2016 was a remarkable year for Julia Louis-Dreyfus for a number of reasons. First of all, she won her fifth consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy for Veep. With it, she made history by breaking the record she had previously shared with Mary Tyler Moore and Candace Bergen for most wins in the category. On stage, she took the opportunity to break the news about her beloved father’s passing only two days prior.
That unleashed a bizarre series of events. As soon as she announced her father’s death, confused fans (who clearly never noticed how either actors’ names are actually spelled) started tweeting, sending out messages of sympathy for the (apparently deceased) Richard Dreyfuss.
The seasoned actor – who has no blood relation to the Seinfeld star – sent out his own tweet in response: “I’m actually not Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ father. But I really appreciate all the concerned tweets.” His post immediately went viral. Let’s put aside the strange and confusing act of tweeting at someone you believe to be dead.
We can also ignore the fact that if Richard Dreyfuss were her father, he would have been just 14 years old on the day of her birth (January 13, 1961). Aside from all that, the logic of the matter wasn’t that far off. In the world of entertainment, when actors share a last name, they’re usually part of the same Hollywood dynasty.
The truth is that Julia is part of a dynasty, and her father really is someone worth noting. Julia, who was born Julia Scarlett E. Louis-Dreyfus, is the daughter of Judith, her American-born mother, and Gerard Louis-Dreyfus, her French-born Jewish father who happened to be a billionaire. Gerard and his family’s history is truly the stuff of legend.
In 1851, Gerard’s great-grandfather, Leopold, founded the Louis Dreyfus Group, which was a French commodity and shipping corporation that runs to this day. Julia’s grandfather, Pierre, flew 81 missions over the Western Front during World War II with the French Resistance. That is before he took over the family company with his brothers.
Pierre drove a race car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which was the oldest active sports car race in the world. It required its racers to drive for a full day. Pierre, who lived to be 102, had two children, Gerard and Dominique before he divorced his wife. He then had two more children with his second wife.
Julia remembers seeing him when she was young. “He was deaf, and he didn’t have any teeth when we went to see him, and he was screaming at his butler. The kids got a kick out of that,” she recalled. “But he was an incredibly handsome, dashing fellow, as was my father. They were both very dashing, tiny Frenchmen.”
From 1969 to 2006, Julia’s father led the family business. He started going by the name William when he was a teenager, soon after his mother brought him and his sister to America. He eventually expanded the business into real estate, natural gas, and telecommunications.
They’re active in more than 100 countries and, in the year 2015 alone, the company took in $55.7 billion in revenue. “He saved the company,” Julia stated. But she also added that the reports of her father’s wealth are “greatly exaggerated in the press.” Whereas he’s referred to as a billionaire, she’s been called “some heinous term like ‘billionaire heiress,’” as she put it.
According to Julia, it’s wildly incorrect. Her father, “unfortunately,” was never a billionaire. “Far from it.” Julia finds it’s “unbelievable” because whatever she does, people just assume it’s true. “Welcome to the f***in’ Internet.” And all over the Internet, it is.
Forbes estimated his worth at around $4.6 billion in 2006. He was an avid art collector with a collection valued at $50 million dollars. leaving the bulk of the collection in a trust to benefit the educational programs of the Harlem Children’s Zone. William was also a poet and a lawyer.
But what Julia might not be fond of admitting is how much she herself has amassed over the years and through her remarkable career. It’s been estimated that she has a net worth of between $200 and $250 million in her own right.
When Julia was one, Judith and William divorced, and she doesn’t have a memory of them together. When she was five, her mother remarried a surgeon named Tom Bowles – a man she called “Daddy Tom.” “Daddy William” had remarried a year earlier. When Julia was seven, she moved with her mother to Sri Lanka for a year because Daddy Tom was working with Project HOPE, an international health care organization.
When they returned to the United States, the family settled down in Washington, D.C., where Julia was forced to learn to live in two very different worlds. In one world, she lived with her mom, Daddy Tom, and her two half-sisters, Amy and Lauren, during the weekdays. On weekends, however, she experienced her other world.
In that world, she visited Daddy William and his new family, which came to include two other half-sisters, Phoebe and Emma. William’s home was in Mount Kisco, New York. “The discrepancy was hard because I was straddling two universes,” Julia recalled.
Julia also remembers feeling “sort of ashamed” about her father’s wealth around her sisters Lauren and Amy (from Daddy Tom’s side), who only knew the kind of upper-middle-class lifestyle their dad and her mom were providing for them.
“I used to come home from Christmas and hide presents in the closet because I didn’t want them to see,” Julia later confessed. To Lauren and Amy, Julia’s biological father was “Daddy Warbucks,” Judith added. “We certainly were not poor people, but by contrast, there was a huge chasm.” It also didn’t help that she looked nothing like the family she spent most of her time with.
Julia described how her two sisters were “very blond and very gorgeous.” Julia admitted that she always felt that since they were so beautiful, “I didn’t fit in with them.” She noted that her dark and unruly curls were a source of angst growing up.
“I didn’t think of myself as Jewish growing up,” she stated, “except people always thought that I was because of my last name, so I kind of identified. But I did think of myself as the ugly duckling in the group.”
In her early days, Julia and her neighborhood friends formed a theater group of their own, and they called themselves the University Players. They would perform little plays and skits in Julia’s basement. In the group was her next-door neighbor, Margaret Edson, who took home the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1999 for her play Wit.
Edson gave a little glimpse into what it was like in their theater group. “We just lost ourselves in these improvised plays and the performances,” Edson said. She recalled a game they played called Town, which would be about all the people in the town. They would play these games for hours.
But it was really at the all-girls Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland, that Julia began to develop her passion for acting. She admitted that there were things she did in that school that she would have been less inclined to do if there had been boys in the classroom.
She was president of the honor society, and any play that was ever put on at Holton, Julia was a part of it. The school was also where she learned that making people laugh was something she truly loved to do.
There was one time – one “silly show” in fourth grade – when she was supposed to faint. “I was a queen, and it wasn’t meant to be funny, but I fainted, and everybody laughed, and I remember thinking, ‘I didn’t know why they laughed, but I liked how they laughed.'”
In 1979, she was attending Northwestern University in Chicago, and she immediately began auditioning for plays. She was cast in the “Mee-Ow Show,” which she described as “the comedy show on campus.” Julia realized just how much of a formative moment it was in her life.
She remembers thinking, “Oh, this feels like something huge.” And it was. After that, everything went in the right direction. After her work in the Mee-Ow Show, Julia was asked to join an upstart theater troupe founded by a dropout from her school named Brad Hall.
They called themselves the Practical Theatre Company, and the four-person group would put on a show called “The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee” in front of 150 people in Chicago’s Piper’s Alley (which was behind Second City). The show became popular quickly and word traveled to some important people out east.
Thanks to a recommendation from Tim Kazurinsky, who was a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live at the time, a producer named Dick Ebersol (before the Lorne Michaels years) took in performance and hired all four of the actors right there on the spot.
Julia was on cloud nine after landing a dream gig. It didn’t take long for her to drop out of college – after her junior year – and move to New York. It was there that she and her fellow actors discovered that the SNL dream wasn’t all it that it was cracked up to be.
Julia isn’t alone in telling the truth about what it’s really like to work on SNL. Many, like her, say that behind the scenes, it’s extremely competitive. To Julia, “It was a very dog-eat-dog environment.” She said she didn’t go in “armed with a bag of characters from which to pluck.”
The way she dealt with it was rather “naïvely,” with the idea that it would be ensemble work – that the writers would be writing for everyone. “But it was very political and very male-centric. Very.” Luckily for her, though, she had Brad with her.
Since their early days working together, she was smitten with him. “He was gorgeous,” she stated, saying that he looked like Björn Borg “or something.” She felt that he was the guy for her; she just didn’t tell anyone, fearing what they would say.
She was, after all, not even 20 yet at that point. After two years on the show together, Brad was let go. Julia felt even more isolated than before. There was a silver lining, though, and it came in the form of a man named Larry David.
Our dear friend Larry David was a comedy writer from the get-go. He and Julia developed a friendship, and one thing they bonded over was their misery. “He was as miserable as I was,” Julia said. “I’d hang out in his office and b**ch and moan.”
When Ebersol left SNL in 1985 – after her third season – and Lorne came back, Julia was left out. She was never invited back. You could say that it was another thing she complained about to Larry, but Julia didn’t hang around too long.
Soon enough, she and Brad headed to Los Angeles, hoping for a career in acting. There, she managed to get roles in pilots, but the shows went nowhere, and if they got made, they were short-lived.
In 1987, Julia and Brad married. A few years later, everything changed. Following the disappointment of a failed Warner Bros. development deal, Julia received a call from her agent. Just days after the letdown, her agent told her, “Larry David’s written this script with a comedian, Jerry Seinfeld…”
Her agent continued: “I hadn’t really heard of him. And they’re adding a girl.” He told her that the pilot was called The Seinfeld Chronicles. I think it’s safe to say that the call changed her life as we know it. Well, we know now that Seinfeld is one of the biggest sitcoms –if not THE biggest – ever made.
But, in the beginning, its successful future wasn’t such a given. You see, the pilot bombed, and the network was insistent that a woman needed to be added into the mix. And just like that, Elaine Benes was born.
Not many people know this, but Julia wasn’t their first choice. As it turns out, Larry and Jerry had already auditioned a number of female actresses. Believe it or not, women like Rosie O’Donnell, Patricia Heaton, and Megan Mullally all audited for the part of Elaine.
But once Julia came in to read for the role, the guys knew they had their Elaine. Ironically, it was Julia who wasn’t entirely sold on the character. She liked the unique sensibility of the character’s material, but something just wasn’t working for her.
“In two out of the four scripts, I had some kind of meaty stuff to do. In the other two, less so,” Julia recalled. “And this was coming off of developing my own thing, so I thought, Gee, I don’t know.” After what she felt was a so-so audition, Larry chased her into the parking lot.
He asked her what she thought, and she said that she still didn’t know. Despite her reservations over whether it was the right move, she signed on that weekend. “I had a feeling about Seinfeld like I had a feeling about ‘Mee-Ow,’ – that I’m sitting on top of a great treasure, and no one knows it.”
It didn’t happen overnight, but Seinfeld went on to become the treasure that Julia somehow knew it would be. The series ran for nine seasons and earned Julia her first Emmy. During her star-making period as Elaine, Julia and Brad had two sons: Henry, born in 1992, and Charlie, born in 1997.
Once Seinfeld wrapped in May of 1998, she took an extended break to spend some quality time with her kids. It was something she was missing terribly. She admitted: “I’d had a lot of anxiety about being a mother working outside the home, that I was missing things, that I needed to be with them and I wasn’t.”
Julia explained that she had a nursery on the set of Seinfeld, and she would take her boys with her to work. It turned out to be even worse that way, “because then you’re so split! I was racing between the stage and the nursery, I was breastfeeding and all that s**t.”
After her break from TV, she was ready to return to work. She first tried what turned out to be an ill-fated attempt at a comeback on NBC with the 2002 show Watching Ellie. It was created by her husband, but it only lasted two short seasons.
The failed series made it seem as though Julia might be falling into the so-called “Seinfeld Curse.” Luckily, though, she managed to bounce back with the 2006 CBS sitcom, The New Adventures of Old Christine, about a divorced mom who ran a gym and tried to make sense of her messy life.
“There was a lot to tap into there,” she explained, adding that she could relate to a mom character who was trying to keep her head above water. Julia loved working on that show, partly because it was “a very female point of view.”
The first season of The New Adventures of Old Christine earned Julia her second Emmy, but it was her first in the Lead Actress category. (With Seinfeld, she was in the Supporting category.) A fan of making people laugh, she used the stage as another opportunity.
She addressed the “Seinfeld Curse” with a sense of humor when she got up on stage to accept her award. She claimed, “I’m not somebody who really believes in curses, but curse this, baby!” Her show lasted five seasons until it wrapped in 2010.
The years went by, and before she knew it, her kids were ready to fly the coop. Henry is a musician in Los Angeles, and Charlie studies at Northwestern, playing on the basketball team. It was around this point that Julia landed her second star-reinforcing gig.
If Seinfeld made her TV royalty, then Veep – the funny and foul-mouthed HBO series – solidified her as a real comedy icon. She landed the gig by meeting creator Armando Iannucci in 2010. He learned that she was more than just funny.
Iannucci got to see just how much of a personal connection Julia had to the D.C.-set story of Vice President Selina Meyer. It wasn’t SO far off from her real life. After all, she grew up in the Beltway and lived her life in the public eye.
Iannucci told The Washington Post: “Knowing what it’s like going into a room, and people are looking at you, and you have to keep smiling even though you have a raging headache… Having to maintain that air of keeping your stuff together… it’s a comic instinct.”
It was clear to him that she was the one. And so, she landed the role, and Veep premiered in 2012. The show was an instant sensation. But Julia was still struggling with something. She explained: “When you have children, which is in so many ways a glorious endeavor, part of it is about constantly separating.”
She added: “Separation has been a theme in my life, something that I’ve really struggled with.” Her success with the show must have come as a welcomed distraction from those struggles, though. Julia earned yet another Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy.
Veep was a major success, but soon enough, the theme of separation would rear its head once again. During the 2016 Emmy weekend, her father passed away, and that whole Twitter embarrassment happened (even though it had nothing to do with Julia herself).
A year later, Julia was faced with another battle. But this time, it was of a whole other kind. One day after receiving another Emmy for Veep, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. (It seems as though many life-changing events occur around the Emmys, huh?) In September of 2017, she announced her diagnosis on Twitter.
In her Twitter post, she stated: “One in eight women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one. The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends and fantastic insurance through my union.”
“The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s fight all cancers and make universal healthcare a reality.” She did have to put up a fight, though, and it kept her from working on the final season of Veep right away. Because of this, she wasn’t nominated for anything in 2018.
Her treatment was more difficult than she expected. Veep showrunner David Mandel said how Julia would do chemo on Thursday and shoot on Friday. “And we were, like, ‘We’ll let her figure out that that’s not right.” Fortunately, Julia was able to announce a year later that she was cancer-free.
She shared the happy news in October of 2018 on an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! Now in remission, she gained a new perspective on life. “Having seen that edge…” as she put it, “I was a little more breezy before. I was a little…breezy.”
Just as Julia was about to return to Veep with full strength and new energy, she was forced into another separation. This time, from her half-sister Emma (William’s youngest daughter who was a social worker). Emma suffered a fatal seizure while on a camping trip.
She reportedly had alcohol and cocaine in her system. Since Julia didn’t comment on her family’s loss publicly, the tabloids went wild (as they usually do), speculating that the sisters were estranged. “It was out of the blue,” Julia told The New Yorker. “Given the fact that that heinous s**t came out, I would simply say I’ve kept this under wraps out of reverence for my dearest Emma.”
With Veep now over, it was another separation that Julia had to deal with. But then again, that’s life, isn’t it? With a clean bill of health, Julia has an open future. But chances are, she’s going to find another goldmine.
In 2020, she headlined the comedy-drama Downhill with Will Ferrell. She also voiced a suburban elf mother in Pixar’s Onward with Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. Aside from those projects, she signed a multi-year deal with Apple TV+ in which she’ll develop new projects as both an executive producer and star.
And now for some random fun facts…
One of Seinfeld’s show writers, Spike Feresten, told The Huffington Post that Larry David wasn’t a fan of the eighth season episode titled “The Little Kicks.” It was the one where Elaine dances – a story that Spike only approved after David left.
But he started having doubts in rehearsal. Writer-producer Jennifer Crittenden pulled him aside after Julia did the dance for the first time. She asked him: “Are you sure about this? Are you sure you’re not ruining Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s career?” He said, “No, I’m not.” But in the end, it turned out to be hilarious, and Julia won the Emmy that year.
As Selina Meyer on Veep, Julia used her high-fashion wardrobe to inform her character. She said that wearing that wig, those tight clothes, and those shoes “are nuts, it’s all very physically constraining.” She added it’s all part of the whole look, “and it feels right.”
She explained that the look “inform[s] the rage.” But Selina’s anger doesn’t reflect her own personal issues. “I don’t have a sh** ton of baggage,” she stated. “There’s not some grotesque, dark thing.”
Not too long ago, comedy legend Jerry Stiller died at 92. The actor was known for his role as George’s father, Frank Costanza, on Seinfeld. Recently, Julia and Jason Alexander reminisced about some of the funniest Stiller moments on Seinfeld.
The sitcom alums were fundraising for Direct Relief on Instagram Live. The two took the opportunity to go down memory lane and talk about Stiller and one of the most famous bloopers from the show. If you’re a fan, then you can probably guess which one it was…
The host of the Instagram Live show asked Julia and Jason: “Somebody wants to know, can you talk about filming the “You want a piece of me’ scene with Jerry Stiller?” At that point, the two actors started laughing. The scene in question involves Stiller, Julia, and Jason in a wildly popular blooper on YouTube.
To date, it’s racked up more than two million views. In the scene, the two just couldn’t keep it together with Stiller. Jason recalled that Stiller always knew his lines, yet he didn’t have confidence that he knew his lines.
According to Jason, it led to a lot of the “internal rage” of Frank, as well as his hilarious line readings. Julia then added that Stiller would make a funny gesture where he would look up to the sky, but that was him actually trying to remember his lines.
“From that first reading, it just gave us the giggles,” Jason said. “And you just… you couldn’t face off against him. I mean, there’s one take where you laugh. I fell off the bench I was sitting on.” Julia herself posted the clip on Instagram in tribute to Stiller, with the caption: “He was so funny and such a dear human being.” Serenity now.