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Spotlight on Julia Louis-Dreyfus

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus isn’t sure her present and past would get along very well — or at least the character she plays now on The New Adventures of Old Christine and Seinfeld‘s iconic Elaine Benes. ”Christine and Elaine would hit it off for a couple of days, then there would be a huge falling-out, and Elaine would start stalking Christine,” Louis-Dreyfus speculates. ”That friendship would not last.”

Now, if only more people could get the chance to know Christine. The CBS comedy just returned for its third season after nine months off the air, settling for a midseason berth despite critical acclaim and solid ratings. And even at that, production halted midway through the ninth episode because of the writers’ strike. ”We were completely on a roll,” laments Louis-Dreyfus. ”It felt as if we were hitting our stride.” Of course, the work stoppage gave the actress her best-known role of the fall: frontline picketer. ”These same issues are going to affect the Screen Actors Guild, so I wanted to show my solidarity,” she explains. The added bonus: ”I dig demonstrating.” The Christine star even reveled in the awkwardness of heading a crew that called out Eva Longoria Parker for crossing a line to work on Desperate Housewives. ”It was really fun,” Louis-Dreyfus recalls with obvious glee. ”I’ll picket anybody at any time.” Now that it’s all over, though, she’s hopeful the industry won’t hold a grudge — she certainly won’t. ”This was a negotiation,” she says. ”You make the deal and move on. It’s already healed.” In addition to picketing, Louis-Dreyfus kept herself busy during her downtime with her two sons (with husband Brad Hall) and a lot of TV: ”I’m a primary junkie now — MSNBC, Keith Olbermann, and all that.”

Aside from politics, her concern is her show’s future on CBS, where CSI-level ratings have raised the bar for what constitutes a hit. Christine dropped a bit, from an average of 12.6 million weekly viewers in its first season to 10.4 million in its second — and, perhaps as a result, it got pushed from the fall schedule to make way for The Big Bang Theory and (gulp — this one’s hard to take) Rules of Engagement. ”It was a big surprise,” Louis-Dreyfus sighs. ”I would’ve preferred to be on during the fall, but anyway… It wasn’t my decision to make.” Christine was slated to resume production as of Feb. 22 to shoot two additional episodes; beyond that, the network has yet to order more. Still, Louis-Dreyfus is happy to be returning to the set where she feels at home and the character she adores: a frazzled single mom struggling to get along with her ex (Clark Gregg) and his girlfriend (”new” Christine, played by Emily Rutherfurd). ”Funny’s funny,” she says. ”There’s nothing highfalutin about it.”

True enough. This season, Christine will tackle rock climbing, dating a ”much younger guy,” and pot smoking. (”You know, your average American mom,” Louis-Dreyfus laughs.) Creator/exec producer Kari Lizer credits the actress for infusing those wacky-sounding story lines with a grounded quality that makes Christine feel like a genuine, evolving person instead of just a generic sitcom mom: ”It’s an alive performance. She’s like a real woman. She’s devoted to her kid, but she’s a whole person outside of that.”

The folks who give out Emmys certainly agree. She won the award for Christine after it had aired for a mere 13 episodes. ”It’s really nice to be playing a lead character and to get accolades for it,” Louis-Dreyfus admits. But she’s most grateful to be 47 years old and in demand. ”I can’t believe I’ve stayed alive in this business this long, really. The odds are against you. It’s kind of a fantasy.” Speaking of fantasies, Julia, whose side would you take in a Christine-Elaine smackdown? ”It would have to be Christine,” she answers without hesitation. ”She’s my favorite, because she’s of this moment in my life.”


BEATING THE ODDS
The actress’ four-step plan for living down the absurd Seinfeld curse

1. Know Thy Role.
”Playing a character for a long period of time, you have to have an instinct for this person, otherwise you’re lost at sea. And I thought, I know motherhood really well. I should be a mom.”

2. Use Your Powers For Good.
”We have a lot of women [on the set]. Working mothers are really organized. We get in early, right after car pool, and we’re out of there by two or three.”

3. Feign Modesty.
”When we were shooting the Seinfeld finale, they put up these huge barricades on the stage. I remember thinking, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me. Who cares?’ It surprised me that anybody paid that much attention.”

4. Cast Carefully.
”With Seinfeld, [the good cast] was a lucky break, and with the other shows I had a say. That’s the Seinfeld blessing, to get to be part of that process.”

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