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

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders