Julia Louis-Dreyfus definitely has an extraordinary acting career. She played three memorable characters on three different TV shows and won an Emmy for each of them. Add that to the fact that she has starred in some of the most acclaimed comedies on television and there’s a strong chance she might have the best resume in Hollywood history.
As with many famous comedians in Hollywood, it all started in the state of Illinois with an improv troupe. After getting accepted into Northwestern University, she studied theater as a member of the Delta Gamma sorority and performed in the student-run improv and sketch comedy revue known as the Waa Mu Show. Even back then she showed a gift for comedy by having a sharp mind and doing whatever it was she needed to do to get a laugh.
This improv training led her to Chicago, home of the most famous improv troupe The Second City, whose alumni include Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, Martin Short, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and countless other comedians and actors who went on to become famous, but it was a particular performance at The Practical Theater Company (a show founded by Northwestern students) that led to her being asked to join the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1982 when she was 21 years old, making her the youngest cast member in the show’s history at the time.
Louis-Dreyfus was a cast member on SNL from 1982 to 1985, but she admitted that the business of live sketch comedy was rough to navigate and the experience of being on the show was tense. The show did nothing for her career in terms of fame, and she was a cast member at a time in the show’s history when there was a lot of sexism behind the scenes. Years after the fact, she looks back on the idea of being on SNL more fondly than the actual experience of performing on it (whenever she did perform, her talents were usually wasted. People like Eddie Murphy and Billy Crystal were given more to do).
Fortunately she met an SNL writer on her last year on the show who was equally unsatisfied working on the sketch comedy series, and his name was Larry David. This would turn out to be an important meeting because when Larry David pitched his idea for the sitcom Seinfeld to NBC, he would end up casting Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Jerry Seinfeld’s ex-girlfriend Elaine Benes, who she would play for the show’s entire nine-season run to critical acclaim and huge popularity.
Elaine remains her most famous character and her performance was met with accolades from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Primetime Emmys. She won her first Emmy in 1996 shortly before the end of the show’s run.
After several more roles in film (A Bug’s Life) and television (Arrested Development), her biggest role in years came when she was cast in the title role of one of my favorite sitcoms The New Adventures of Old Christine on CBS, created by Will & Grace producer Kari Lizer. As the lead of this comedy about a single mother who remains friends with her ex-husband even after he gets a new girlfriend who is also named Christine (New Christine), Louis-Dreyfus proved that she was able to carry her own show and that she was one of the funniest actors in show business. Christine Campbell was one of the most narcissistic TV characters but Louis-Dreyfus made her completely likable and even lovable at times. She won an Emmy for the show in its first year and went on to star in it for four more seasons.
I love Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine so much that I saw every single episode of both of those shows, and after they ended, I feared Louis-Dreyfus would never find a role as great as Elaine or Christine, but I was completely wrong.
In 2011 it was announced that Julia Louis-Dreyfus would both star in and produce an HBO series called Veep, which premiered in 2012 and was quickly recognized as one of the sharpest satires and funniest comedies on television, and I am one of the people who said that.
The series was a political dark comedy in which Louis-Dreyfus played Vice President Selena Meyer in a fictional version of our government (no Barack Obama or Donald Trump in this show) and tries to keep it together amidst the never-ending chaos of working in Washington D.C. At this point, Louis-Dreyfus was known for playing narcissists but Selena Meyer was downright black-hearted. However the intelligent writing keeps the show’s mood surprisingly enjoyable, even as insults are hurled at every character at almost every moment (in the most creative and hilarious ways).
Actual U.S. politicians have called this show one of the most accurate portrayals of Washington they’ve ever seen on television, which brings a chilling air of authenticity to the satire. Although this would not matter if the show was not as funny as it is.
Now people were calling Louis-Dreyfus the new Mary Tyler Moore, not just because she was the female lead in a modern workplace comedy, but because of her natural comedic talent and magnetic personality.
Speaking of Mary Tyler Moore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has consistently won an Emmy for her role in Veep six years in a row, surpassing the record held by both Mary Tyler Moore (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Candice Bergen (Murphy Brown) for most wins for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. In 2017, thanks to Veep, Louis-Dreyfus has also tied Cloris Leachman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) for most Emmys won by a single performer.
It was announced that Veep would be ending in 2019, and as an actor who has been honored in almost every possible way (Mark Twain Prize, Hollywood Walk of Fame) and starred in some of the best comedies in the world (Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, Dr. Katz, The Simpsons, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock), Julia Louis-Dreyfus has nothing left to prove to anyone but still manages to turn out one brilliant performance after another, continuing to embody characters in seemingly effortless ways, finding their humanity but also performing them in ways that make people laugh. She has always been good at making people laugh since her days in improv and she has never lost sight of that goal, which is smart because it’s taken her far.