There are a lot of curses in Hollywood, most predicting doom for those who achieve too much fame from any single project. Last month I wrote about Kim Basinger, and how she was able to move past the Bond Girl Curse. There’s also the Seinfeld Curse: those who played Jerry Seinfeld’s friends on his eponymous sitcom are doomed to never again see commercial success. Jason Alexander (George Castanza) has seen almost every project he’s been associated with flop, and Michael Richards (Kramer) has only made a name for himself as a bigot.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has defied the Seinfeld curse, and a lot of other stereotypes. Looking at her career, it’s easy to see how if she were a man, her sense of humor would have brought her even further. However, maybe Louis-Dreyfus will contradict the stereotypes related to her age, and continue to further her career.
Career Before Seinfeld
Outside of being Hollywood royalty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has one of the best pedigrees one can have in comedy. She studied theater at Northwestern University, joining The Second City. The Second City is one of Chicago’s most respected improvisation theater groups; Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Amy Poehler, and many others are among the groups alumni.
In 1982, one of Northwestern’s theater groups that Louis-Dreyfus worked with, The Practical Theatre Company, hosted The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee, despite the PTC being only three years old at that point. The show was a smashing success, and all four main stars of the show were hired by Saturday Night Live.
Among them was Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who was 21 at the time, making her the youngest female cast member. She was on the show from 1982 until 1985, meeting many of those who would become the largest names in late 80s comedy, like Eddie Murphy and Jim Belushi. Louis-Dreyfus also met Larry David while working on SNL, who would later co-create Seinfeld.
After leaving the show in 1985, Julia Louis-Dreyfus went on to a brief film career. She was in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, Soul Man, and most notably National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, where she starred opposite Chevy Chase, also from Saturday Night Live.
In 1988, Louis-Dreyfus was cast in her first NBC sit-com, Day by Day. In it, she played Eileen, a young spinster who lives next door to the main characters, who run a daycare out of their house. Vaguely a spin-off of the much more successful Family Ties, Day by Day was cancelled after two seasons, though continues to be syndicated on Lifetime.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes
After finishing her role as Eileen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was added to the cast of Seinfeld in 1990 as Elaine Benes. Her character was added to the show after the pilot, when NBC executives chastised show creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David for having a show without any female characters.
Louis-Dreyfus quickly became more than just a diversity hire. With a tinge of New York neuroses, her character Elaine was one of the more edgy female characters on television during the 90s. She was shown to have a successful career, while being a “serial dater,” one of the many repeating jokes her character employed through the show. Reinforcing the character’s self-assured promiscuousness were other gags like referring to her dates as “spongeworthy.”
This presence, far more masculine (or perhaps simply less gendered) than previous characters occupying similar timeslots as Seinfeld, helped establish Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a comedian in her own right, not just a female comedian. The character of Elaine Benes would later inspire Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon in the more recent NBC primetime hit 30 Rock.
During the show’s 9 seasons, Louis-Dreyfus was rewarded with critical acclaim and a roster of awards, including five Screen Actors Guild awards, five American Comedy awards, a Golden Globe, and a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress. While the show was running, she also performed in another Woody Allen film, Deconstructing Harry, as well as Father’s Day, opposite the late Robin Williams and Billy Crystal.
After Seinfeld ended in 1998, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was left without a stable TV role. In 2001, she made repeated appearances on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm as herself trying to break the Seinfeld curse. Unfortunately, her fictitious efforts to break the curse had little effect on reality, and for a while it seemed as though she, like Jason Alexander and Michael Richards, would not be able to regain the fame she’d known during the 90s.
In 2002, Louis-Dreyfus returned to NBC for Watching Ellie, making it her third NBC show where she played a character whose name started with “E.” Watching Ellie was notable for having two drastically different seasons (before it was cancelled for being awful.) The first season was highly experimental, directed by Ken Kwapis, known for his innovative approach to single-camera television. Each 22 minute episode was meant to show a real-time portrayal of the eponymous character’s life, including a clock counting down the time in the lower corner of the screen. Only the first ten episodes of the first season were aired before the show was put on hiatus.
The second season removed all of these quirks, opting for a more generic approach. Using a studio audience and laugh track, Watching Ellie did even worse this iteration and didn’t even make it through a full season.
After the failure of Watching Ellie, Julia Louis-Dreyfus moved to CBS. In The New Adventures of Old Christine, she played one of the strongest and most well-adjusted female characters presented on network television. As Christine, Louis-Dreyfus is the owner of a successful gym, as well as a single mother with a healthy relationship with her ex-husband.
Earning the 2006 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, critics gave fantastic reviews of the show, putting all fears of the Seinfeld curse to rest. Later that year, Julia Louis-Dreyfus would become the first female to return to SNL as a host, using her monolog to, along with Jason Alexander and Jerry Seinfeld, parody the curse.
In 2009, she reunited with the cast of Seinfeld once more for the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The next year she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Unfortunately, her name was initially spelled wrong, “Luis Dreyfus.”
After The New Adventures of Old Christine was cancelled in 2010, Julia Louis-Dreyfus appeared repeatedly on Lisa Kudrow’s web series, Web Therapy. Later that year she would make a guest appearance on 30 Rock, whose main character, Liz Lemon, she had inspired.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus Now in 2018
In 2011, Louis-Dreyfus worked with her husband Brad Hall on Picture Paris, a critically acclaimed short film produced for HBO. Later that year, also for HBO, she began filming for her new show, Veep.
In addition to playing the main character, Selena Meyer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was also a producer on the show. The show was a critical success, with modest commercial recognition. Four years in a row, Veep and the cast were nominated for multiple Primetime Emmys. Louis-Dreyfus herself won the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. With these, she became the only woman to win an Emmy for three separate comedy series. Additionally, she ties Mary Tyler Moore and Candice Bergen for most Emmys for Lead Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series.
Veep was notable among shows set on the Beltway for a variety of reasons. Each season underwent a tremendous amount of pre-production and rehearsal, resulting in a sharp comedy with amazing pacing. The show has continued to develop, with each season being given increasingly positive reviews. The A.V. Club has called the show the “clearest heir to 30 Rock and Arrested Development.”
While the show has been picked up for a fifth season (premiering April 12, 2016,) the show’s creator, Armando Ianucci, has left the show. Creative control has been handed to David Mandel. One of the creators of the cult classic Clerks, as well as a writer for later seasons of Seinfeld and all of Curb Your Enthusiasm, most critics expect Mandel’s control of the show to live up to expectations set by Veep‘s first four seasons.