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Interview: Julia Louis-Dreyfus "Wiggles Around" Toward Acting Glory

Not all actors are adept at every platform. Movies, tv and stage can require require different charismas and subtle changes in scale. In the case of bonafide television superstars like Julia Louis-Dreyfus (16 Emmy acting nominations and 4 wins from 3 different hit series) who rarely work outside their chosen platform, there’s every reason to suspect that they’ll stay put... and should! But with Enough Said, Julia Louis-Dreyfus threw us a divine curveball. Though she's never had a lead film role she carries Enough Said with a beautifully modulated mix of comic and dramatic impulses as Eva, a lonely massage therapist who second-guesses her new romance with Albert (James Gandolfini). If she isn't Golden Globe Best Actress nominated on the 12th, I'm planning to riot. 

Despite the warm reviews and indie success, she was modest about this new achievement when we spoke on the phone last week and very gracious when her work was complimented. “It means a lot to me, especially since you saw it twice”. She’d sprained her ankle earlier that same day “I’m such an ass!” but was still in good spirits, with one leg elevated and her inimitable laugh strangely comforting in its familiarity, like someone had left my TV on in the background. The publicist introducing us sounded unusually ominous "You have 15 minutes." which proved a great ice breaker.

"I feel like we have to take an SAT or something," Julia says.

"In 15 minutes, put your pencils down." I counter.

"Right?!" And we're off...

Nathaniel R: Your performance in Enough Said is scalpel precise but also feels really intuitive. So I'm wondering about your process. Do you just feel your way through the scene or is every beat planned?

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, it's not planned! I mean, it's planned in as much as what my intention is in the scene, what I want, but beyond that I just get there. I can't give you a blueprint.

So is it just a matter of rehearsal. Or do you let it...percolate?

JULIA: To be honest with you it's certainly rehearsal, for sure. More than anything it's... [surprised] percolation -- that's the perfect word for it. I'm glad you used that.

I got it from Julianne Moore, actually.

JULIA: Well, it's true! I actually do that a lot. Things sit in there for a long time, you know, and it's sort of... I don't know. It just has to kind of wiggle around in the area and then you discover various truths as you go.

Do you think your co-stars were the same way. And is there a moment when you know 'ooh, we're getting it!'

Yeah, you can. I can, anyway, sense when it feels truthful. Or if it feels like there's a beat or two or a section that isn't quite valid or doesn't work. Wiggling around - that's definitely my process. Actors come at work differently. As outward as it seems it's a very inward experience, a pretty personal one. Everyone has their own deal.

Eva (JLD) is always stealing glances at Albert (Gandolfini)

I would say, certainly for Jim it was like that. With him I noticed he had to say the words a number of times before he could settle into them. I don't mean he didn't know them but that he had to almost mark the words in his head until they made sense to him. He was very intuitive, too. He... [drifts off] I liked his process. It was a happy coupling in terms of the work ethic of it all.

Well, it definitely translates to the screen, in terms of chemistry. I don't know how you balanced this performance. You're somehow eliciting painful sympathy and funny schaudenfreude at the same time. Comedy and Pain!  

Well...  I think that's kind of who I am. [Laughs]

You haven't done a lot of movies, actually... a couple of Woody Allens but you've mostly stuck to TV. Why this movie and why now?

Well for a number of reasons. The timing was really good. And you know I'm doing this HBO show [Veep] and the limited number of episodes definitely frees up my year. Purely from a logistical point of view, the idea of going away on location and shooting a film while doing a TV series is something that was really not very possible for me in my life raising my two boys. But now the kids are older. My youngest is 16 and this movie shot in LA and all of that made it possible.

The first, sort of, lure on the hook was the script because it was such a fabulous piece of work, so beautifully crafted. And I was a massive fan of Nicole Holofcener's already. So I read this and thought 'I gotta get this gig. I can do this.'

I like her voice, her tone;  I'm the audience for her movies, I guess I should say. I go to see her movies. So the idea of doing one has always been appealing.

My favorite is Lovely & Amazing. Yours?

[Thinking...] Please Give I thought was SO touching. But I don't know. Lovely and Amazing...I need to watch that again.

Nicole Holofcener, James Gandolfini & Julia on the set

I thought Eva's proactive empty nest crisis was fascinating - her daughter hasn't even left and she's falling apart - so I'm wondering about life mixing with art here since you mentioned your boys.

Well, it felt real. I mean it was very realistically drawn. Even the unconscious parenting decision-making boundary-blurring behavior felt very earned and real to me. I certainly understood her anxiety. We had our oldest son go to college and that was a massive marker in our lives, a big landmark in our family life. So that was an easy launching for me to take apart here.

So you have personal things to draw on.

Oh yeah. And I know a lot of women like this. I really do. Women who become - I don't want to say 'too involved' but they sort of, out of neediness, become 'friends' with their kid's friends and that can be problematic. It all comes from a good place.

I want to ask you about working with Catherine Keener. She's the signature face of Holofcener's filmography and has such an intimidating screen presence. Did that bleed off into real life?

I'm a massive Catherine fan and have been forever. She's so beautiful. I think everything she does is dreamy and I have huge admiration for her so it was easy to play someone who idolized her. That was sort of a cinch, actually!

What was the difficult part of the role, then?

You know, a few of those dramatic moments were pretty draining for me. Going to that place of separation and the feelings of sadness: the airport scene and the breakup with Albert. You want to get to them truthfully - you have to get to them truthfully. It's very personal because ... [drifts off]. Anyway, I'm really glad people liked it because, if they didn't, I would feel like such an ass. You put yourself out there, heart and soul.

Right before we got on the phone I suddenly remembered that hilarious episode of Seinfeld where Elaine just hates on The English PatientWhat do you think Elaine or Selina on Veep would think of Eva and Enough Said?

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: God. I haven't even gone there. That's a hard question. [Pause] I think Selina might not get the movie.

And she probably would think Eva did the right thing by two-timing Albert. [Laughs]

Well, I hope Enough Said makes you want to do another movie.

It makes me want to do another good movie. They're hard to come by. But if one comes along, I'll try to grab it.

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Reader Comments (17)

Thanks for this, I'm a huge fan of hers and this was a great read. I unfortunately haven't been able to catch Enough Said</> yet, but I hope to rectify that soon!

November 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

"I got it from Julianne Moore, actually."


November 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

par3182 - GUILTY

November 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

Well at least you didn't tell her that Julianne was God. But I bet you thought of it.

Thanks for the interview. It was great!

November 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

Oh I LOVE LOVE LOVE her... and loved the movie! So glad you could interview her! :)

November 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShane B.

My love for JLD is strong, and I'm so jealous you got to meet her. I adored Enough Said, and one reason I'm grateful for it is that it's provided a vessel for my favorite movie sites to discuss one of my favorite actresses.
I'm also glad that she, in the midst of doing constant press, got to spend some of it with as thoughtful an interviewer as you.

November 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Did I read spoilers in some of her responses? Please give fair warning.

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Thanks for the interview! I have always had a soft spot for her and Elaine and it's really nice to see her in a film, such a gifted comedic actress!

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMM

So when do you get the call from Hollywood Reporter to make those actress roundtables a bit more interesting?! You´d be perfect for that.

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertherealmike

Cool interview! Thanks, Nathaniel.

You do mix up "there" and "their" a lot. What's the psycological explanation? :p

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

James t - the psychological explanation is that I type too fast and i read aloud to proofread (if i proofread at all) so sometimes i miss the phonetic stuff. believe me i hate myself afterwards when i see the 'you're/your' 'there/their/there' 'its/it's' mistakes because believe me i know the differences !

therealmike -- aw, thanks. In truth I don't think the THR people do as terrible a job as some people think. I think they're too worried about getting topic/soundbytes so they launch these generic questions because they're not trusting that the actors will take it somewhere interesting themselves. And that is a danger because actors get in ruts in interviews since they do them so often. But sometimes it's best to just let it be more organic.

/3rtful -- it's a comedy about a woman who sabotages her relationships so its not a spoiler to say "two-timing" (it's not what you think and it's central to the whole plot and in the trailer itself) or "breakup"

November 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I've seen a couple of interviews of her on Gold Derby and now here at TFE, and she genuinely comes across as genuinely unassuming. It made me appreciate her talent more. Really? This humble woman has Elaine Benes in her?? Brilliant! Props also to Nicole Holofcener for recording this down to earth, sweet side of her on the screen. She's such a delight and hopefully more good parts will follow.

Btw, I wanna go on the record that I also loved Nat's name dropping Julianne Moore! I wish he had closed with a "Thank you for the interview, Julia! I haven't had this much fun since the last time I had drinks with my BFF Emma Thompson!"

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Carmen -- HA!

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

"It's a comedy about a woman who sabotages her relationships" -- Stop it! I already was dying to see it. Two more weeks, two more weeks...

I really like Julia. I mean, I even saw the whole first season of Old Christine.

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

It's a shame she's not getting serious traction...yet. I think she would be a great person to be nominated, not only is she deserving but her story of getting there is wonderful.

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Of the stupid Q & A I had to through at TIFF, she was the friggin' best. She knew the room was always on her side but could be blunt, gracious, and emotional (namely about talking about the film's last shot).

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I feel like she'll get a little more traction before the season ends. It's really a shame the Spirit Awards passed over her. She's the longshot Oscar nominee I'm rooting for this year.

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

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