In 1990, Julia Louis-Dreyfus first captured the hearts of American television viewers as Elaine Benes, the sardonic ex-girlfriend of Jerry Seinfeld with wacky dance moves and a terrible dating history.
In the nearly 30 years since, she has played other singletons with messy personal lives and voiced characters in a handful of animated films.
But her crowning achievement — and shot at Emmys history — is her turn as Selina Meyer, the hapless vice president-turned-president who sold out her friends and soul for power on HBO’s hit comedy “Veep.”
If Louis-Dreyfus wins the award for best actress in a comedy at Sunday’s gala in Los Angeles, it will be her seventh straight trophy for the role — a triumph for every season, breaking her own record for the most Emmys for one role.
And the 58-year-old actress will become the performer with the most individual Emmy wins at nine, eclipsing Cloris Leachman.
Industry pundits have named her the favorite, despite a crowded field that includes last year’s winner Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs Maisel”) and British threat Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”).
But as Variety’s Michael Schneider put it: “Those nominees may be amazing, but there’s only one Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
“This is the year she will become the bona fide record-holder for the most Emmys won by any performer in history — and it’s a feat that will likely remain for many years to come.”
– Comeback after cancer –
But the seventh season of “Veep” was briefly in doubt — just one day after winning her sixth Emmy for the show in 2017, her doctor called. The diagnosis: breast cancer.
“I howled with laughter, which turned into hysterical crying. I mean, it’s a blow. And an absurd one at that, given the timing,” she told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published last month.
The show was forced to go on hiatus while she underwent chemotherapy. It was not eligible for the 2018 Emmys, so its nine nominations this year are a return to form.
“To work together as a team to create something and try to be as funny and as authentic and as unusual as possible… that just restored my spirit. It was the absolute best,” she told the Times.
– New York, Chicago and Hollywood –
Louis-Dreyfus, the daughter of a billionaire businessman and a writer, was born on January 13, 1961. She grew up in New York and Washington, with stints abroad when her mother remarried.
She attended Northwestern University outside Chicago, where she performed with the Second City comedy troupe.
At age 21, she took a job at “Saturday Night Live” — but managed to finish her degree in 1983. She also met her husband Brad Hall at Northwestern.
It was the heyday of “SNL,” and she appeared alongside legends John Belushi and Eddie Murphy. But her life would change a few years later when she was cast on “Seinfeld.”
She did not appear in the pilot but joined the cast when NBC demanded that a female character be added.
Elaine provided a female perspective and foil for Seinfeld and his pals George and Kramer. Louis-Dreyfus played the character as arrogant and quirky but also vulnerable.
Louis-Dreyfus won her first Emmy for the role in 1996. A decade later, she won again for “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” on which she played a divorced mom starting over.
– ‘What a fun character’ –
Not long after that show wrapped, Louis-Dreyfus got what she calls her “best job” yet — Meyer, the crude, bumbling vice president with a staff that is equally as incompetent.
The show poked fun at the machinations of American politicians — and how often their plans go awry. As the show moved through the Obama era into the age of Trump, the satire hit even harder.
“She was miserable in the pilot episode and I’m sure she went to her grave completely miserable too. She lacked sympathy. She lacked empathy,” Louis-Dreyfus told the LA Times.
“Man, what a fun character to play.”
Louis-Dreyfus has taken on a handful of movie roles from Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986) to rom-com “Enough Said” alongside the late James Gandolfini in 2013.
Last year, she won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Her next major project is “Downhill,” a remake of the Swedish film “Force Majeure,” about the disintegration of a family on vacation after an avalanche. She co-stars with fellow SNL alum Will Ferrell.