Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the first laugh she got — and the ER trip that followed She was about 3 years old and had stuck raisins up her nose — but she made her mom laugh so she calls it a win. The Veep star plays a writer whose husband hates her new novel in You Hurt My Feelings.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus recalls the first laugh she got — and the ER trip that followed

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. My guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is probably best known for her work on the hit comedy series "Seinfeld." But her career has shown a staying power and range few performers can match. Before "Seinfeld," she was a cast member at "Saturday Night Live." After "Seinfeld," she starred in five seasons of "The New Adventures Of Old Christine" and starred in and was executive producer of the acclaimed HBO series "Veep," in which she played vice president and eternal presidential aspirant Selina Meyer for seven seasons.

Louis-Dreyfus is one of the most award-winning actors in television history, earning 11 primetime Emmy Awards, eight for acting and three for producing, in addition to a Golden Globe Award and nine Screen Actors Guild Awards. She's made films, won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and now hosts a new podcast called "Wiser Than Me," which we'll talk about in a bit. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in a new movie written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. It's called "You Hurt My Feelings." Well, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: Thank you for having me.

DAVIES: So let's talk about the new film. This is you and Nicole Holofcener. You worked on another film, "Enough Said," about 10 years ago. You know, when people write about the two of you, they've used terms like two halves of the same person, cinematic alter egos. Do you find a special connection with her work?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: I do. First of all, we're really good friends. Although we met for the very first time on "Enough Said" - so, you know, a decade or so ago. But it wasn't - it's not really that long ago. At the time, we felt as if, oh, wow, we've known each other all our lives. And yeah, I feel sort of joined at the hip with her creatively, and I love her voice as a writer. I - it speaks to me kind of on a deep level.

DAVIES: Right. These are films about relationships, often mature relationships.


DAVIES: You want to describe your character in this new film, Beth?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: I play a woman who is a writer. Her name is Beth. She has written a memoir some years back. It was moderately successful. It wasn't a smash hit. But she is a teacher at the New School. She teaches writing. She's married to Don, played by the wonderful Tobias Menzies, who is a psychiatrist, a therapist. And they have a very good marriage. They are very in sync with one another. They've been married a very long time. And she relies on him for his input about her material as well as other aspects of her life. They are really entwined with each other in a way that's seemingly quite healthy, right?

And so she's now just finished a pass at her next book, which is a work of fiction. She's been working on it for quite a while. She hasn't heard yet from her agent. She's questioning why. Her husband is reassuring her what a marvelous book it is and has reassured her for quite a long time. He tells her how much he loves it, et cetera, et cetera. And so upon this she relies. And then at a certain point in the movie, she overhears her husband telling someone else that in fact he hates the book or doesn't like it and is just really - he just can't keep reading draft after draft after draft of it.

DAVIES: Right.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: And so the wheels fall off the bus at that point. So it knocks her out completely. It's a complete game changer, and her world is turned upside down.

DAVIES: That leads us to the clip I wanted to play, which is the moment right after she has overheard her husband, despite his assurances that she's doing wonderful work, that he really...


DAVIES: ...Didn't like the new book. And so this is a scene where you and your husband, Don, played by Tobias Menzies, are having dinner with another couple. And you're just so wounded by this that you just can't hold it in. So we'll listen to this. You as Beth speak first.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) You know, it's OK, Don. Honestly, you don't have to keep trying to make me feel better, OK? - because I know it's super-tedious for you.

TOBIAS MENZIES: (As Don) You got it. Done.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) Great.

MENZIES: (As Don) No. No, actually, you know what? That's not very nice. It's hurtful what you just did.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) I'm sorry. Are you saying that you're hurt?

MENZIES: (As Don) Yeah. Don't take it out on me.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) Take what out on you?

MENZIES: (As Don) Your frustration.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) I just - you know what? I just don't need you to lie to me anymore.

MENZIES: (As Don) Lie to you?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) Yeah.

MENZIES: (As Don) God, please, just stop. You know, you're behaving like a child.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) I heard you talking. I heard you talking to Mark.

MENZIES: (As Don) What are you talking about?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) Paragon.

MENZIES: (As Don) What?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) Sarah and I came in to say hi. And we overheard you guys.

MENZIES: (As Don) What? You spied on us?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) What? No. I mean, it was just for, like, a second, for fun. We heard you talking.

MENZIES: (As Don) About what?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) About my work.

MENZIES: (As Don) All right, hang on. That's what all this has been about.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) That's what all of this - all of this - has been about. That's exactly right. I heard everything that you said.

MENZIES: (As Don) OK, like what?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) Like that you hate my new book.

MENZIES: (As Don) What? I did not say that. That's...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) Are you kidding? Are you going to gaslight me now? That's what it feels like.

MENZIES: (As Don) If I did...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) But you did.

MENZIES: (As Don) But you took it out of context, Beth.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) Oh, I just - I can't even handle this.

MICHAELA WATKINS: (As Sarah) OK, wait. OK, so that's what I was wondering.

ARIAN MOAYED: (As Mark) Sarah, please, now's not the time.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) All right, Mark, please forgive me.

MENZIES: (As Don) Beth...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) You deserve to have a really nice dinner. And I'm sorry...

MENZIES: (As Don) Beth...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) ...That you were fired from your job, and happy birthday.


MENZIES: (As Don) Beth...

MOAYED: (As Mark) Thank you.

MENZIES: (As Don) Beth...

DAVIES: And Beth leaves. She's speaking to the other couple there. Boy, I feel the pain, hearing that again.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. And that scene comes after many scenes of her not confronting him and trying to understand how to move on off of this.

DAVIES: Yeah. You know, I think your performance there just seems so true to life. I mean, you're not exploding in rage. You're trying to suppress this and hold it together. I'm wondering if there's anything memorable about preparing for or playing that scene. It is so affecting.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: It was such a hard scene to do because there's so much shame involved with it. You know, she's...

DAVIES: Right.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: She really reveres her husband. And so for him to have withheld this information and to have told someone else - I mean, it feels like an infidelity, and it kind of is. And then in this moment, in this scene that we just heard, he is denying that he did it. So it's a complete mind game. And I'd use a word, mind-something, that you know what I mean, but I can't say it because we're on National Public Radio. And there is a thick frosting of shame over all of it.

DAVIES: Right.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: So it was brutal. I don't know. It's just a - it was - from an emotional point of view, it was brutal. Oh, and also, the guy that he told is her brother-in-law, right? And he's sitting there at the table. So there's this also this awful feeling that the two of them know they have this conversation. And she knows that they know, and they are withholding. So the whole thing just feels, you know...



DAVIES: Doubly dishonest and triply deceptive - I mean...


DAVIES: ...What's interesting about this film - you know, it explores how much of our life partner's opinion of our work matters in a relationship. And, you know, for most people, your partner's work isn't visible, right? I mean, you could be a terrific therapist or lawyer or welder or auto mechanic, but we don't see what you're doing. But if you're writing books or if you're acting, as you are, this is...


DAVIES: ...You know, public-facing work. And you actually - your husband, Brad Hall, is also in the business as an actor and writer.


DAVIES: I don't - did this - did you relate to this character in this way? Do you guys talk about your work and...


DAVIES: ...Wonder if you're being honest about the critiques?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I actually don't. Maybe I should, but I don't wonder about - I rely on him to be truthful. And maybe sometimes he has to be gingerly truthful, but I certainly rely on his point of view and opinion and all of his thoughts on anything I do. I mean, we're really in touch with each other about that. And I think he would say the same about me and his work. But I think the film is sort of - it's definitely - it's kind of a meditation on the truths and slightly not-truths that we tell our loved ones. And I also think it's an interesting - another idea that comes out of the film is, are you your work? Who are you minus your work? Is your worth completely tied to the work that you do? That's an interesting thing to consider, you know?

DAVIES: Right. Right. It is. Yeah. You know, it's interesting. I - you know, I do interviews. And as I watch the film and read this, you know, my wife often listens to my interviews as she's - as I'm washing the dishes. And she usually says nice things, and I've always believed her. But now I wonder if I - yeah.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: But does she ever give you criticism? Does she ever say, you know, I think you should have - it might have been better if you had - you know, something like that?

DAVIES: More like, you know, that wasn't a great guest. So who knows?


LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, God. I can't - I need to know what she says after she hears our interview.

DAVIES: I'll find a way to tell you. And when people watch the film, they can see whether - you know, how well, you know, Beth and Don get through this. There are other issues in their lives, but it's a good film. Let me reintroduce you. We're going to take a break here. We're speaking with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She stars in the new film "You Hurt My Feelings," written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. She'll be back to continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She stars in the new film "You Hurt My Feelings," written and directed by Nicole Holofcener.

You know, in the two films that you have done with Nicole Holofcener - there was this one, "You Hurt My Feelings," and then about 10 years ago, the one with James Gandolfini, "Enough Said." There are critical scenes at which the plot kind of turns, at which the couple at the heart of the movie is having dinner with another couple. And I thought we would listen to a bit of one from "Enough Said," the film 10 years ago, where you and James Gandolfini play two people who are - who have met and are dating. They're not young. I mean, they're old enough to have kids who are about to go to college. And you're dating, and you like him. His name is Albert. But, you know, there are some things that bother you. He's overweight. He's not the best housekeeper.

But then, by a twist of the plot, you've struck up a friendship with his ex-wife, who doesn't realize that you're dating him and feels free to trash him up and down. And this kind of gets in your head, and you think, eugh (ph). Is this a guy I want to be with? And in the scene we're going to hear, you're at a dinner with another couple, and you're having appetizers. And you've had a little wine, and you kind of start to pick on him. So the scene begins while everyone is being offered more guacamole. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) More guacamole?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Eva) No, not for me.

JAMES GANDOLFINI: (As Albert) Yes, I'd love some, actually.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Eva) How many calories are in guacamole?

GANDOLFINI: (As Albert) Ten.

BEN FALCONE: (As Will) Lay off the guy. He likes his guacamole.

GANDOLFINI: (As Albert) You know what? We don't need the guac. I'll just stick with the cheese.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Eva) You know what I'm going to get you as a present? I'm going to get you a calorie book.

GANDOLFINI: (As Albert) Please don't.

TONI COLLETTE: (As Sarah) Yeah. A calorie book as a gift is not good.

DAVIES: That was Toni Collette there at the end. I mean, the scene goes on, and then you just keep going. And it's really funny but kind of painful, too.


DAVIES: James Gandolfini tragically died of a heart attack after the film was shot and before it was released, right?


DAVIES: I'm wondering what your memories are of working with him.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Gosh. I really am so lucky to have had the chance to work with him. I think this role that he played in "Enough Said" was very close to who he was as a human being. He was a very tender, sensitive guy, not at all a Tony Soprano type. But I would say that it was that sort of sensitivity and even vulnerability that he had as a human being - it's what - obviously, it made the role, his portrayal of Albert in this film, "Enough Said," so sublime. But also, I really think it's what helped define his - the role of Tony Soprano because he wasn't just - he brought many layers to Tony Soprano of sensitivity. And I think that's why that character stands the test of time. But he was a lovely human being. And, I mean, I think he was one of the great American actors, in fact. I really do.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: He was naturally natural on film, very authentic, and maybe even a little bit - sometimes, he lacked confidence, you know, which I always found surprising.

DAVIES: You would see that on the set? He would ask for help...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. He would sort of...

DAVIES: ...Or just get defensive or...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: He would push back against a new idea or a new approach that felt a little bit like he was just insecure about trying it. And then we would sort of push him a little bit. You know, Nicole and I said, you know, come on. Do it. Just try it this way. And he would go along with it. But it took a little nudging. God bless him.

DAVIES: When we spoke in 2013, the HBO series "Veep," I think, was just underway, maybe one season. And we, you know, had fun listening to a clip of that. You - for people who haven't seen it, gosh, you have a treat ahead of you if you get to it. You play Selina Meyer, the vice president, who just burns with frustrated ambition. And it went for seven seasons. Just hilarious, you know, terrific cast, terrific writing. You know, my one complaint is that when I try to pick a clip to play on the radio...


DAVIES: You can't go 30 seconds without some...


DAVIES: Wonderfully hilarious, profane, sexualized insult, which....



DAVIES: But it's worth it for the art, I suppose.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (Laughter).

DAVIES: But I thought we would listen to a scene from the very last episode.


DAVIES: And this is, you know, Selina. She'd been to the White House. And then she wasn't able to win a term, but she's making a comeback. And this is a point where the party's convention is going on. And there is furious lobbying and horse trading for delegates. And she's in pretty good shape. And then suddenly, her position is threatened by movement towards another candidate, Jonah Ryan, who the - who's quite a character. But in the scene...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Played by Tim Simons, some might say.

DAVIES: Yeah. Yeah.


DAVIES: Just over the top, particularly in the later episodes. Anyway, in the scene we're going to hear, Selina - that's you - you're there with two aides played by Kevin Dunn and Gary Cole, who were really good. And they're just trying to staunch the bleeding and get delegates to support you. And I'll just note, in the middle of this clip, you were told to look at the television, where there is more bad news. It's a brewing scandal at the Meyer Fund, which was a fundraising thing that you had going at one point.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (Laughter).

DAVIES: So the scene starts with you as Selina. It's a little noisy. It's a little chaotic. But you're on the phone begging for the support of an assemblyman from Buffalo, N.Y. Let's listen.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Assemblyman, I have been to Buffalo six times and I'm not even a serial killer. So I - OK, forget it.

KEVIN DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) Ma'am.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) What?

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) Ma'am.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) What?

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) The captain of the Texas delegation says that all of his bum steers are stampeding towards Jonah.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No...

GARY COLE: (As Kent Davison) No. No. We cannot lose Texas.

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) No.

COLE: (As Kent Davison) Texas is our firewall.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Right. No, listen, Ben.

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) What?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) You got to go back to Texas right now, OK?

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) OK.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) And just tell them they can violate me with their assault rifles...

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) Yeah.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) And a full slab of ribs on top of a stack of slavery-free history textbooks. You got to go do that, Ben.

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) Yeah.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Go do that right now.

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) Texas is our firewall.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah, do it.

COLE: (As Kent Davison) Ma'am, ma'am...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah, what is it?

COLE: (As Kent Davison) You need to see this.

TOKS OLAGUNDOYE: (As Kemi Talbot) We never got proper answers about the Meyer Fund or its many foreign donors.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) This is Leon.

OLAGUNDOYE: (As Kemi Talbot) And that is why I've asked the Justice Department and the FBI to reopen its investigation.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, my God.

OLAGUNDOYE: (As Kemi Talbot) The president was in close contact with her husband, Andrew Meyer...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) The FBI.

OLAGUNDOYE: (As Kemi Talbot) ...Right up until his extremely suspicious death.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Why is this so hard? I just want to be president.

DAVIES: I just want to be president.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (Laughter) Well...

DAVIES: That is our guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, physically pained by her inability to get to the White House in the series "Veep." It's such a great character. You know, in the podcast, your new podcast, there's a point where you talk about what drew you to the character Selina Meyer. One of the interesting things about her character is that she's often - although she is a woman in politics, she's kind of down on women. She doesn't want to hire women for jobs and kind of hates feminism, even though she is herself a feminist and a product of feminism. And I'm just kind of wondering if - I don't know - if that evokes anything in your own experience as you've observed in your own career?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I understood the idea. And I understood why it was so funny. It's very difficult to be ambitious and to be a woman, and particularly in politics. I think that is the case. And so how does one reconcile all of that? It's tricky. And in this case, you know, we sort of - in a much earlier episode in another season, somebody was pitching to Selina Meyer a speech in which the first line was as a woman, I feel. And she's reading this speech. And she says, well, first of all, as a woman, I'm never starting a sentence with as a woman or something. I'm sure I'm butchering the language. But she doesn't want to identify as a female because she sees herself being female as a second-class citizenship, that she doesn't get the same opportunity if she sort of leans in to being a woman. And you could make an argument that that's true (laughter). So I think that she is - that to me is a very funny idea, to be a woman who is trapped. That's what she is.

DAVIES: We are speaking with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She stars in the new film "You Hurt My Feelings," written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. She'll be back to talk more after this short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. My guest is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, known for her seven seasons as Elaine Benes on the hit series "Seinfeld" and her seven seasons playing vice president and constant presidential hopeful Selina Meyer on the HBO series "Veep." She stars in a new film written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. It's called "You Hurt My Feelings."

There was a break in the production of the HBO series "Veep," I gather, between episodes - what? - five and six.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Six and seven.

DAVIES: Six and seven. OK.


DAVIES: Because in 2017, you were unfortunately diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. I mean, first...


DAVIES: ...Of all, I'm sorry you had to endure that. If you're comfortable telling us, are you OK now or in remission?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, yes. Thank you so much. I am. Thank you. I am.

DAVIES: Well, that's - I'm glad to hear that. I'm wondering what the - that experience might have - I don't know, how it might have affected your perspective or your performances or the show. I mean, you were executive producer of the show. Did it change, at all, the trajectory of the story?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, my getting ill didn't change the trajectory of the storyline for "Veep." What changed it, really, was Trump in office. I think there was only so much Trump we could compete against, and Trump was doing a better version of our show but it was not funny. It was tragic. And we didn't have - with him in office, we didn't have certain, shall I say, boundaries to push against, comedically. They just weren't in place anymore. So it became trickier and trickier. It felt like everything we did, he would do a more extreme version of. So we just - you know, it was too much. We - and we'd also, by the way, been doing the show for seven seasons. Let's not, you know, neglect that fact. That's a long time to be doing any show.

But in terms of my illness, I can just say that I was - you know, it was never my intention to - it would never, ever have been my intention to go public with my illness. But because we were in the middle of making this show and I had hundreds of people relying on me, I had to talk about it publicly because we had to shut down for a number of months. And - but that turned out to be - I'm more private than that. That's what I mean to say. It's not something I would have normally mentioned. But the nice thing about it - about being public about it, that is to say, is that it gave me an opportunity to ultimately kind of be - a lot of people reached out to me as a result of my saying that I was enduring this. And I was able, therefore, to reach out and help others with their cancer struggles. And that's been - that has been very meaningful to me.

DAVIES: And in terms of the way Trump was, you know, breaking norms right and left and doing outrageous things - not for comedy, obviously, but for his own reasons - do you think it drove you to make the - you know, the storylines - what? - even more extreme? I mean, certainly, you know, Jonah Ryan, that character, does some - embraces some pretty out-there propositions as things move along.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, it's not - I would say what was so staggering to us time and time again is that we'd do it on "Veep" and then all of a sudden, a couple months later, in real life, the exact same thing would happen. For real. The exact same thing. I mean...

DAVIES: Can you think of an example of that?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, God. Well, so for example, at one point, Jonah Ryan, who was played by the magnificent Tim Simons, was putting all of his political capital and energy into to making daylight saving a permanent thing. It was just all he could talk about. It was his only issue, OK? Cut to a couple years later, and I believe Marco Rubio was doing exactly the same thing. And that's just a minor example of how this sort of seemed to happen time and time and time again.

DAVIES: What was it like to conclude that after spending so many years with this cast that, you know, you worked so closely with?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: I have to say, the end of that show was sort of a wrenching, gutting experience for me. I was - as we mentioned earlier, I had been ill the previous year, and so coming back to it was very meaningful to me and the joy of working on a project as a team and trying to squeeze the most laughs out of possible - humanly possible out of a script was just the most - I don't know, I just - it - the joy of that is almost inexpressible, to tell you the truth, for me. I love the teamwork of it. And so - and I couldn't wait to get back to it. So saying goodbye to it was a very bittersweet thing because also, I was terribly close and am terribly close to everybody who worked on that show. So I remain indebted to them for the happiness of that run.

DAVIES: Do you ever have reunions?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yep. I mean, we get together, actually, with some frequency. Yeah.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: Which is nice.



DAVIES: You know, in 2018, you were awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at a ceremony at - I guess - the Kennedy Center in Washington.


DAVIES: And your acceptance speech is just a gem. People can look it...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, thanks.

DAVIES: ...Up. It's 12 minutes. You can - it's worth the whole thing. But I thought we would just listen to some of the beginning of it. This is you addressing this assembled group of celebrities and others as you're being awarded this prestigious prize.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: When Mark Twain first emailed me about the Mark Twain Prize...


LOUIS-DREYFUS: ...I have to admit, I totally misunderstood. I assumed that I was being asked to honor somebody else who was receiving the Mark Twain Prize. And I thought, oh, my God. What a hassle.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: I mean, seriously, who would put me through this to have to go all the way to Washington, D.C., which, no offense, is a nightmare...


LOUIS-DREYFUS: ...And make up flattering things to say about how funny someone else is? No [expletive] way.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: And then I reread the email, and I realized, oh, it's me. They're giving it to me. I get the prize. And my attitude about the whole thing changed. It really did.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don't know - honestly...


LOUIS-DREYFUS: ...I really don't know what I was thinking. This is a great night and a great honor and in beautiful Washington, D.C., no less. Anybody would be lucky to be a part of a night like this honoring somebody like me, right?


LOUIS-DREYFUS: As a great fan of the work of Mark Twain, I was so sorry when I recently learned he was dead.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: My thoughts and prayers go out to the whole Twain family, especially the wonderful Shania.


DAVIES: And that is our guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. As I said, it's 12 minutes, and it's worth finding the whole thing. You know, I was just enjoying it so much as I watched it that it didn't dawn on me - my producer, Heidi Saman, kind of pointed out that that's kind of a Selina Meyer take on things; isn't it? Was that conscious on your part?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (Laughter) Well, here's the thing. Here's a little window. It was kind of true (laughter).

DAVIES: Oh, it was also true.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: It was also true. I got a letter, you know, from the Kennedy Center saying this thing about the Mark Twain. I'm like, oh, my God, I can't go to D.C. And who are they honoring (laughter)? And then it was me. And then I thought, oh, I can't believe that I just did that, and we have to fold that in. We have to open that way 'cause it was real.

DAVIES: Yeah. You know, you were surrounded by just a ton of, like, you know, obviously people who adore you and friends and family and collaborators but also great comedians, you know, many of whom had received the award. Did you feel a pressure that you really kind of had to kill in this speech?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, my God, I felt such pressure. I thought I was going to die. Nobody was happier than me once I'd finished that speech. I was - there's a - if you watch it on YouTube, there's, like, a lectern there. And I have my hand on it almost the entire time because I was so nervous that I thought I would fall over. You know, it was a really - it's a huge room.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: I think there was, like, 2,500 people in there or something. And I was exceptionally aware of the company that I was in, i.e. prior recipients. And, you know, if they're giving you a prize for humor, you better kill it.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: You know what I'm saying? And so it was - I definitely felt the pressure.

DAVIES: Do you remember when you first discovered you could get a laugh from friends, family?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. I mean, when I was about 3 years old, I stuck some raisins up my nose and showed my mom. And I think she chuckled, and I got a good laugh. And then I inhaled them, and we went to the emergency room. So - and I had them extracted. I remember the emergency room part particularly well.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: Right. But I got the laugh, so there's that.

DAVIES: A star is born.



DAVIES: Let's take another break here, and then we'll talk some more. We are speaking with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She stars in the new film "You Hurt My Feelings," written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. She'll be back to talk more in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She played seven seasons as Elaine Benes on the hit series "Seinfeld" and another seven seasons as vice president Selina Meyer on the HBO series "Veep." She stars in a new film written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. It's called "You Hurt My Feelings."

You know, when you were on the show with us 10 years ago, we talked about your career, about how, you know, you were on "Saturday Night Live" at a very young age, and it wasn't a great time for you. You know, you kind of had trouble getting on the air. And there you met Larry David, who was having trouble getting his stuff on the air. And kind of that relationship led to "Seinfeld." One of the things that I read in preparing for this was how, you know, you kind of learned you had to push to get - you know, to get your material on and respected. And in "Seinfeld," there was that physical thing you would do in some scenes where, when somebody would say something outrageous, you would give them a huge push and say, get out. Is that something you came up with? Is it related to that, you know, needing to be assertive?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I don't know if it's related to needing to be assertive, but, yeah, it's something I came up with in rehearsal, and everybody seemed to think it was funny. So it sort of got written in over time. It's funny to think about it from a being assertive point of view. I have to ruminate on that, but perhaps it's born out of a emotional need. But it also got a laugh.

DAVIES: You know, few people will be in a project that has the lasting impact of that show. And it's interesting that there's a whole new generation of people who are seeing all these things again and again. And, of course, it's on television all the time. You know, I'm on Instagram, and they're always sending me these little videos. And whenever there are video clips of scenes from "Seinfeld" that I've seen before, I still watch them. I mean, it's still fun for me.


DAVIES: Is it for you? I mean, this - gosh.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. It is. I get those clips on my Instagram, too, and sometimes I watch them. Yeah. I mean, it's - you know, funny's funny. And, I mean, I don't sit down and watch episodes and things. I'm particularly drawn to the blooper reels. Those just...


LOUIS-DREYFUS: ...Take me back.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: You know? It's - I mean, that really - I still howl laughing watching some of that stuff. I really do.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: But, you know, the show holds up. What can I tell you?

DAVIES: I wanted to talk about this new podcast that you have called "Wiser Than Me."


DAVIES: I'm impressed with it. You want to explain the premise?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: It was born out of a sort of a desire that I had. I had watched the Jane Fonda documentary on HBO, and I was really quite struck by the enormity and the scope of Jane Fonda's life. And I thought, you know, we're not hearing enough from older women. Why are we not documenting these older women who have had so much life experience? And I sort of thought about that a lot. And I thought, I want to talk to older women and find out - you know, get their wisdom, get their sort of tips from the frontlines of life. And so this idea was born, and that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm talking to older women. And the conversation is really through the lens of, tell us what you know, please. And I don't know. I'm finding it very sort of inspiring myself. I'm enjoying it.

DAVIES: Right. Well, you know, Jane Fonda is the first interview...


DAVIES: ...At 85. And...


DAVIES: ...It is pretty remarkable what she reveals - I mean, very candid stuff about, you know, body image and sex at 85. And, you know...


DAVIES: ...She - you ask her about plastic surgery. She says, I got it, and I regret it. Was there some wisdom that you kind of - that particularly resonated with you as you listened to her tell her story?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, as I listened to Jane?


LOUIS-DREYFUS: God, nothing but. No is a complete sentence is a particularly lovely one, I think. I think she rightfully points out that being young is hard and being in your 20s and even your 30s - that can be really hard, you know, particularly because you're supposed to be sort of - there's this societal pressure to feel as if, you know, you're at the top of your game, everything's possible and you think, you know, it's all happening because it's youth, youth, youth, when in fact there are challenges to being young. You know, she is talking about life in three acts - first, second and third, and the first one being, you know, zero to 30 and so on. And so she was reflecting back on these different acts of her life. And I just was completely mesmerized.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: I adore her. I adore her.

DAVIES: Yeah, it really is absorbing listening. You mentioned that one of the things she said that impressed you was, no is a complete sentence. What's the thought there?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I think it's a particularly good bit of advice for a woman because I think as women, we sort of apologize. And I don't know that we need to. No, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I can't. No, no, I'm sorry - you know, whatever it is. And I think just to be able to say no, and that's acceptable, is something to absorb. And it doesn't always apply necessarily, but sometimes you need to stick to your guns. And no is a complete sentence. And I like that.

DAVIES: You know, the other thing in this podcast is we learn a fair amount about you because you listen to answers and connect with your own life. And Jane Fonda talks about kind of doing an assessment, often around age 60, of, you know, where you are and where you're going. And you volunteered that you, not so many years ago, talked to your mom - I think it was on the occasion of your father's birthday. Your father was quite a formidable character and a force in your life. Although your parents divorced when you were pretty young. And you and your mom went into therapy together to talk about your relationship, childhood. You want to, if you're comfortable, share a bit of what that led to?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: It was really a complete blessing to be able to do this with my mother - my mother's 89 - and to, you know, have the opportunity to do a little bit of therapy together was - it opened up doors for me. It was a new way of thinking about her, about me, about my life in general, and the idea that you can still look within and you can still review as you get older is - you don't have to be stuck. You're not stuck. You can always explore, and you should always explore, and you should always review. What's wrong with that? Reflection and introspection has an enormous benefit to it.

DAVIES: All right. Well, we hope you stay happy, healthy, and we're looking forward to more of your work.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Thanks. I appreciate it.

DAVIES: Thanks so much for speaking with us again.


DAVIES: Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in the new film "You Hurt My Feelings," written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. Coming up, John Powers reviews the return of the British TV series "Happy Valley." This is FRESH AIR.


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