Jerry Seinfeld could have been speaking for all of us when, in 2018, he stood on stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and told a full house,“I just really, really like Julia.” He was, of course, referring to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, his co-star for nine seasons on the sitcom Seinfeld, who that night was accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Maybe he didn’t realize it in the moment, but Seinfeld had identified the special alchemy that has made Louis-Dreyfus one of the most indelible actors of our time. Despite excelling at playing amoral characters such as Selina Meyer, the flailing politician she embodied for seven seasons on HBO’s poison-tipped satire Veep, you just can’t help but root for her. At 59, Louis-Dreyfus’s achievements ring loud. She shares the record for most Emmy wins by a single performer, with eight (one for Seinfeld, in 1996, one for The New Adventures of Old Christine, in 2006, and six in as many years for Veep), and has three more for producing Veep, which ended last year. In 2006, she became the first former female cast member of Saturday Night Live, where she launched her comedy career in 1982, to host the show. And as Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, she established herself as the best worst dancer in television history. Next up, she stars opposite Will Ferrell in the dramedy Downhill, about a married couple whose relationship is tested during an Alpine ski vacation gone awry. Here, Louis-Dreyfus graciously took some time out of her busy schedule—on her birthday—to answer some questions from a few fancy people who also really, really like Julia.
AMY SCHUMER: How do you cook your eggs?
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: Thank you for the question, Amy. I would like to take the opportunity to say that your eggs have produced a truly adorable and potentially delicious child. But back to me. I’m not sure how my eggs are cooked, as that’s handled by my staff, specifically the egg team within my staff.
STEPHEN FRY: Is laughter enough or should comedy challenge and change?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: A huge laugh is a very worthy thing all by itself, but if there’s a huge laugh that also challenges or changes, so much the better. That’s why I’m currently working on a limerick that is so powerful it will reduce carbon emissions by 43 percent worldwide. The only thing I need to know is: What rhymes with Nantucket?
FRANK RICH: What are the first three executive orders you will sign as Julia, not Selina, upon being sworn in as the next president of the United States?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: The first thing I would do by executive order would be to make you my administration’s executive producer, since you did such a good job with Veep and because, frankly, it’s all showbiz anyway. Let’s face it. We’ll start with that. My next executive order would be to take all white men off of all currency, and I would put people like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson on the money. Third, I’d rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. I would institute a regulation requiring any public official who denies climate change to be executed. But since I don’t believe in the death penalty, I’d have to think of a new kind of execution that would be both lethal and at the same time, non-lethal. That’s the kind of thing my executive producer would figure out.
TONY HALE: If Gary [Hale’s character on Veep] was your ski valet or, better yet, when I’m your ski valet, which cocktail would you like waiting at the lodge? And because they’re all asking: Givenchy, Dior, or Alaïa for your ski outfit?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Why are you asking me what cocktail I want? It’s your job to know what cocktail I want and, frankly, what I want generally speaking. That should answer your second absurd question. I can’t do everything. My god.
JAKE TAPPER: Which politician disappointed you the most?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I should be asking you that question because you actually have to talk to all of these assholes. The easy answer is obviously [Donald] Trump or [Jair] Bolsonaro or [Viktor] Orbán, scoundrels of that ilk, but they can’t really disappoint since they arrived with such clarity of conviction. If you were to look at the past, I would think Rutherford B. Hayes’s compromise between the Democratic South and Republicans in 1877 ending Reconstruction and enshrining racism in the American body politic is among the saddest, most disappointing single acts by any U.S. president. Fuck Rutherford B. Hayes.
TONI COLLETTE: You’ve played more than one character for extended periods of time. How do you let them go and how do you return to yourself, your center, again?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, first of all, Toni, you’re the sort of actress who disappears completely into a role. I think that’s a miracle. I’m more likely to find little parts of myself in the roles I play. I guess that’s why I’ve specialized in shallow, cruel, vain, and venal women. That really makes it quite easy to return to myself. Should I one day play a virtuous woman or, say, somebody who’s tall, it would be a longer journey back to myself.
NORMAN LEAR: What is the biggest single laugh you’re responsible for? Did you know it was coming?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don’t really know what the biggest laugh I’ve ever gotten was. But if you watch the gag reels from Seinfeld or Veep, I’m constantly cracking up at what the other actors are doing. I’ve been slayed by the very best. Tony Hale, Tim Simons, Matt Walsh, Sam Richardson, and all my friends at Veep. Michael Richards, Jason Alexander, Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Stiller. My god, Jerry Stiller. Thanks to them, I’ve ruined hundreds of scenes and wasted countless hours.
CLEA DUVALL: Which fictional world would you most like to visit and why?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I’m really missing the fictional world of Veep, I’m not going to lie. I would love to visit it, if only to say hi to Clea. Barring that, I wouldn’t mind visiting the fictional world of The Nutcracker because I’d really like to dance on toe as a Sugar Plum Fairy.
DUVALL: If you could convince everyone on the planet of one thing, what would it be?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I’m going to be earnest here: Be nice to each other. Truly, ethically, transcendentally nice.
DUVALL: Other than my birth, which historical event would you want to go back and be present for?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Your first birthday.
BRYAN CRANSTON: Do you have hope and optimism for a kinder, gentler society?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Here’s what I think: When you listen to the NRDC president, Gina McCarthy, or you listen to Bill McKibben, or Greta Thunberg talk about saving the planet, or Geoff Canada talk about education, or you watch LeBron James play basketball, or you look at a Santiago Calatrava bridge, or you read a Mary Oliver poem, or you watch any Gene Hackman performance, or you listen to Dizzy Gillespie, how can you not be filled with optimism for the capacity of humans to create, to give, to be good stewards of the planet? Unfortunately, there’s another side to that coin, that rides the most shallow and hypocritical people to the very top. Yes, I am talking about Lindsey Graham and the entire Republican Senate, and their dunderheaded, narcissistic would-be sovereign. I’m also talking about anybody who doesn’t get up and give their seat to a pregnant woman on a subway. But I do have some hope. I have to. What other option do I have?
LISA KUDROW: Do you remember the first time you got a laugh?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I do indeed. Back in the fourth grade, I was in a school play, and I played some sort of a queen. There was a scene in which I had to faint, which I did, and it got a huge laugh. This was a drama, mind you. It was a serious undertaking. It wasn’t meant to be funny. I had no intention of getting a laugh, but the laugh felt so good that I started fainting all over the place. I didn’t mind that it was an inappropriate moment to get a laugh. It felt good.
ZOË CHAO: When did you flee from a situation and why?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I once fled from a shark in the water, for real. Zoë, you should come over for a drink sometime and I’ll tell you the whole story. The really short version is that I was swimming somewhere in the Atlantic, and a bull shark came around. I fled from that motherfucker like a swimmer fleeing from a bull shark.
BILLIE JEAN KING: What is the biggest challenge women face trying to break into the comedy world and excel at it?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: The biggest challenge is to just get gender out of the fucking equation. Funny women are just as funny as funny men, often funnier. Interestingly, women who aren’t funny are actually quite a bit funnier than unfunny men. The only thing less funny than an unfunny man is two unfunny men. That’s my answer.
ABBI JACOBSON: What is a piece of art that you know you just have to see again in person?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: This is a great question. I’m an art nut, so picking favorites is super hard, but I have a real weakness for Winslow Homer watercolors. They just sneak up on you. They seem so simple and easy, and then you really look at them and they’re really complicated, perfectly composed constructions. If there’s a Homer show, no matter where it is, I have to go. The biggest problem for me is keeping myself from stealing all of the work.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Do you put the pill in your mouth before the water or the water in your mouth before the pill?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I eschew both water and pill, sticking, as you do, Stephen, to faith healing and intravenous drugs.
JUDD APATOW: What is your most positive memory of being a cast member at SNL? And what’s the most negative?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: My memory of that time is incredibly foggy. It’s actually pretty much shot. I do remember Stevie Wonder walking into the room when he hosted. He smiled at me and he called me gorgeous. I know he’s blind, but it really made me feel pretty. As for the negative stuff, let’s just say it’s all disappeared into the ether.
REGINA KING: What was it that drew you to your new movie, Downhill?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: What intrigued me about the story of Downhill is that I was very inspired by the film Force Majeure, upon which Downhill is based. Ruben Östlund, who made that film, was very keen to have it adapted. What appealed to me about the story was the notion of looking at reality one way, and then having a lens taken off, and, all of a sudden, your reality is completely different than what you thought it was.
JIMMY KIMMEL: Dear Julia, why don’t we burp in our sleep?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: You have clearly not yet slept with me, Mr. Kimmel.
OCTAVIA SPENCER: What is the one thing you do for yourself at least once a week that brings you joy?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I masturbate with a vengeance.
RACHEL MADDOW: Who did Elaine Benes vote for in 2016?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Jill Stein. Can you believe that shit? This whole fucking thing was her fault.
This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Interview Magazine. Subscribe here.
Fashion assistant: Bridget Blacksten
Hair: Matthew Monzon at Tomlinson Management Group
Makeup: Karen Kawahara for MCH
Production: Rep LTD
Producer: Alise Blair
Production Coordinator: Chrissy Hampton
Manicure: Emi Kudo using Chanel Le Vernis at Opus