Just in time for Festivus — the fictitious Dec. 23 holiday invented by “Seinfeld” character George Costanza’s father, involving aluminum poles in lieu of more commercial Christmas trees — Hulu is bringing its “Seinfeld: the Apartment” pop-up installation to Melrose Avenue this week.
Welcoming guests on Tuesday afternoon into a gallery and replica of Jerry Seinfeld’s Upper West Side abode, which first debuted in New York alongside the June release of the series on Hulu, was actor Larry Thomas, known more pervasively as “the Soup Nazi.”
Thomas — who plays a schizophrenic psychiatrist in upcoming comedy “Mind Over Mindy” — is the author of the 2014 book “Confessions of a Soup Nazi: An Adventure in Acting and Cooking,” and is currently the spokesperson for the Original Soupman company. (“Which is the company of Al Yeganeh, the guy that my character is originally based on,” he noted.) But at one point, back in 1995, Thomas was an “anonymous, struggling actor, husband and father” who auditioned for a part that would become one of the show’s most infamous, and which would expose him to 32 million people.
“It was a night-before situation; I got the call at about 7:30 p.m.,” he recalled of the initial audition. “There was nothing on paper, but just to develop a character that is nicknamed ‘the Soup Nazi,’ and they want a Middle Eastern accent — and that’s all I knew!”
Thomas’ father owned a restaurant in Manhattan, so he was familiar with the demands of hospitality. “I just thought, he’s not happy to begin with, but he also will really be unhappy when these guys come up and start dawdling around. He’s a New Yorker and he’s impatient, because I’m a New Yorker and I’m very impatient,” Thomas said. “My first improvised thought was I would say something like, ‘you, baldy, small fry, go to the end of my line or you get no soup!’ … And then the accent was easy — that came from Omar Sharif, from ‘Lawrence of Arabia.'”
And it worked. “When I actually did read for Jerry and Larry David and all of the powers that be, Jerry did make me do it again — although he laughed more than was comfortable. He was laughing so hard, I wanted to go, ‘do you mind if I read? Is my acting interfering with your laughing?’ He was laughing so hard, but then he asked me to do it again and he goes, ‘you know, I don’t understand why he’s so mean? Can you, like, do it again, and not be so mean?'”
But it turned out that Seinfeld thought Thomas’ way superior, after all. “When they hired me, (Seinfeld) came up to me on the set and he goes, ‘forget about my idea! Just do it the way you did it when you came in — the meaner the funnier, I don’t know why!'” recalled Thomas, who was quick to pick up on something about the famed comedian. “That man is very rare because he’s been given all the power to be given in the world of entertainment, and with all that in mind, he never developed the ego that said, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong, just because,’” he said.
Fans of Seinfeld and the nine-season-long sitcom will appreciate the memorabilia donated to the 4,000-square-foot installation from both the star actor and Warner Bros.’ archives. The collection of throwback items range from the container of Bachman’s pretzels that made everyone thirsty (season 3, episode 11) to the slippery junior mints (season 4, episode 20) to the boss’ vacation photo from which George airbrushed himself (season 9, episode 7). Accompanying iPads play the episodes affiliated with each prop, and white walls broadcast some of the series’ most memorable quotes.
The diner booth where the beloved crew pondered much about nothing is out on display, as is a brick wall signed by the cast and crew following the finale. New to the L.A. exhibit are the sable hat that George purposely left at a date’s home (season 8, episode 8), a backlot filled with Festivus poles (season 9, episode 10) and a copy of the finale script, signed by the cast members (season 9, episode 11).
Fans can also enact a racy photo shoot a la George, peep into Kramer’s red-lit apartment across the hall and do a zany entrance into Jerry’s apartment 5A — which is replete with cereals, fruit, magazines, a bicycle and ’90s staples like a desktop computer, rotary phone and VHS tapes.
Noted Thomas, “Although, (with lesser) technology — like George having to use a payphone, or them being in two movie theaters and not having cell phones to call each other — the episodes and dilemmas, when you really boil it down, it’s really about the way people treat each other. And that hasn’t changed. And that never will change.”
But what surely has changed is the former Soup Nazi’s career. And a line he referenced from his recent book captured how entirely his life shifted as a result of the single episode: “I wrote something like, ‘at 3 o’clock in the morning, when I finally, as directed, hung up my costume and walked out the backstage door, little did I know that the life I had earlier in the day when I walked in that door, was gone forever.'”
“Seinfeld: The Apartment” will be on display at 8445 Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Dec. 16-20.