Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her first Emmy Award for the role of Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld” in 1996, after being nominated — and losing — for four consecutive years. “My expectations were hugely low,” Louis-Dreyfus says of her attitude going into the ceremony. “If you were a betting person, your best bet would have been for me to lose, so I just figured I was going to lose again.” Instead, Louis-Dreyfus took home the gold for the first time in what became a long list of Emmy wins, but she didn’t share the honor alone. “I got presents for everybody — I had keychains made up that said ‘Thank you’ for the whole cast and crew,” she says.
What do you think set you apart in 1996 to push you through to the winner’s circle?
I had submitted an episode that haunts me to this day, which is “The Little Kicks” — the episode where Elaine dances. I think people dug that humiliating display. Maybe the episode itself was what did it.
Did you have an acceptance speech saved up through the years?
No, I didn’t! I remember very vividly when they announced the names of the nominees, the camera came to me in the audience, and I made a joke of crossing my fingers — “Oh please, oh please, oh please!” — almost making fun of what a loser I was. So I was stunned when they read my name, and I was quite unprepared in the moment.
How did it feel when you were finally on stage?
It’s daunting to stand up there and hold the award. At the risk of sounding sappy, I was incredibly moved and desperately trying not to start crying like an idiot. I do remember thinking, “This trophy is really pretty!” Some trophies are kind of hideous, and I was pleasantly surprised by the aesthetics of the actual statue.
What were the moments like after you got off stage?
After you win, you’re whisked away into a room with a lot of press. They take photos of you holding your statue, and you’ve got to go talk to journalists, and that was all news to me! It was a whole other world that I didn’t realize was back there. So you talk to everyone, and you take the pictures, and then 25 minutes later, you’re back at your seat. I remember screaming and hugging Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander. I like to find my group. It’s very exciting to be congratulated in general, but at the end of the day, I want to spend the night with those who I work with and see every day because it has more meaning.
How did your expectations for future Emmys change?
Well, I lost the next two years I was nominated for “Seinfeld.” And then I still didn’t expect to even be nominated for “[The New Adventures of Old] Christine,” so that was a huge surprise, let alone the win.
What was the best part of the win?
I brought my parents with me, and they had never come before. To have your mom and dad with you when you win is a miracle. I got to see my mom and dad and my buddies who made the show celebrate together. It’s like going home in a way, and that’s the most exciting part.