Julia Louis-Dreyfus discusses her movie 'Enough Said' and her HBO series 'Veep'

Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in the romantic comedy 'Enough Said' with James Gandolfini. 'It's not like they're easily plucked from trees, these kinds of really interesting, distinct films with roles for people my age,' Julia Louis-Dreyfus said of Hollywood.

Lacey Terrell/Fox Searchlight/AP
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (r.) and Catherine Keener (l.) star in 'Enough Said.'

At the suggestion that she's the finest comedic actress of her generation, Julia Louis-Dreyfus sighs an expletive.

The grandness of the statement may make Louis-Dreyfus squirm, but it's worth considering. Think about her, as Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld," swooning over John F. Kennedy Jr. Think about her, as Vice President Selina Meyer on "Veep," strategically finishing a 10k race behind a disabled veteran but before a costumed contestant ("I'm not going to get beaten by a banana!").

Few comediennes have both her gift for physical comedy and vocal precision. In boy worlds as varied as the dating banter of "Seinfeld" and the Beltway politics of "Veep," she's suffered countless indignities, yet always remained feistily combative.

"It's a very joyful way to make a living," Louis-Dreyfus remarked in a recent interview at the Toronto International Film Festival. "I kind of crave it, in a way. But it's fun to make them cry, too."

And with that, she lets out a full-throated laugh – a brilliant, bright cackle that's ruined dozens of otherwise good takes. (If you haven't seen it, look up the outtakes from her police station confrontation with Jerry Stiller's Frank Costanza on "Seinfeld.")

In "Enough Said," which came out Sept. 18, Louis-Dreyfus, transfers her comedic gifts to the big screen and, finally, gets to exercise her tear-inducing chops.

"Enough Said," she joked after the Toronto premiere of the film, is her first dramatic work since doing "The Cherry Orchard" in high school. (She fell into sketch comedy as a college student at Northwestern in Chicago, after which she joined "Saturday Night Live.") It's also, somewhat staggeringly, the first lead role in a feature film for the 52-year-old actress.

"I've spent the bulk of my career doing television and raising two children, who I'm still raising. So the idea of working eight, nine months on a series and then on my break going off to do another project is something I just couldn't work into my life," says Louis-Dreyfus. "So I didn't, much to my agent's chagrin."

In "Enough Said," which was written and directed by Nicole Holofcener ("Please Give," ''Lovely and Amazing"), Louis-Dreyfus plays a divorced Los Angeles masseuse and mother who begins dating the ex-husband (James Gandolfini) of a new friend (Catherine Keener). It's a tender, un-formulaic romantic comedy about the distrustful stage of middle age when romantic opportunities seem like inevitable disappointment and children leave for college.

"There was plenty to draw on," says Louis-Dreyfus who, despite a career playing interminably single or divorced women, has been happily married for 25 years to "SNL" alum Brad Hall, with whom she has two sons. "I brought all of it."

"I could see how emotional she was," says Holofcener. "She showed me pictures of (her sons), she started crying and I thought, 'Oh, OK. This is a no brainer. Obviously she can relate to this part, and obviously her emotions are very accessible and close to the surface.'"

After casting Gandolfini, Holofcener realized she had played matchmaker of two TV icons: "It's like Tony Soprano dating Elaine Benes."

The release of the film has been bittersweet for all of those involved, coming just three months after the death of Gandolfini. Louis-Dreyfus was a big admirer of the actor before working with him: "I thought he was sort of dreamy," she says.

"James was very much like the character, Albert, that he plays in this movie: very dear, thoughtful, self-effacing kind of guy," she says, choking up. "It's lovely for his legacy and even for his family to have this performance documented because it shows him as this loving, dear man, which he was."

Like Gandolfini, Louis-Dreyfus could easily have been pigeonholed for her famous TV role.

"The test is always time," says Jerry Seinfeld. "When your talent is thin, you get cycled through the machine fast. When your talent is deep, like hers is, you get a much longer ride – which is very obvious to everyone at this point."

It would be hard to overstate the importance of Louis-Dreyfus to "Seinfeld." Nearing casting her, Seinfeld declared to co-creator Larry David: "If this deal works out and we get her, we're going to be very wealthy."

Elaine was added after the pilot, but she quickly asserted herself as one of the boys. In the tradition of Lucille Ball, Louis-Dreyfus never shied away from looking foolish for comedic effect.

Armando Iannucci's Washington D.C. satire "Veep" has proved to be the great, foul-mouthed bookend for Louis-Dreyfus' sitcom life. She's currently nominated for an Emmy for her performance, having won it last year. Her Selina is perpetually, desperately a step behind the D.C. gossip mill.

"She's vain, she's frustrated, she's ambitious, she's self-centered, ego-maniacal, fundamentally very lonely and behaves desperately as the result of all of the above," says Louis-Dreyfus.

But "Veep," currently shooting its third season, only runs in 10-episode bunches, allowing Louis-Dreyfus more time for film work. "Enough Said" may be just a beginning.

"It's not like they're easily plucked from trees, these kinds of really interesting, distinct films with roles for people my age," says Louis-Dreyfus. "But I have a feeling I'll do a few more films, to tell you the truth."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.