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10 Quick Questions for Jason Alexander

Tony-winning actor makes his Broadway directorial debut

spinner image jason alexander against blue and white ombre background
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Rebecca J Michelson)

Seinfeld alum Jason Alexander, 63, recently made his Broadway directing debut with The Cottage, a comedy inspired by the works of Noël Coward that runs through Oct. 29. “What’s amazing about Broadway is you have access to bigger and better talents and tools, but you also have an audience that goes, ‘Hey, this is Broadway,’ so their expectations are very high,” Alexander says. He shares whether he has any Broadway superstitions, how he spends his downtime and what he thinks George Costanza would be up to today.

Note: This interview was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike was announced on July 14.

Do you remember the first Broadway show you ever saw?

I kind of do, but I may remember it more because of my response to it. Wisely or not, [my parents] took me when I was either 4 or 5 years old to see Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. The story goes that — it’s a little bit of an optimistic choice to take a child that young to the theater and expect them to behave — I was rapt and just amazed and focused on what was happening. Apparently I was going to be an avid theatergoer even if I didn’t wind up working in the theater.

Do you have any Broadway superstitions?

spinner image cover that says the cottage, a comedy behind closed doors; several people popping out of house from all sides and top
Alexander recently made his Broadway directing debut with “The Cottage,” a comedy about sex, betrayal and desire.
Illustration: JJ Harrison

I don’t. But what I’ve learned in my nearly 50 years in the theater is you respect all of them, because somebody else really does have that superstition. I adhere to all of them. You don’t whistle backstage. You don’t mention the Scottish play [Macbeth] when you’re in the theater. There was one superstition that I almost broke because I didn’t even know this one, which is you don’t stage the bows [the actors take at the end of the play] until you get to the theater. I was going to stage it in the rehearsal space, and two people went, “No, no, no, no, you can’t do that. I’m aware of most of them, but apparently not all of them.

Do you find filming for TV easier than acting for live theater?

It depends on what kind of television you’re talking about, because … to me, Seinfeld was always a piece of theater. We had a live audience, we had four cameras, the cameras conformed to us. There was not a lot of, “Hey, hit your marks or play this line into this camera” kind of thing the way there is on a film. We kind of did it as a stage play, and the cameras just captured it. … A comedy only becomes truly, truly fun when there’s somebody [there] to laugh.

We recently interviewed Julia Louis-Dreyfus and asked her what her Seinfeld character, Elaine, would be doing now. What would George be up to in 2023?

Well, I saw Julia’s answer, and I think she’s probably right. I think the four of them [Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer] probably have learned nothing, and they kept making mistakes in jail, and they’re probably still incarcerated. … I hope that they have carved a lovely life out for themselves, but I have no idea how they would deal with 2023.

What could be more 2023 than having a podcast. What’s the impetus behind yours [Really? No, Really?]?

My partner on the show, Peter Tilden, who is one of my best friends, always thought it was funny that when I heard something that didn’t quite click with me or like if someone cut me off in traffic — instead of yelling obscenities, I would go, “Really? No, really?” He would tell me things that he had heard in the news or whatever about strange things and I’d go, “Really? No, really?” He thought, that’s a great show — with the sense of humor that he and I share — to explore things that are just puzzlers to us, from the mundane to the bigger issues of our day. We said, “Let’s not be political. Let’s try to be uplifting. Let’s try to have fun, but let’s actually find stuff out that intrigues us.” The shows often start off sounding like very small, silly things, but they always seem to balloon into bigger issues that are worthy of taking a look at.

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When you’re not working, what keeps you busy?

Life has gotten good. About 10 years ago, I got into ceramics, making pottery. About a year ago, I actually went from being part of a communal studio to putting a studio in my own garage. If I’ve got nothing but downtime, I’m back there making silly things with clay. The [COVID-19] pandemic has taught me how much I love being with my wife, being with my sons, being with my family, being with my little inner circle of friends, not having to do a damn thing. Just sitting in a room together, maybe playing a game, having a meal. I do an awful lot of benefits [and] charitable work when I can. That takes up a bunch of time. There are always projects to be developed that take up time. And the best is I have a 9-month-old grandson. Every minute that we can, we’re just drinking him in. He’s just the light of the world right now.

Any plans to sell your pottery?

No, I don’t think I’d sell. It’s all functional. It’s all vases and cups and plates. It’s not art in and of itself. I have so much of it lying around. When anybody comes over and they go, “Oh, I love that,” I go, “Take it!” I don't know where to put it anymore.

How does it feel working in your 60s compared to your younger days?

It’s a little bit of a pu pu platter. I understand more things about life, about myself, about relationships, about how I’d like to explore and comport myself in the world. A lot of the fears and doubts that color the way you behave as a young person — even into your 20s, 30s, even sometimes 40s — you get onto the other side of understanding what that was in your life, and you become sort of free of it. [Free] to make new choices and to become someone that works better for yourself in the world. That only comes with age and experience, and it’s true in my work. It’s true in my personal life. It’s true in all my relationships. That’s a great thing.

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Have you run into any physical “age” limitations in your work?

Physically, am I able to do what I was doing years ago? Hell no. If I had to be a song-and-dance man right now, that would cost my body a lot more than it used to. … The barometer I use [is]: During tech rehearsals, it is very typical to jump up onto the stage from the theater. And then when you’re not needed on the stage, you jump off the stage into the theater. Those stages are about 4 feet up from the ground where the audience is. Well, cavalierly, all my professional life, I’d hop up, I’d jump off, I’d hop up, I’d jump off. About five years ago, I was standing on a stage and they said, “OK, we’re on a break.” I went to the edge of the stage, and something in my brain went, Don’t jump. Don’t jump. Your knees are not gonna like this. I don’t know what that little human instinct is to go, You really shouldn’t do this, but I’m certainly glad it kicked in. Although it’s very sad. I used to like hopping up and jumping.

Are there any other work-related projects on your to-do list?

I thank God and Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld [that] I don’t need to work anymore. I’ve been working professionally since I was 14 years old. So now … it’s because a piece of material, or to work with certain people, or to have an experience — that’s what calls me to go to work. One of the other great joys of my life is I’ve been teaching actors for about 20 years now. It is thrilling and rewarding, and I love it.

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