The Biggest Stars on TV #7: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

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What makes Julia Louis-Dreyfus special?

We could mimic Kent Davison (Gary Cole), the statistic-obsessed campaign strategist on her HBO comedy Veep, and crunch numbers. Like, she’s earned more Emmy and SAG statuettes (11 and nine, respectively) than any of her peers. She holds the record for most consecutive Emmy wins (six, all for Veep).

She’s had not one but two career-defining roles: Seinfeld‘s neurotic Elaine Benes from 1990 to 1998 and Veep‘s uncouth politico Selina Meyer from 2012 to 2019. The stats are endless, but like a frustrated Selina might bark at Kent, “Bleep it with the mother-bleeping counting.”

In truth, there’s no measurable accolade as impressive as Louis-Dreyfus’s other triumph: becoming America’s Sweetheart by playing two of the least likable women ever onscreen.

Elaine Benes on Seinfeld (Joey Delvalle/NBCU Photo Bank)

We can try to dissect it, attributing it to talent in the way Alfred Hitchcock confessed to always casting the better actor as the villain (think: Anthony Perkins in Psycho). He felt audiences were unconsciously drawn to natural performers — so we enjoy Elaine’s uninhibited anger at bad dates, slow taxis, and girls who won’t spare a square.

Selina is more complicated: a bad mom, terrible boss, and worse civil servant. She’s mean — a comedic spin on how ladies in politics must “man up” and a satire on how publicly successful women are portrayed as privately evil jackasses. When we guffaw at Selina’s well-timed rage or ineptitude, we’re also mocking that. And it’s great.

But Louis-Dreyfus’s personality is also part of her spell. She radiates strength: In 2017, she won her Best Actress Emmy knowing that the next day she’d receive the results of a breast cancer biopsy — and keeping mum so her Veep castmates and crew could enjoy the night (she’s now in remission).

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the ass, but she’s all class.

This is an abbreviated version of TV Guide Magazine’s latest cover story. For more, pick up the issue, on newsstands now.