance as a vice-president on hit TV series Veep; her record-breaking number of Emmy nominations; then there's the fact that, at 52, she is breaking all preconceived notions about the career trajectories of actresses by landing her first major cinematic leading role in Enough Said.

But, if you asked her, none of the above would compare to the experience of raising two sons for the best part of two decades.

She's infectious. Within minutes of arriving in a Toronto hotel room, she has me hanging on her every word. In Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said she plays single mother Eva, a massage therapist whose daughter is about to leave their LA nest for university. At a party she meets Albert – James Gandolfini in his last role – also divorced, and, separately, Marianne (Catherine Keener). When she starts dating Albert, she discovers that Marianne is his ex-wife.

Holofcener is well versed in making films with strong female characters, yet the timing of Gandolfini's death meant that it was the male star that grabbed the production headlines. Holofcener says that the film was already completed when the Sopranos star died on June 19 in Italy, but he had not seen it.

Louis-Dreyfus was driving on the 101 Freeway in LA when she heard about the death of her co-star. She says about her screen love interest: “I think he was a bit reticent [about starring in Enough Said] at first, not because he didn't want to do comedy, but he definitely felt undeserving of the part, which is ridiculous. He would make jokes with Nicole saying: 'Feel free to call Clooney if you want! What am I doing getting the girl?' But that made him every more loveable and the character was very close to who he was.”

Having got through the difficult discussion on her recently deceased co-star, attention returns to her performance. She cracks a joke that she is similar to Eva because they have the same yoga pants, before getting more serious. “My children are now 21 and 16 and when we made the film I had just gone through the landmark moment in my family's life of taking our eldest son to college.” How did she react?

“I cried a lot and I cried in anticipation,” she reveals. “You find yourself doing really weird things. There is a kind of denial that sets in that is bizarre. Both my sons go to the same school, went to the same school, and when they sent me the bill for tuition for one son, I was thinking I haven't got the bill for my other son, I kept on waiting, because I didn't want to write two cheques, and it's only when I picked up the phone to say, 'hey I haven't got it', that I realised that I'm not going to get it.”

What experience has taught her about parenting is: “It's just a series of separations. First they sit up, then they crawl, and then they walk out of the room. It's a metaphor in a way.”

She is the daughter of French billionaire businessman Gérard Louis-Dreyfus, and her mother Judith was a writer and special needs tutor. They divorced when Louis-Dreyfus was young. Her stepfather was a Project Hope doctor who would move the family around the globe, to Sri Lanka, Columbia and Tunisia.

On her upbringing, she just says, “I was born in New York City and moved to Washington DC aged eight.” Her move to LA was not meant to be permanent.

“I went kicking and screaming to Los Angeles. I moved to Los Angeles in 1986 because I wasn't getting work in New York, I was getting some work, but there was more work to be found in Los Angeles at the time. I remember saying to my boyfriend who later became my husband [producer Brad Hall], 'OK, I'll move here but not permanently and I'm definitely not raising kids here!'. I think the joke's on me.”

Yet there have been other aspects of her life that she has been more in control of, particularly the balance between her work and home life. She explains away the lack of movie roles by stating: “To be honest I haven't been really seeking that much work in cinema because I was doing so much work in television that was demanding on my schedule nine months of the year. When I would have downtime I wanted to be at home because I had both my boys during the Seinfeld run, so my time was precious to me, and the idea of running off to do a movie, although appealing on one level, was untenable. So now I'm doing Veep, which is 10 episodes a year, so my calendar has opened up.”

She won her fourth personal Emmy last month. Her second win for Veep. The second season is about to air in the UK and a third has already been commissioned. It's clear she loves the part, and when I ask if she'd like it to run on for ever like Seinfeld, she retorts, “Seinfeld did not run for ever.”

Yet, despite the protestations, she suggests that it's nice that this job seems to have a definite time limit: “Well Seinfeld went on for nine years. I don't think you can be vice president for nine years.”

Comedy is her metier. She's an alumnus of Saturday Night Live, that great American school for humourists, appearing in 59 episodes between 1982-85. Her first major TV role was on Day by Day playing materialistic, childless neighbour Eileen Swift. The 1990s were largely taken up by playing Elaine Benes, the best friend and sometime ex of Jerry Seinfeld. When she accidentally catches repeats of the show while surfing television she thinks: “'Oh God that was a long time ago,' that is my reaction. It's like looking at a high-school yearbook.”

It took some years for her to shake the Seinfeld legacy, but she did so with a bang in 2006, producing and starring in five series of The New Adventures of Old Christine, playing a neurotic gym-owning single-mother. Veep, created by The Thick of It scribe Armando Iannucci, sees the actress play a frustrated vice-president, who laments missing out on the top job.

Louis-Dreyfus is always trying to bring out the humour in her characters. Preparing to play a masseuse, she says, “I worked with a massage therapist who taught me a lot about massage and I definitely asked her to tell me about the most ridiculous positions that you can get yourself into as a massage therapist from a comedic point of view.

'Enough Said' is screened at the London Film Festival on Saturday at 6pm and goes on general release on 18 October; the second series of 'Veep' premieres on 16 October on Sky Atlantic HD but is available on demand now

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones