CONTINUED FROM PAGE 199 about something else. That was really important.”
Of Seinfeld’s four main players, Louisdreyfus is also the only one whose career didn’t peak with the show. I ask her if she can explain why. Luck, she insists, is a big part of it. “I actually do think that there’s an enormous amount of luck in having things line up in this town, more than people care to admit.” But then she offers another reason that seems far more plausible: “I really like to work. And I’m determined to find excellent material, which is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. I just have an intense desire to keep going. Working as an actor and finding material really sustain me.”
That much was evident to anyone who saw how Louis-dreyfus reacted to her cancer diagnosis in 2017. Although receiving the news was “so fundamentally terrifying,” she didn’t fully grasp how difficult chemotherapy would be and figured it would just require some tweaks to the schedule of Veep, which was about to start production on its final season. “I called Dave Mandel, who was our showrunner,” she recalls. “I said, ‘OK, so I’ve got this disease, but chemo is every three weeks, and I’ll just need a little downtime right after each treatment. So if we can just break for those couple of days?’ ” Soon it became clear that the show would have to go on hiatus. But even during her treatments, while she was physically “very diminished,” Louis-dreyfus kept meeting with her costars for table reads. “And that was fantastic,” she says. “Because it kept me hopeful, and I could focus on work instead of…trying to stay alive.” She raises an eyebrow. “You know, making a funny show is a pretty joyful undertaking. As opposed to, say, getting chemotherapy toxins in your veins.”
The seventh season of Veep was always meant to be its last, but Louis-dreyfus acknowledges that in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, the unbridled egos and venal self-interest of Washington, D.C., became almost impossible to parody. “The White House is now making a better version of the show, but it’s completely unfunny,” she says. As for next November’s election, she’s waiting for the right moment to publicly get behind one of the Democratic candidates, but on the red carpet at Veep’s final-season première she tipped her hand when a reporter asked her whether she thought she’d see a female president in her lifetime. “I fucking better,” she said.
Louis-dreyfus has been one of Hollywood’s most consistently vocal environmental activists, and she recently took on a bigger role on the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has sued the Trump administration at least 100 times to block actions that are poised to threaten species or speed up climate change. “The truth is, the planet is going to be fine—because it’s going to eradicate the human population if we don’t get our shit together,” she says. “There has to be a complete recalibration of how we conduct ourselves and do business.” On the health-care front Louisdreyfus used her social-media accounts as her megaphone during her illness, repeatedly pushing for universal coverage. “I had felt strongly about the issue before, but now, here it was, stark and real,” she says. “The notion that someone might have a diagnosis like that and have no insurance, no means to get treatment, was inconceivable to me.”
Since her recovery Louis-dreyfus is finding herself “even more laser-focused” than before in most areas of her life. “I’m keenly aware of the fact that I’m not immortal,” she says. She has learned Transcendental Meditation and stepped up her workout regimen, now exercising “like a maniac.” For anyone who sees her in Oscar de la Renta at a première these days, it’s hard to believe how recently she was sick—or that while growing up in Washington, D.C., she thought of herself as the family’s ugly duckling. “Well, I was,” she says. “I didn’t have a normal, beautiful look. I’m sort of, you know—big nose, massive head.” When did she start to realize she was attractive? “Maybe, like, an hour ago?” She laughs and adds, “Honestly, I think it truly started to change in my 30s and 40s.”
Although comedians aren’t known as the world’s most stylish bunch (their bad rap is “probably deserved,” Louis-dreyfus says), over the years she’s been an elegant and increasingly enthusiastic adopter of looks from marquee designers such as Narciso Rodriguez and Brandon Maxwell. “I do love fashion,” she says. Pointing to the high-waist Helmut Lang army fatigues and Blundstone boots she’s wearing today, she adds, “Clearly, I also like to be comfortable. It’s nice to get dressed up for the red carpet, but when you get home, it’s also nice to take those clothes off and just wear comfortable shit.”
Louis-dreyfus has been in a famously happy marriage to fellow Saturday Night Live alum Brad Hall for almost 33 years. They have two grown sons, several beautiful homes, etc., etc. As we finish our coffees, I ask if there’s anything that magazine articles tend to get wrong about her. She’s silent for a while.
“I think sometimes it seems like my life has been, you know, easy livin’,” she says.
“Maybe I come off as cavalier about things. But I’ve really worked hard.” She pauses again, as if setting up a joke. She’s smiling, but the punch line doesn’t come.
“That’s all,” she says. Then she hugs me goodbye and heads to her next meeting.