In a career retrospective that frequently turned into a comedy duo act, Stephen Colbert interviewed Julia Louis-Dreyfus stage in Newark, New Jersey. Saturday night. Colbert hosts an annual conversation as a fund raiser to benefit Montclair Film, a film and arts organization; previous guests have included Meryl Streep and Samantha Bee.
Both stars discovered improv comedy while studying theatre at Northwestern University, and treated each other as scene partners throughout the evening: Colbert as Veep fanboy, Louis-Dreyfus the unimpressed star. She peppered the conversation with deadpan admonishments when Colbert tripped on a question, checked his watch, or broke a glass while mixing her a Manhattan at the on-stage bar.
Adding to that dynamic: Louis-Dreyfus was the only one of the two accepted into their alma mater’s high-profile improv group, Mee-Ow Show, much to Colbert’s feigned bitterness.
“It completely changed my life. It was the real beginning of working in an ensemble, link arms with people, and go after the best thing possible as a group. It was very important, and it informed everything moving forward,” she said.
She was cast on Saturday Night Live after her junior year of college, but the show didn’t foster the same ensemble spirit.
“I was incredibly naïve and didn’t understand how the dynamics of the place worked. It was very sexist. People were doing crazy drugs at the time. I was oblivious,” she said, adding that she’d often go into writer Larry David’s office and cry.“It was a pretty brutal time, but it was a very informative time for me. I learned that I wasn’t going to do any more of this showbiz crap unless it was fun,” she said.
One project that registered high on her “fun-meter” was Seinfeld. “We loved that show more than the people watching it,” she said. She feels no nostalgia for her old wardrobe, though, and balked at the ‘90s fashion resurgence. “I have nothing but regret for that look. At the time I was trying to be funky,” she said.
Louis-Dreyfus described herself as a private person, and if not for the interruption of Veep’s production schedule, she might not have gone public with her 2017 breast cancer diagnosis.
“I had 200 people waiting to go back to work in three weeks, and I get this diagnosis. I knew we had to shut down, and I needed to manage that and make it public. The extraordinary virtue that came out of that was that I’m able to talk to people about this experience, in a way that’s been very gratifying to me. To be able to help people going through it has been an enormous source of comfort to me, which I could not anticipate,” she said.
She held back tears when talking about how important it was to have her husband, Brad Hall, at her side through her treatment. “You must have someone with you all the time who’s your advocate. You go to so many doctors, and you meet so many people, and there are so many different procedures. It’s very hard to keep things organized and in your brain, because you’re in crisis,” she said.
Pivoting back to work, Colbert asked how often politicians tell her Veep was an accurate portrayal of Washington politics. “Across the board, I’m afraid to say,” she said.
In addition to her real-world exposure to politics growing up in Washington, her research for Veep included one-on ones with politicians such as Al Gore and Joe Biden. She characterized politicians as “just people.” “Many of them are well-intentioned. Many of them think they’re well-intentioned but they certainly are not. And they’re all ambitious,” she said.
Louis-Dreyfus will never run for office in real life, she said, but there’s one trend she would like to see in politics: “I think it’s ok to say you made a mistake. That’s gone from our discourse.”
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