January 23, 2018
Hall of Fame

Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Hall of Fame Tribute

An Appreciation by Armando Iannucci (as told to Libby Slate)

When we wrote Veep, Simon Blackwell, my co-executive producer and writer, and I said, "What we need now is the best comedy actress in America." Naturally, Julia was the first person I thought of. We met up for a cup of tea at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, which I thought was going to take 30 minutes and be very formal. Within seconds — and this is so typical of Julia — we were laughing, having a very natural conversation, as if we'd known each other for years. The cup of tea went on for three-and-a-half hours; we mapped out the character's life story, her aspirations, things we could do. It was a conversation with someone who is very down to earth and un-starry, and yet at the same time, highly intelligent and professional about the whole business of comedy.

That's what working with Julia is like: You are working with someone who is on your side, who wants to make it good with no tension or stress, but at the same time has these extraordinarily high standards that she keeps pushing herself to. On set, she's not just analyzing her own performance, she's got her head around the whole scene, the overall arc of the episode; you'll see she's thinking in terms of story and where it needs to lead to, with just the right amount of panic or tension or anger or silliness — whatever it is in the scene. She's got her own kind of sophisticated comedy filter going on in her head that's working out precisely where that moment comes. She's very much a team player. The cast looks to her as the team leader — she is always the first to suggest a funny thing for someone else.

She has a comic expertise and a natural, instinctive comedic ability. You know that whatever it is she's saying or doing or suggesting, it's because she wants to make the show as funny as possible. And she's always very self-deprecating: She has a highly glamorous, sophisticated look, but is more than happy to fall on her face. She's such fantastic good company off-set, too. When you talk to her, it's about family, it's about her children [two sons with husband Brad Hall], about life at home — not about the industry.

I grew up as a fan of Seinfeld — I'd always enjoyed Julia's performance. I thought she had an ability to surprise, to come at things from an unusual angle, to take a straight situation and do something really funny with it in a way you really wouldn't have been quite able to describe. She could take a very, very ordinary line and make it highly amusing.

She has been so consistently driven to make a good product, rather than be concerned about her own star status. She deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because she's not only America's finest comedy actress — and has been for so many years — but because she has inspired so many other people to raise their bar, in the writing and performing of comedy. She's the greatest living testimony to the principle that you can be at the top of your game, be a wildly successful comedian, and yet be fundamentally nice at the same time. She is a unique, extraordinary talent.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Selina Meyer, the somewhat addled, narcissistic but well-meaning vice president of the United States in HBO's comedy series Veep, created by Armando lannucci. Louis-Dreyfus has won two consecutive Emmys as outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for the role, in 2012 and 2013. She has been nominated for Emmys 16 times and won four in all: another for lead actress, comedy series, in 2006, as Christine Campbell in the CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine, and her first, for supporting actress, comedy series, in 1996, for her portrayal of the character Elaine Benes in the NBC classic Seinfeld. She started her career as a performer on television as a cast member on Saturday Night Live.

This tribute originally appeared in the Television Academy Hall of Fame program celebrating Julia Louis-Dreyfus's induction in 2014.

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