Julia Scarlett Elizabeth Louis-Dreyfus (; born January 13, 1961) is an American actress, comedian, and producer. She is known for her work in television comedy, including Saturday Night Live (1982–85), Seinfeld (1989–98), The New Adventures of Old Christine (2006–10), and Veep (2012–present). Louis-Dreyfus holds several records for most Primetime Emmy Award wins and nominations.
Louis-Dreyfus broke into comedy as a performer in The Practical Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois, which led to her casting in the sketch show Saturday Night Live from 1982 to 1985. Her breakthrough came in 1990 with a nine-season run playing Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, one of the most critically and commercially successful sitcoms of all time. Other notable television roles include Christine Campbell in The New Adventures of Old Christine, which had a five-season run on CBS, and her role as Selina Meyer in Veep, which has recently been renewed by HBO for a sixth season. Louis-Dreyfus’ film roles have included Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), Deconstructing Harry (1997), and Enough Said (2013). She has voiced roles in several animated films, including A Bug’s Life (1998) and Planes (2013).
Louis-Dreyfus has received nine Emmy Awards, seven for acting and two for producing, with a total of 22 nominations throughout her career. She has also received a Golden Globe Award, seven Screen Actors Guild Awards, five American Comedy Awards, and two Critics’ Choice Television Awards. Louis-Dreyfus received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010, and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2014. In 2016, Time named Louis-Dreyfus one of the 100 most influential people in the world on the annual Time 100 list.
Louis-Dreyfus was born in New York City. Her American-born mother, Judith (née LeFever), was a writer and special needs tutor, and her French-born father, Gérard Louis-Dreyfus (1932–2016), chaired Louis Dreyfus Energy Services.
She is the great-great-granddaughter of Léopold Louis-Dreyfus, who in 1851 founded the Louis Dreyfus Group, a French commodities and shipping conglomerate, which members of her family control to this day. Her paternal grandfather, Pierre Louis-Dreyfus (1908–2011), was president of the Louis Dreyfus Group. Pierre was from an Alsatian Jewish family; he remained in France during World War II, fighting as a cavalry officer and later in the French Resistance. Her paternal grandmother was born in America, to parents from Brazil (of German descent) and Mexico; during the 1940s, she moved Julia’s father to America from France.
In 1962, one year after Louis-Dreyfus’s birth, her parents divorced. After relocating to Washington, D.C., when Julia was eight, her mother married L. Thompson Bowles, Dean of the George Washington University Medical School. During her childhood, her mother occasionally took her to Unitarian church services.
Louis-Dreyfus spent her childhood in several states and countries, in connection with her stepfather’s work with Project HOPE, including Vietnam, Colombia, and Tunisia. She graduated from the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland in 1979, and attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. There, she was a member of the Delta Gamma sorority and studied theatre before dropping out to take a professional acting job.
1982–89: Early work and Saturday Night Live
Louis-Dreyfus as a part of The Practical Theatre Company’s Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee, alongside cast mates Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger and Paul Barrosse
As part of her comedic training, Louis-Dreyfus appeared in The Second City, one of Chicago’s best-known improvisation theatre groups (whose alumni include Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Shelley Long). It was her performance with The Practical Theatre Company at their “Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee” that led to her being asked to join the cast of NBC‘s Saturday Night Live at the age of 21.
Louis-Dreyfus was subsequently made into a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1982 to 1985, becoming the youngest female cast member in the history of the program at that time. During her time on SNL, she appeared alongside several actors who would later rise to prominence, such as Eddie Murphy, Jim Belushi, Billy Crystal, and Martin Short. It was during her third and final year on SNL that she met writer Larry David during his only year on the show, who would later co-create Seinfeld. Louis-Dreyfus has commented that her casting on SNL was a “Cinderella-getting-to-go-to-the-ball kind of experience”; however, she has also admitted that at times it was often quite tense, stating that she “didn’t know how to navigate the waters of show business in general and specifically doing a live sketch-comedy show”.
Following her 1985 departure from SNL, Louis-Dreyfus appeared in several films, including the Woody Allen-directed Hannah and Her Sisters (1986); Soul Man (1986), starring C. Thomas Howell; and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), in which she starred alongside fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase. In 1988, she was cast in the NBC sitcom Day by Day (as the sarcastic and materialistic neighbor, Eileen Swift), which aired for two seasons before being cancelled.
1990–98: The Seinfeld years
In the early-1990s Louis-Dreyfus became famous for the role of Elaine Benes on NBC’s Seinfeld. She played the role for nine seasons, appearing in all but three episodes. One of the episodes that she did not appear in was the inaugural pilot episode, “The Seinfeld Chronicles“, because her character was not initially intended to be a part of the series. It was only after the first episode that NBC executives felt the show was too male-centric, and demanded that creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David add a woman to the cast. It was revealed in the commentary on the DVD package that the addition of a female character was the condition for commissioning the show. Louis-Dreyfus won the role over several other actresses who would also eventually enjoy their own TV success, including Patricia Heaton, Rosie O’Donnell and Megan Mullally.
On the “Notes About Nothing” featurette on the DVD package, Seinfeld says that Louis-Dreyfus’ ability to eat a peanut M&M without breaking the peanut aptly describes the actress: “She cracks you up without breaking your nuts.”
Her performance on the series was met with critical acclaim, and she was a regular winner and nominee at television award shows throughout the 1990s. Her performance earned her two Golden Globe Award nominations, winning once in 1994, nine Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, winning one in 1995 and two in both 1997 and 1998, and seven American Comedy Awards, winning five times in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998. In 1996, she received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, an award she was nominated for on seven occasions from 1992 to 1998. After receiving the award, Louis-Dreyfus claimed the win was a “shocker”, and that after being in both positions, it was “much better to win than to lose.”
In 1998, Seinfeld decided to end the series after nine seasons. The series finale aired on May 14 and was one of the most watched TV events in history, with over 76 million people tuning in.
During her time on Seinfeld she appeared in several films, including Fathers’ Day, opposite Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, and Woody Allen‘s Oscar-nominated Deconstructing Harry.
1999–2004: After Seinfeld
Following a voice role in the successful Disney Pixar‘s A Bug’s Life, Louis-Dreyfus lent her voice as Snake‘s girlfriend Gloria in The Simpsons episode “A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love“. In 2001, she made several special guest appearances on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s show Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing herself fictionally trying to break the “curse” by planning to star in a show in which she would play an actress affected by a Seinfeld-like curse.
After several years away from a regular TV gig, Louis-Dreyfus began a new single-camera sitcom Watching Ellie, which premiered on NBC in February 2002. The series was created by husband Brad Hall, and co-starred Steve Carell and Louis-Dreyfus’ half-sister Lauren Bowles. The initial premise of the show was to present viewers with a “slice of life” from the goings-on and happenings of the life of Ellie Riggs, a Southern California jazz singer. The first season included a 22-minute countdown kept digitally in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, which many critics panned, claiming it was useless and “did nothing for the show.” Overall, the show received mixed reviews, but debuted strongly with over 16 million viewers tuning in for the series premiere, and maintained an average audience of about 10 million viewers per week.
When the series returned for a second season in the spring of 2003, it suffered a decline in viewership, averaging around eight million viewers per week. The show had undergone a drastic stylistic change between production of seasons one and two. The first season was filmed in the single-camera format, but the second season was presented as a traditional multicamera sitcom filmed in front of a live studio audience. With dwindling viewership and failing to retain the numbers from its Frasier lead-in, the series was cancelled by NBC in May 2003.
Following NBC’s cancellation of Watching Ellie, the media began circulating rumors of a so-called “Seinfeld curse“, which claimed that none of the former Seinfeld actors could ever achieve success again in the television industry. Louis-Dreyfus dismissed the rumor as “a made-up thing by the media”, while Seinfeld co-creator Larry David asserted that the curse was “completely idiotic.”
Louis-Dreyfus was interested in the role of Susan Mayer on Desperate Housewives, the role that ultimately went to Teri Hatcher. Instead, Louis-Dreyfus scored a recurring guest role as the deceitful prosecutor and love interest of Michael Bluth on the Emmy-winning comedy Arrested Development, from 2004 to 2005.
2005–10: The New Adventures of Old Christine and renewed success
In 2005, Louis-Dreyfus was cast in the title role of a new CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine. The series and its concept was created by writer and producer of Will & Grace, Kari Lizer. The series told the story of Christine Campbell, a single mother who manages to maintain a fantastic relationship with her ex-husband, while running a women’s gym. The series debuted on CBS in March 2006 to an audience of 15 million and was initially a ratings winner for the network.
Louis-Dreyfus also received considerable critical acclaim for her performance on the show, with Brian Lowry of Variety stating that Louis-Dreyfus broke the “Seinfeld curse” “with one of the best conventional half-hours to come along in a while.” Alessandra Stanley from The New York Times asserted that Louis-Dreyfus’ performance on the series proved she is “one of the funniest women on network television.” Louis-Dreyfus additionally earned the 2006 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance in the first season. Referring to the curse, she stated in her acceptance speech, “I’m not somebody who really believes in curses, but curse this, baby!” Throughout the course of the series, she received five consecutive Emmy Award nominations, three consecutive Satellite Award nominations, two Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, and a nomination for a Golden Globe Award. In 2007, she also received two nominations for a People’s Choice Award due to her return to popularity, thanks to the success of Old Christine.
In May 2006, Louis-Dreyfus hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live, becoming the first former female cast member to return to the show in the hosting role. In the episode, she appeared with former Seinfeld mates Jason Alexander and Jerry Seinfeld in her opening monologue, parodying the so-called “Seinfeld curse”. After a successful reception from her 2006 episode, Louis-Dreyfus was invited again to host SNL on March 17, 2007.
Louis-Dreyfus at the unveiling of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, May 2010
In 2007, Louis-Dreyfus reprised her role as Gloria on The Simpsons, which she had first originated in a 2001 episode, in the episode “I Don’t Wanna Know Why the Caged Bird Sings“. She appeared on the series once more in the 2008 episode “Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes“.
In the fall of 2009, she appeared with rest of the cast of Seinfeld in four episodes of the seventh season of Larry David’s sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. The reunion shows received much media attention, and the episode received strong ratings for the HBO series.
In 2009, Louis-Dreyfus was granted the honorary award for Legacy of Laughter at the TV Land Awards. Previous winners had included Lucille Ball and Mike Myers. She was presented with the award by friend Amy Poehler. The following year, Louis-Dreyfus received the 2,407th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on May 4, 2010, for her remarkable contribution to the broadcast television industry as both an actress and a comedian. Originally, the star was set with Louis-Dreyfus’ name spelled incorrectly. It was missing both the ‘o’ and the hyphen in her last name. The star was corrected and the misspelled portion was removed and presented to the actress. Celebrity guests at the event included past and current colleagues from throughout her career, including Clark Gregg, Larry David, Eric McCormack, and Jason Alexander.
Old Christine was cancelled by CBS in May 2010, after five seasons. After its cancellation from CBS, discussions were held with ABC for the show to be revived on the network, but these plans never came to fruition.
In the spring of 2010, Louis-Dreyfus guest-starred several times in the third season of the web series Web Therapy, starring Lisa Kudrow. Louis-Dreyfus played the sister of a self-involved therapist who gives her therapy online, and her performance earned her strong reviews. When the series made the transition to cable television on the Showtime network, Louis-Dreyfus’s appearance from the web series was included in the second season, airing in July 2012.
In fall 2010, Louis-Dreyfus made a guest appearance on the live episode of the Emmy-winning comedy 30 Rock. She played Tina Fey‘s role of Liz Lemon in the cutaway shots. Louis-Dreyfus was among several Saturday Night Live alumni appearing in the episode, including Rachel Dratch, Bill Hader, and regulars Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, and Fey herself. Louis-Dreyfus also starred in a “Women of SNL” special November 1, 2010, on NBC.
In May and June 2011, Louis-Dreyfus teamed up with husband Brad Hall for her first short film, Picture Paris. This was the first time the couple had collaborated since their early-2000s NBC comedy Watching Ellie. Hall wrote and directed the film, while Louis-Dreyfus played the lead role of an ordinary woman with an extraordinary obsession with the city of Paris. The film premiered on January 29, 2012, at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and has received considerable critical acclaim. It made its television premiere on HBO on December 17, 2012.
In early 2011, HBO confirmed that Louis-Dreyfus had been cast in the lead role of U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer in a new satirical comedy series entitled Veep. The series was commissioned for a first season of eight episodes. It was announced, in addition to her starring role, Louis-Dreyfus would also serve as a producer of the series. In preparation for her role, Louis-Dreyfus spoke with several former vice presidents, including Al Gore, senators, speechwriters, chiefs of staffs of various offices and schedulers. Louis-Dreyfus has publicly commended HBO for allowing the cast and crew to engage in a “protracted pre-production process”, which included a six-week rehearsal period before filming began.
The first season was filmed in the fall of 2011, in Baltimore, and the series premiered on April 22, 2012. The premiere episode was met with high praise from critics, particularly for Louis-Dreyfus’ performance. The Hollywood Reporter asserted that the character of Selina Meyer was her “best post-Seinfeld role” to date and claimed that she gives “an Emmy-worthy effort”, while the Los Angeles Times contended that the series demonstrates that she is “one of the medium’s great comedians.” Following the success of the first season, Louis-Dreyfus was named by the Huffington Post as one of the funniest people of 2012, asserting that she is the “most magnetic and naturally funny woman on TV since Mary Tyler Moore.”
For her performance on Veep, Louis-Dreyfus has received several accolades, most notably five consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Her Emmy wins for Veep, following previous wins for Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine, resulted in her becoming the only woman to win an acting award for three separate comedy series. Her sixth win for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2016 surpassed the record previously held by Mary Tyler Moore and Candice Bergen for the most wins in that category. She has also been nominated as one of the producers for Veep in the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series category in 2012, 2013, and 2014, but the show lost to Modern Family on all three occasions. The show however won the top award in 2015 and 2016.
Louis-Dreyfus has also received five Critics’ Choice Television Award nominations, winning twice in 2013 and 2014, eight Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, winning twice in 2014 and 2017, and five Television Critics Association Award nominations, winning once in 2014. Her performance has additionally garnered her four consecutive Satellite Award nominations and five consecutive Golden Globe Award nominations.
Louis-Dreyfus lent her voice to the 2013 animated film Planes, in the role of Rochelle. To date, the film has grossed well over $200 million at the box office worldwide. She also starred in the film Enough Said, directed by Nicole Holofcener, which was released on September 18, 2013. This marked her debut as a lead actress in a full-length feature film. The film received rave reviews from movie critics, ranking among the best-reviewed films of 2013. The website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 96% based on 152 reviews, many of them praising Louis-Dreyfus’ performance. She received a number of Best Actress nominations for her role in the film at award ceremonies, including the Golden Globe Awards, Satellite Awards, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and the American Comedy Awards.
Since December 2014, Louis-Dreyfus has appeared in a series of television commercials for Old Navy. In November 2015, she starred in an Old Navy TV commercial with Kumail Nanjiani and Snoop Dogg.
On April 16, 2016 she hosted Saturday Night Live for the third time with musical guest Nick Jonas. During the episode’s cold open, she reprised her role of Elaine Benes from Seinfeld.
Louis-Dreyfus’s maternal half-sister, Lauren Bowles (born 1970), is an actress, who has appeared with Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld, Watching Ellie, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and Veep. She also has two half-sisters on her father’s side, Phoebe (born 1968) and Emma (born 1974). Robert Louis-Dreyfus (1946–2009), one of her cousins, was former CEO of Adidas and owner of the Olympique de Marseille football club.
While at Northwestern, Louis-Dreyfus met future husband and Saturday Night Live comedian Brad Hall. She and Hall married in 1987. They have two sons together, Henry, born in 1992, and Charles, born in 1997. Charles is a walk-on for the Northwestern Wildcats men’s basketball team. In 2007, she was invited back to Northwestern to receive an honorary Doctor of Arts degree.
Louis-Dreyfus has stated that she holds much respect for “women who are not afraid of making themselves look bad or foolish to get a laugh”, and cites her acting idols as Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Valerie Harper, and Cloris Leachman.
Actress Tina Fey has stated that Louis-Dreyfus served as inspiration for her character Liz Lemon on the award-winning NBC comedy series 30 Rock.
Louis-Dreyfus supported Al Gore‘s 2000 U.S. presidential bid, and also endorsed Barack Obama‘s bid for the presidency in 2008 and 2012. She appeared in a video that urged President Obama to reject the proposal of the Keystone XL pipeline, arguing that if the pipeline ever were to leak, it would cause mass pollution across the U.S. Additionally, she has voiced her concern for several environmental issues, and has raised millions for Heal the Bay, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Trust for Public Land. She also worked for successful passage of Proposition O, which allocated US$500 million for cleaning up the Los Angeles water supply.
During the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Louis-Dreyfus announced her endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the United States presidential election of that year.
In her acceptance speech at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards, she denounced President Donald Trump‘s executive order limiting travel to the U.S. from 7 countries and refugees as “un-American,” and said, “My father fled religious persecution in Nazi-occupied France.”
Recurring characters on Saturday Night Live
- April May June, a televangelist
- Becky, El Dorko’s (Gary Kroeger) date
- Consuela, Chi Chi’s friend and co-host of Let’s Watch TV
- Darla in SNL’s parody of The Little Rascals
- Weather Woman, a superhero who controls the weather
- Patti Lynn Hunnsucker, a teenage correspondent on Weekend Update