Over the course of 30 years, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has created Emmy-winning characters that are landmarks for women in pop culture. Her Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld” is your old friend who may be kind of awful; her Selina Meyer on “Veep” is your elected official who definitely is. Louis-Dreyfus has also been a political activist, especially as a surrogate for Joe Biden in the run-up to the 2020 election, the stakes of which, she says during a recent Zoom interview, “frightened me.” And as of January 2020, she achieved mogul status, signing a multiyear overall deal with Apple. Under the terms of the agreement, she’ll be producing, of course, but she’s mostly on the hunt for great material for herself, she says — both in comedy and drama, the latter of which she’s done less of over the years. “Great ideas are not low-hanging fruit,” she says, adding with a laugh, “I’m like one of those pigs that searches for truffles.”
In a delightful surprise, Louis-Dreyfus turned up on Disney Plus’ “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a Marvel comics supervillain often known as Madame Hydra. It was a closely guarded secret that set the internet alight, spurring fervid speculation about the future of Louis-Dreyfus’ well-heeled (and high-heeled) character: “Well, these boots are not made for walkin’” was her scene-stealing first line. Will audiences see Louis-Dreyfus in “Black Widow,” in the Marvel-Disney Plus series “Secret Invasion” or anywhere else the iconic character might logically appear? In deference to the airtight Marvel confidentiality agreement, she says only, “I’ve always wanted to play a contessa, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe made it happen.” No, she can’t offer more details.
Since March of last year, Louis-Dreyfus has been “hunkered down,” focusing on her family’s well-being — she was especially set on keeping her 92-year-old mother-in-law “safe and happy.” She’s been reading a ton, both with an eye to development and for pleasure, and meeting with members of her team at CAA weekly, who are “tirelessly trying to find material” for her. She’s binged shows such as the French spy thriller “The Bureau” (“Oh, my God, it was so good”) and cooked innumerable dinners, relying on the New York Times Cooking app to inspire her (“Lord Jesus, do I love this app”). If reading, cooking and watching TV sound like typical COVID-lockdown activities, Louis-Dreyfus’ year also included campaigning and fundraising for Biden, down-ballot Democrats and the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff that became “a full-time part-time job,” she says. “The Republican Party, in my view, has lost their minds. This is not even the party of Reagan anymore.”
As a breast cancer survivor — Louis-Dreyfus was diagnosed in September 2017 as she was about to begin filming the final season of “Veep,” which pushed until she completed treatment — her determined reaction to dealing with COVID was “immediate,” she says. “Oh boy,” she remembers thinking. “I could see this getting me.”
“I had no sense of arrogance whatsoever about this thing. When you’re face-to-face with your mortality in the way that cancer takes you there — the pandemic I found to be strangely the same.”
Experiencing cancer changed Louis-Dreyfus’ perspective, and now, at 60, she’s rethinking the rest of her life: what she wants to do (“traveling”) with her husband of 34 years, Brad Hall, and where she wants to be — “near my kids,” she says of their sons (now in their 20s). But the “life-is-short thing,” as she calls it, does not apply to her work, which, by the way, she’s ready to resume, now that she’s vaccinated. “I’m just thinking about projects in terms of their actual meat on the bones,” she says. “I have a pretty high bar here.”
When asked about potentially revisiting past roles, Louis-Dreyfus says, “You know who I miss? I miss playing Selina Meyer.” Yes, it’s the loss of the “actors, writers, crew — everybody,” she says about the HBO comedy that wrapped in 2019 after seven seasons. But mostly, she misses how “exciting” it was to be Selina. “Playing that character, who was so out of her fucking mind, and so undeveloped; it was just freeing! Everything was about her ego, with not a care in the world for another human being.”
The series finale of “Veep” ended in the future at Selina’s funeral years. But there are certainly decades in between to mine, should she want to get the gang back together. Might she?
“Yes! It would give me enormous joy to do more ‘Veep,’” Louis-Dreyfus says. “And who knows, maybe we will one day.”
Styling: Cristina Ehrlich/The Only Agency; Makeup: Fiona Stiles/ A-Frame Agency; Hair: Aviva Perea/A-Frame Agency/R+Co Bleu; Lead image, dress: Monique Lhuillier; Bra: Agent Provocateur; Shoes: Aquazzura; Jewelry: Irene Neuwirth; Cover, top, vest and pants: Zimmerman; Rings: Ana Khouri and Irene Neuwirth</code?