By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
TORONTO—From Elaine to Christine to Selena, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has filled the small screen with iconic funny characters for the past two decades that will be making generations laugh for years to come. The former “Seinfeld” star now plays a somewhat more serious role on the big screen as a middle-aged divorcee who finds romance with a portly divorced fellow in “Enough Said.”
As Eva, an L.A. masseuse who is dreading her only child’s imminent departure for college, she nearly torpedoes her budding relationship with Albert (James Gandolfini) when she becomes privy to unflattering details about him.
Written and directed by “Lovely & Amazing” filmmaker Nicole Holofcener, the dramedy pairs Louis-Dreyfus with fellow TV mainstay Gandolfini in one of his final film performances.
The 52-year-old actress, who currently stars on the HBO comedy “Veep” (after completing five seasons on CBS’ “The New Adventures of Old Christine”), spoke about playing a single mom coping with mundane issues such as seeing your only child off to college, dating and dealing with remarried exes. She also spoke about her friendship with Gandolfini, who died suddenly of a heart attack on June 19 at age 51.
Q: This is your first movie since 1997. What was the reason for the gap?
Louis-Dreyfus: I’ve been having these various (TV) series and it’s a time consuming thing. I’ve managed my whole career, until actually this moment, to work at home in Los Angeles. I had two kids, both of whom were born during “Seinfeld.” When I was doing these series and working eight or nine months a year, during the off times, I just had to be home. It was untenable, the idea of going away to work on another project. so I just didn’t. Now, with “Veep,” I’m doing 10 episodes a year and it’s opened things up for me. Also, this film was shot in Los Angeles, which was fabulous. The script was undeniably irresistible. I had to do it. I was a huge fan, and had been for years, of (director) Nicole Holofcener, so that’s how I came to do this piece, and that explains that gap.
Q: Your character, Eva, is such a wonderfully real and flawed woman. Was that part of the appeal?
Louis-Dreyfus: Totally. This is a woman who is at the precipice and is emotionally completely hijacked, almost without even knowing it, by herself. The dread and the fear of the impending departure of her daughter fuels this horrible thing that she does in the movie, and she’s not in control. She means really well, but I understand how fear does that. It really just spoke to me. Not that I have ever done anything that deceitful in my life, but I understand why she did it. It intrigues me, the idea of someone who does mean so well doing something so terrible.
Q: You say some terrible things to James Gandolfini in this movie about his weight and appearance. Was it hard to say these things to him and about him?
Louis-Dreyfus: No. He was onboard with all of it. It was in the story, and he loved the story as much as I did.
Q: What was your reaction when you heard he’d died?
Louis-Dreyfus: I thought it was a joke. I thought it was not true. I didn’t believe it at first. Not a joke, that sounds really crass. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it. That’s what I mean to say.
Q: Do you remember his last words to you?
Q: What made you think James would be so good as your romantic interest in this?
Louis-Dreyfus: A couple of things. First of all, he’s an outstanding actor. Secondly, James is a gentle giant. This part that he plays—Albert—is this kind, thoughtful, earnest and self-effacing fellow who is very, very close to who James Gandolfini was, much more so than Tony Soprano. He was no mafia boss, James Gandolfini. He was a teddy bear, in a sense—a dear, dear man.
Q: What is it like working with Nicole Holofcener?
Louis-Dreyfus: It was just delicious. Nicole and I just couldn’t believe that we had never met before this film because we have so much in common. Not only do we live in the same city and have children of the same age, but we are simpatico from a creative and comedic point of view and a dramatic point of view. When I met her on this movie and we started talking, we both had this feeling like “Where have you been all my life?” So this was just unbelievably thrilling to do and work on with her.
Q: How was this different from comedic roles that you’ve done, in terms of how you approached it? Do you think audiences might be surprised by your role and your character?
Louis-Dreyfus: I think they might be surprised because, first of all, there are a couple of very dramatic moments in the film. They might be surprised by that, and hopefully happily surprised. Maybe they might even tear up. I’m hoping that’s the case. It was certainly a great joy for me to do the scenes even though they’re painful. But as an actress, it was really great to have the opportunity to do something dramatic. It was really exciting.
Q: Did you find it different from doing the comedies that you’ve done?
Louis-Dreyfus: Yeah, because it’s about large human emotions but it’s told in a small kind of way.
Q: A lot of woman of a certain age often feel disenfranchised by movies and I think they’re going to love this. Did it feel brave to you recognizing the fact that you’re middle-aged?
Louis-Dreyfus: Yeah, it does. It does even now. I don’t think of myself as middle-aged. Does anyone middle-aged think of themselves that way? In my head, I think I’m 28. Screw it.
Q: Could you relate to the heartbreak that comes with seeing your kids grow up?
Louis-Dreyfus: I have a 21-year old and a 16-year old. That was another reason that I just leapt on this script because I know this moment too well. In fact, when I was at the premiere and watching it on the big screen with everybody, I was watching that scene and I thought, “Oh my God. I’ve got to go through this again in a couple years, and I went through it in the film. What am I doing to myself here?”
Q: Of course, you’ve got another hit TV series. There were a lot of changes in season two of “Veep.” Can you talk about them?
Louis-Dreyfus: I’m leaving today to get back into shooting season three. In season two, we saw Selena get a lot more responsibility and power as Vice President, mean some more, and what the ramifications are. It has a little more gravitas to it in a comedic way.
Q: You’re up for another Emmy. Does that still mean something to you after all the awards you’ve gotten already?
Louis-Dreyfus: Yes, it’s really great. The fact that the show got more nominations this year than it did last year is spectacular. (Co-stars) Tony Hale and Anna Chlumsky were both nominated and the show, of course, again was nominated. Really, it’s nice to be invited to the prom again because you want to go.
Q: You started out as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” Do you still watch the show and what are your thoughts about it still being on the air?
Louis-Dreyfus: Well it’s an iconic show, needless to say, so we watch it because it’s good and because we have a teenager in the house.
Q: You’ve been doing what you’re doing for so many years, where does the satisfaction come in? What do you look for to make you happiest when you go to work these days?
Louis-Dreyfus: I guess I look for good work. I have to find good work. Then, once I’ve found it, that makes me happy—the work of it. It seems so basic to say but playing the challenge of the work and the fun and the joy of the work. It’s a really happy way to make a living—to entertain people.
Q: That’s great when you’re doing well, but what about when people are saying…
Louis-Dreyfus: You suck? Well inevitably, you’re going to fail, right? That’s just a part of the game. You can’t hit ‘em out of the park every single time. But the process, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about the Monday-morning quarterbacking. I’m talking about the actual doing of the thing. If it’s fun and you’re having fun doing it, then you’ve won.