Last month, Julia Louis-Dreyfus picked up her 13th career Emmy nomination as a comedy lead actress, tying Lucille Ball for most nods within the category.
When it comes to select company, it’s tough to top Lucille Ball, though it should be noted that Ball picked up all of her nominations for playing characters named “Lucy,” doing variations within one of the most iconic personas in TV history. In contrast, Louis-Dreyfus picked up seven nominations (and a win) for playing Elaine on “Seinfeld,” five nominations (and a win) for playing the title role in “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and she’s now got her first nod for playing Vice President Selina Meyer on HBO’s “Veep.” That’s three very different roles on three very different shows on three different networks.
Louis-Dreyfus is also a a producer on “Veep,” which means she’ll theoretically be part of the team honored for the show’s Outstanding Comedy Series recognition, her first nomination in that capacity.
Last week, in the heart of TCA press tour, I was able to catch up with Louis-Dreyfus to talk about her Emmy nomination and Emmy night rituals, her new experience shifting to cable, her favorite “Veep” obscenity and her first lead role in a feature film in a long, long time.
HitFix: First off, slightly belated congratulations!
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Thank you very much. I’ll take it! Very exciting.
HitFix: Do you have a ritual for either paying attention to or completely ignoring Emmy nomination morning?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Oh, I do indeed. Yeah. I pay no attention. I’m very superstitious and therefore, I can’t think about it. I try not to even be aware of when the nominations are coming out. I try to not get that information into my brain.
HitFix: Has that always been the case? Or is that a new ritual?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: It’s always been the case.
HitFix: How are you told each year, ultimately?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I’m awakened. Usually by my publicist. Or my manager. Or together they call me. And I’m asleep and that’s what happens. They wake me up. It sounds very dull, but that’s the way we do it, because I’m not somebody who sets the alarm and wakes up to watch the announcement or anything else.
HitFix: And how about Emmy night? Do you have any rituals for the ceremony itself?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Do I have a ritual? No. I actually don’t, other than trying to sorta focus on having a good time, which is sometimes hard to do, because there’s a lot going on at this thing. You’re trying to work it and it’s a lot of energy and so on and of course it’s a competition and I try not to let that infiltrate the idea of having a good time. Does that make any sense? So I guess the best way to put it is that I go in assuming that I’m going to lose, because odds are I will lose. So it’s better going in with that frame of mind, than otherwise, because then you can have a good time and enjoy the party. It is a really good party.
HitFix: Does having won a couple times make it easier to just enjoy now? You know that even if you lose, you still get to go home to those Emmys?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: [Laugher.] I’d never thought about it that way. It’s really nice to be invited to the party, period. It’s nice to be invited to The Ball, regardless. I’m not kidding you and not trying to be falsely humble or anything like that, but the likelihood of winning is remote, so it’s better just to focus on the fact that you’ll probably lose, so let’s just have a good time and look at all the people from your favorite shows and go up and tell people how much you enjoy their work and blah blah blah. I love doing that. That’s really fun.
HitFix: Were you aware that you were approaching this Emmy record… tying it at least… for most nominations by a comedic actress?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Oh my God. I had no idea! No idea.
HitFix: And who told you about that?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Again, very Hollywood, but I believe it was my publicist. And I’m baffled by it. It’s just extraordinary. What a lot of good fortune.
HitFix: The record could have been held by anybody, but as a comedic actress is there particular significance in tying a record held by Lucille Ball?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Yeah! How could I not? She’s iconic. She broke new ground in television. She was not only feminine, but she was strong and capable and she knew how to get funny done and she was powerful. I love so many things about her and what she represents. So yes, I’m delighted to be tied with her.
HitFix: Was Lucille Ball an active inspiration for you coming up, or was it just, like you say, that she was an icon?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I would say she’s an icon. I believe her shows ran — and I should Google this — in the ’50s and the ’60s, so by the time I was little and watching them, they were in reruns. When I was really little, I watched that and “Dick Van Dyke.” They seemed to run together, if memory serves. But there are so many people who have influenced my life: Lucille Ball without a doubt, but Mary Tyler Moore, Diane Keaton, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, these are women who were ballsy-funny and not afraid to be so.
HitFix: Do you take any particular pride in this now being the third series you’ve gotten Emmy recognition for leading?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I do take pride in that. I’m so tickled. I can’t get over it. It’s almost too good to believe. If you told me that this was just a dream and I woke up from it, I’d believe that.
HitFix: And presumably you’ve also got another nomination as one of the show’s producers. What does that nomination mean to you?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Great pride. First of all, the fact that the show’s nominated as a freshman series and we only made eight episodes is, in my opinion, a great testament to the writing of the show and the genius of Armando Iannucci, who is the executive producer and the creator of the show. He is a UK comic icon and this is his first real foray into American television, so obviously he hit it out of the park. I really think it speaks to his vision of “Veep” and I’m just thrilled. We worked really hard on those eight little episodes and it seems as if it’s paid off. Also, I think the fact that the show also got nominated for casting, that is such a lovely nod to the ensemble of our show and the actors on our show. We’ve got a good groove going with this bunch of bozos and I dig ‘em.
HitFix: If you were to tell Emmy voters that next year they have to pay attention to someone else from that ensemble, who would you point out?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Oh gosh. That’s like Sophie’s Choice. I don’t know how to answer that question. I would say “What ‘em all.” I think Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, I think they’re all fantastic to tell you the truth.
HitFix: Your submission episode is the first season finale, “Tears.” Was that your choice?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: It was, yes.
HitFix: Why was that the episode you wanted to showcase for voters?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I think that within the episode, it has a good comic arc and it has a very good character arc in it, so I got to go to a lot of areas as Selina and you saw different facets of her emotional life. That sounds very highfalutin, but I think that’s the case and I think it’s got some big fat laughs in it too, which awfully nice. That’s my answer. I polled friends and other people and everybody seemed to think that was the one to do, so I said, “OK.” I really like all the episodes, so it was a hard choice, but I figured I’d go for that one.
HitFix: You mentioned the emotional life showcased in that episode. Have you appreciated the extra opportunity that being on cable is providing in terms of doing some episodes that are significantly less clearly funny? I mean, your character had a miscarriage How freeing is that after years on network where comedy generally has to be broader and funnier?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Well, I’m not sure I would agree with the fact that it has to be “broader,” but there are parameters, certainly, on network television that you don’t have at a place like HBO, on pay cable. It’s a completely different creative experience. Having said that, I’m not knocking network television in any way. Network television has been good to me in my life and I love working in network television. Those parameters can be challenging at time, but also working within them, that challenge can take you to new levels. You know? When you look at episodes, for instance, on “Seinfeld” like “The Contest.” We never mention the word “masturbation” and yet the entire episode was about it and at the time… Nowadays it doesn’t seem perhaps that groundbreaking, but at the time, it really was. Now that I’m working on cable, or at HBO specifically, it’s a very different experience from a creative point-of-view, because I guess the business model is such so that there can be a built-in respect and hands-off kind of mentality for what the creators and the artists and the actors are trying to create. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have opinions at HBO — “They” being executives and so on and so forth — but when those opinions come around, you’re pretty interested in them because that level of respect has been established, so it’s a very different working environment.
Obviously you can swear and carry on that way, which is fabulous. I love to swear. That’s super-fun. But it goes well beyond that. It’s emblematic of the creative freedom that you have, which is very exciting for me, particularly because I’ve done so much network television. It’s just a totally different arena and it’s a joy for me to work there, a pure joy, I have to say.
HitFix: As a fan of the swearing, do you have any favorite bits of the Iannucci dialogue?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Oh my God! From this past season, I’d have to say that a couple of my favorite lines were “He’s bustin’ my f***ing lady-balls here,” I love that one, and I also loved the croissant dildo line, which is maybe my favorite of the season. I’m crazy about that one. [She laughs.]
HitFix: Another key thing about cable is that you did only eight episodes last season. How has that impacted your schedule, your sanity, your overall well-being to not be doing 22 episodes?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Ha. Well, we shoot this show on location in the Baltimore area and in DC and so I could never, ever have moved away from home for 22 episodes, because I live in Los Angeles. So that’s just for starters. Obviously it’s single-camera, so the schedule is such that it’s a very intensive and long day, as opposed to making a multi-camera show, where you have lighter days than others. You have light days in the week and you have longer days in the week, but it’s a different kind of schedule for an actor. So there’s that. It has freed up my schedule. For instance, I’m about to make a film. I start shooting [this] week and if I was doing 22 episodes, I wouldn’t have had that availability, because this film shoots until well into September and I’m available! And then I’ll go into “Veep” on the heels of making the film, but that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been doing 22 episodes. So it does, in fact, free you up from a work point of view.
HitFix: This is the new Nicole Holofcener film? What can you tell me about the film and about having the opportunity to make it?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Well, I’m nervously excited. We haven’t begun shooting yet. In fact, I’m going in for camera-test stuff and rehearsal today, but I’ll be working with Nicole and Jimmy Gandolfini and they both couldn’t be more fabulous to work with. It’s a really good cast — Toni Collette, Catherine Keener — and I’m delighted to be a part of this project. I’ll be able to report back more after I get a few weeks under my belt here. It’s a very, very different character from… actually from any character I’ve ever done, so it’s a challenge that I relish and can’t wait to sink my teeth into.