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Julia Louis-Dreyfus on How Television Embraces Women More Than Film

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire April 30, 2014 at 10:24AM

The star of "Veep" and the new short film "Picture Paris" breaks down the state of modern television, stealing shots in Paris, and why no one's planning on ending "Veep" any time soon.
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Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is an icon of television. Her role as Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld" cemented that status, and she's only continued to contribute to her legacy with the network hit "The New Adventures of Old Christine," HBO's Emmy-winning political comedy "Veep," and even edging closer to the zenith of film by garnering Oscar buzz for her role in last year's more-than-a-romantic-comedy, "Enough Said." 

All this is to say, she's not only avoided the "Seinfeld" jinx plaguing her co-stars -- she's working overtime on projects she's passionate about. This includes the 2013 short film "Picture Paris," which she shot with her husband, Brad Hall, who wrote and directed the film. On the day of its iTunes release, Louis-Dreyfus took a few minutes to discuss her first foray into the festival circuit, what's next for "Veep," and how she's seen the television world change since she began her legendary run. 

Brad Hall (second from left) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (right) on the set of "Picture Paris."
Brad Hall (second from left) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (right) on the set of "Picture Paris."

So you made this short film, "Picture Paris," with your husband Brad Hall. How did it come about and what made you decide to do a short film at this point in your career? 

Well, we first wanted to, so to speak, dip our toe in the indie film waters and we thought by making a short, that was the the most manageable way of doing it. After our first son left to go to college, this idea was just latched in my husband's head and it just felt very short film-y, as opposed to feature film-y, obviously. So we did it as sort of a passion project and made it as a short because we thought it would be a more manageable undertaking in terms of our time and our budget, too. 

That theme, of a parent whose kid goes away to college, was also an important aspect of your 2013 feature, "Enough Said."

I know! Isn't that extraordinary? It was similar, obviously with very different stories, but similar themes. That was purely coincidental. Imagine that.

"There's sort of a congenial spirit in the indie film world...people who were authentic, who were trying to earnestly make something of value creatively."

You're credited as a producer and obviously the lead actress, but you're also the wife of the writer and director. How much creative input did you have in the short? 

We collaborated very extensively on it, creatively, along with Julie Snyder who produced it with us. We cast a bunch of our friends in it: Rachael Harris. Jeff Perry. D.W. Moffett was in it, and these are all really good friends of us that we know from our Chicago days and working here in Los Angeles. It was absolutely a creative collaboration, and the filming actually was very run-and-gun in terms of the actual production. We had a small crew here in LA and a very small crew in Paris, and it was very down and dirty about getting it done. In a way it felt like our old theater days when we were much younger in Chicago, in terms of stealing shots, asking friends for favors, and changing clothes in the back of a car for the next scene or whatever it is. It was fun.

The short played at the Tribeca Film Festival last year and a few other festivals along the way. What was your reaction to "dipping your toe" in the independent film world? 

It was very pleasant. I mean, it was a lot of hard work, as everything seems to be in show business, but it was great fun to go to film festivals and meet other filmmakers. There's sort of a congenial spirit in the indie film world at these film festivals that was fun to be a part of, and it was also fun to meet other people who were authentic, who were trying to earnestly make something of value creatively. That was an exciting situation. Of course, everybody wants to make a living and needs to make a living and make money, but it feels as though the atmosphere going around the festivals was about the art itself and that was a very freeing feeling.

So are you looking to get further into independent film? Make another short? Is your husband working on anything new? Are you actively looking for a new independent project? 

Yes. Yes to all of the above. No kidding. I'm open to any material that's good. Be it a short film, be it a feature length film. I mean, good ideas aren't low-hanging fruit ready to be picked. They're sometimes very hard to come by. So I'm interested in good ideas no matter what form they take. So yes, yes, yes.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in 'Veep'
Julia Louis-Dreyfus in 'Veep'

"Veep" was recently picked up for a fourth season, and, historically, creator and showrunner Armando Iannucci doesn't produce more than a few seasons for his shows. Is there an exit strategy in place for "Veep," politically speaking?

There's no exit strategy right now. We're still very much in the entrance strategy mode, and really just focusing on what season four is going to be and what those stories are going to be. I love making the show so much, and I love playing this character so much, and I love working with Armando Iannucci and all our fine writers on the show so much that I don't have any interest in, you know, departing or leaving that situation anytime soon. Really. I mean, let's face it. It's kind of a dream gig from my point of view.

Season after season, "Veep" gets leaner with its dialogue, blocking, and overall execution. Is that created through the writing, working on set, or somewhere else? 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as VP Selina Meyer on "Veep."
HBO Julia Louis-Dreyfus as VP Selina Meyer on "Veep."

I think there's something to be said for working as a group, collaborating, over a period of time. Needless to say, we know each other and we have each other's rhythms down now much more so than we did in the third episode of season one because we've worked together. We have the experience under our belts. So there's a kind of shorthand and a varied understanding of what this show is that's in place. In addition to that, I'd say conceptually this show is opening up in ways that -- and again, it's a credit to the writers on our show -- in ways that are very unusual and the stage in a strange way is getting deeper and wider. I think that really speaks to working together for a period of time, and it's a very good group of people. We've managed to put together a really fine group of actors, writers, directors. It's a good dance we've got going along right now. There's a lot of luck and faith going on right now, but I think it stands to reason that our time together as brought us some good results. 

That's refreshing to hear considering the scathing nature of the show and how brutally it critiques the American political system and its players. Other shows like "Parks and Rec" and HBO's own "The Newsroom" are more sincere in their depiction of public service. Do you feel one or the other is a more accurate representation, and does each show deserve its own voice on TV?

Oh, I definitely think there's room for both. I think there's room for all sorts of storytelling about politics because nothing is ever one-way. It just isn't. In politics, in business, in, you know, any facet of culture, life and society there are many different ways of telling a story. So yes, there's definitely room for all of these shows, and they're all good, I think. But I don't think one is more true than the other. I'm really happy telling these stories now, but not because I think they're more true. I just like to tell the stories because I think they're very funny. It's just a series of incredibly dysfunctional relationships on a global stage, and that's tremendously exciting. It's a pressure cooker, and it's just very ripe for comedy. So I'm just glad I get to do it.

"I also think, certainly on television, the parts for women of my age and older are much more bountiful than they are in film."

After all the snafus and staff mishaps, is there any way Selena Meyer could become president? 

Well, there's always a chance. You never know, and there's a lot more to go this season. We've only aired four episodes, and there's six more to go. They're all extremely surprising, and I can't say any more, but just keep watching. I think you'll be...[laughs].

There have been some truly ruthless insults this season. Have there ever been any that were so cruel you had to back away from it, either on set or in post?

We shoot a lot of things that don't make the cut. Quite a lot. But I can't tell you specifically what. I mean, yes, of course. You have to go to certain places. You have to push it further than you would go to get to the right place, which is kind of stupid-sounding, but I think you know what I mean.

You have to explore the limits of your character to see what's in and out of play.

So I would say we're always taking risks with storytelling and within the dynamics of the relationships on the show.

There used to be a line where TV stars were looked down on compared to film actors, and there wasn't a lot of crossover. 

Oh yeah, that's true. Very good point. That line -- I don't even know that it exists anymore, to be honest with you. I also think, certainly on television, the parts for women of my age and older are much more bountiful than they are in film. No doubt about that. 

After having considerable success in network television in your early career with "Seinfeld"  and "The New Adventures of Old Christine," and now on cable television a bit later, what have you seen as the major developments for the medium? 

It's more about what hasn't changed. I mean, the whole idea of binge-watching television and DVR-watching, that completely changed the landscape of television over the last 20 years. It certainly changed, I would say, the business model of television, meaning the currency of ratings is not what it used to be back in the early days of "Seinfeld." I don't mean to say ratings don't count, but there are plenty of other factors that are just as important. And it's sort of the wild, wild west because now there are so many platforms and areas for good television, which is also extremely exciting. I mean, personally for me, I love working on pay cable because from a creative point of the view the latitude is so phenomenal and there's such a built in respect, especially at HBO, there's a culture of respect there I just pinch myself over. I just can't get enough of it. It's just so fantastic. So, that for me, is an absolute dream. 

"Picture Paris" is now available on iTunes.

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