Larsen & Talbert/USA WEEKEND
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Words to Live By:
“Don’t do something unless it feels like fun.”
“Learn to trust your instincts. If you don’t, things get messed up.”
“If you take risks creatively, don’t be afraid of looking like a horse’s a--.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a bad case of half-empty-nest syndrome. “It’s very brutal,” she says, staring at her cellphone, willing it to ring.
Her mind is 3,000 miles away, in a doctor’s office in New York. Right about now, her 19-year-old college sophomore son, Henry, is getting a cast removed from the hand he broke playing football.
She was there last week for the surgery, but now she’s in a cafe in Pacific Palisades, just outside Los Angeles. She lives nearby with writer/producer husband Brad Hall and their younger son, 14-year-old Charles, who will be taking his parents to his JV basketball banquet tonight.
Since Saturday Night Live discovered her 30 years ago, Louis-Dreyfus has worked virtually non-stop, even through two pregnancies and a temporary 40-pound weight gain. Nothing gets in her way, not even advancing years.
“My father is a very driven person and very opinionated,” the actress says, slipping out of her puffy black Patagonia jacket and into her wisecracking, fast-talking dame persona. “He went after what he wanted in a way that I think I’ve also done.”
She calls 51 the “old-lady age,” and she welcomes it. “I feel like I know what I’m doing,” she says. “I don’t second-guess myself as much as I used to. When I first started out, I lacked confidence. There’s a lot to be said for experience. I’m excited by it.”
That’s probably how her new character, Selina Meyer, felt when tapped to become U.S. vice president in Veep . The comedy series, which launches April 22 on HBO, follows Selina’s escapades as she discovers that being one heartbeat away from the presidency is not very satisfying. To prepare for the role, Louis-Dreyfus says, “I talked to a couple of vice presidents.” Although she won’t name names, Al Gore has acknowledged being one of them.
“What I came away with was the difficulty of being No. 2. Those who aspire to be in politics don’t aspire to be the vice president of the U.S. It’s about the lack of power of that position.”
Off-camera, “Brad and I are co-presidents in my house. We’re both No. 1½. I have a good partner at home.”
The couple, who met when they were drama students at Northwestern University in the early 1980s, will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in June. They like working together and recently made a 27-minute short, Picture Paris, inspired by the distress of their firstborn leaving home.
Contemplating the secret of her successful marriage, she says: “Brad was the right guy, and he’s remained the right guy. I really like him and find him interesting. I go to him for advice. I like going through life with him.”
Louis-Dreyfus says they’re just like everyone else.
“We go on date nights, but we do boring stuff — dinner and a movie. If we’re really adventurous, it’ll be a movie and then dinner.”
Her casual attitude extends to her appearance. “Putting on makeup is a massive waste of time. I put on eyeliner and mascara because I was meeting you. Normally I don’t even wear that.”
Keeping her lithe figure is another story. “There is this pressure to present yourself in a certain way, so I exercise all the time.
“It makes me feel better emotionally, psychologically and physically,” she says. “Normally I hike or run or take a workout class. I’ll do weights and cardiovascular stuff for 40 to 60 minutes.
“I try to drink a lot of water and not overeat. I do overeat, and then I try not to overeat the next day.”
Louis-Dreyfus’ downfall is chocolate. “I taught myself a lot about baking because I love sweets so much. I just made this incredible chocolate frosting and ate a lot of it before I put it on the cake.”
If only her son Henry had picked a college in Los Angeles, her life would be perfect.
“I wasn’t eager for him to go so far away,” she says with a sigh, “but I understood the value and importance of his making his own decisions. We talk about twice a week, and we text.
“I’ve got four sisters,” she continues, “two with my mother and stepfather and two with my father and stepmother. I’m very fond of them, and I depend on them in so many ways. At the end of the day, what else is there?
“I was the first in the family to have kids, so I was really happy to let them know things like dealing with postpartum depression issues and how I got my children to sleep through the night. Now I’m telling my sisters how to get through life with teenagers.”
Her best parenting advice?
“The hardest thing is letting the reins go a little bit. I keep my cool most of the time, but I have a short fuse. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently, although maybe I’d do it with less worry.”
Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t have much time for regret.
“I have a lot more to get done,” she says. “I feel like there’s a world of possibilities ahead. I can’t remember what I was thinking when I was 25, but I knew I was going somewhere. I didn’t know where, but I had a feeling it would be somewhere good.”