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An interview with Jason Alexander

Jason Alexander is known to TV audiences around the world, of course, as George Costanza on Seinfeld, a role which garnered him six Emmy and four Golden Globe nominations, an American Television Award and two American Comedy Awards. He's also appeared in numerous films like Pretty Woman, in TV commercials, and in Broadway musicals where he won a Tony for his role in Jerome Robbins' Broadway. He also starred alongside Martin Short in the acclaimed L.A. production of The Producers. More recently, he's been directing things like Sam Shepard's God of Hell as well as his own newly-adapted rendition of Damn Yankees for the Los Angeles Reprise Theater Company, where he serves as Artistic Director. Jason is also a spokesman for OneVoice, an organization committed to promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Through his interest in giving back to the community, I had the good fortune of interviewing him after he spoke at a gala fund raising event for a charity I'm involved with. (You may recall our recent effort to eradicate hunger here in Los Angeles.) He was, as he always is, blunt and hilarious. Please feel free to drop a comment at the end of the interview telling us your all-time favorite Jason Alexander moment.

DI: You're a man of many talents: actor, stand-up comedian, musical theater star, magician, poker player. Which do you enjoy the most?

JA: You left out: writer, director, martial artist and sex symbol. Now here's my favorite "“ father.

DI: You've worked with some of the greats of stage and screen (big and small). From Jerry Robbins to Jerry Seinfeld, from Julia Louis-Dreyfus to Julia Roberts. Who's been the most influential?

JA: Best director I've ever had "“ Joe Mantello (Love, Valor, Compassion); Best teacher "“Larry Moss. The word genius gets thrown around a lot. I've only met two in my line of work "“Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins. They think like no other people I know. I understand more from knowing them. I am a better person because of what they have given the world.

DI: The name on your birth certificate is Jay Scott Greenspan. Okay: we get Jason from Jay S but what about Alexander? Where'd that come from?

JA: Alexander the Great, clearly. Okay, I lied. I thought I would be Jason Scott, but when I went to register in the union with that name, it was taken with every possible spelling "“ including Jaisin Skot. Feeling badly about not using my family name, I made a snap decision to take my dad's first name as my last one for the stage. Hence "“ Jason Alexander.

DI: If you could have lunch with anyone deceased, who would it be?

JA: Mahatma Gandhi. First, he was always fasting so I doubt it would be a big bill if I had to pick up the check. Second, I want to know how so much wisdom, courage and strength could reside in a single soul. If the Mahatma couldn't make it, I'd take Ben Kingsley for an hour "“ but he's not dead.

seinfeld-cast-getty-5203121DI: What's your favorite beverage?

JA: Diet Coke. Never been a better beverage on the planet. They shouldn't touch it "“ don't mess with it. It's perfect. I'm not losing weight, but I don't blame the soda.

DI: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

JA: I wanted to be a magician. I worked at it very studiously. A few years ago, I started performing at the Magic Castle. I won an award given by fellow magicians. It meant almost as much as an Oscar. I assume"¦ I don't actually have an Oscar.

DI: Who's your idol?

JA: I don't believe in idols. Isn't that the first commandment? But one of my heroes is TJ Leyden "“ a reformed neo-Nazi skinhead who has risked his life teaching young people the subversive, destructive power of hate and the redemptive and miraculous power of decency, education, responsibility and love. I have done the foreword for his book Skinhead Confessions: From Hate to Hope and I consider him a good friend. I also adore men like Daniel Lubetsky of the OneVoice organization who has dedicated his life to empowering moderate populations to take control of their own journeys to peace. He is a constant inspiration.

DI: Do you miss the days when you could hold an album jacket in your hands and page through the liner notes or are MP3s just as good?

JA: I don't get nutty over packaging "“ only over content.

DI: What's one of your favorite novels?

JA: I adore Richard Bach's Illusions "“ The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. I read it every year on my birthday. It is a remarkable way to look at life. I've been trying to turn it into a stage musical for years. I must imagine it done sometime. (Read the book, you'll understand.)

DI: What's your favorite junk food?

JA: Double Stuf Oreos. Fantastic with Diet Coke.

DI: Dodgers or Angels? (Or should we ask: Yankees or Mets?)

JA: Honestly? I could care less. My uncle, Jack Simon, directed the Met, Knick and Ranger games while I was growing up. The Mets are in my blood. George worked for the Yankees, but Jason cheered for the Mets.

DI: Who's your favorite Saturday Night Live player of all time?

JA: That's hard because there have been so many great players and so diverse a range of comedy. But I have to say that I consistently laughed out loud over and over watching Billy Crystal. I thought he was brilliant. And when I hosted, Adam Sandler broke me up, live on the air.

DI: You were born in Newark, N.J. Many other notables hail from Newark, including Brian De Palma, Allen Ginsberg, Whitney Houston, Jerry Lewis, Shaquille O'Neal, Philip Roth, and Paul Simon. Is there something in the water there?

JA: I don't remember much about Newark, but I can assure you the dominant beverage is not water.

Picture 3DI: Did you have a bar mitzvah? If so, what do you remember most?

JA: I was bar mitzvahed in a conservative"“leaning to Orthodox temple. I had a mega bar mitzvah. A three-hour service that was about 2.5 hours of me. I remember we couldn't have a band at the reception, so I sang with my friend, Brian Clark. And boy, did we make money!

DI: You've done lots of TV commercials for different types of products. Which is your favorite?

JA: I did a spot for Western Union that ran on and off for eight years. It will put my kid through college. I'd consider that a personal favorite.

DI: What memento did you take with you from the Seinfeld set?

JA: I've got lots of George clothes. I've got the George glasses. And I've got two final scripts signed by EVERYBODY! I'm not a big collector. Mostly, I have nine years of great memories and more laughs than I know what to do with.

DI: When you hear someone call out the name George, do you ever think they're talking to you?

JA: I used to. But after I turned around all smug-like a few times to discover they were calling someone named George, I learned my lesson.

DI: Any guilty pleasure television on your TiVO?

JA: Nothing that's total crap. It's hard to make me laugh out loud. Family Guy does it every time. They're genius.

DI: Anything you wish we'd have asked?

JA: When will they remake Fiddler on the Roof with me? I don't know, but my mom is 88 "“ they better hurry.

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20 Character Actors Who Make Everything They’re in Better
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If the main character in your movie is a straitlaced do-gooder, or really, blandly relatable in any way, you’re going to need some eccentric figures to bring some spice to the party. More than mere sidekicks, these characters either make the world they inhabit feel dangerous and chaotic or bring order to insanity by sheer force of personality. They’re characters that make your ears perk just as the movie starts to lose you.

Character actors are tasked with making movies more interesting, but only the best of them succeed. So here are 20 ultra-talented stars who never fail to make good films great, great films classic, and terrible films almost watchable.

1. PETER STORMARE

Peter Stormare in 'American Gods'
Jan Thijs, Starz Entertainment/FremantleMedia North America

Thank Fargo for this one. Peter Stormare’s magic stems from his range, which runs from Genuinely Kind to Terrifyingly Aggressive. You might expect him to play a growling bad guy every role, but his comic timing and humane sensitivity allow him to play everything from an unlicensed eye doctor in Minority Report to multiple voices on children’s shows to an incompetent nihilist kidnapper in The Big Lebowski.

2. OCTAVIA SPENCER

Octavia Spencer in 'Hidden Figures' (2016)
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Octavia Spencer is a world-class actor and producer with the hardware to prove it (including an Oscar, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe). She’s a dynamite talent who offers a Herculean amount of support to everyone she shares scenes with. It’s possible that her trademark is a wry, knowing sense of humor, but she’s not that easily pinned down or pigeonholed, mightily subverting expectations in genre work like Snowpiercer and gut-wrenching dramas like Fruitvale Station.

3. SCOOT MCNAIRY

Scoot McNairy in 'Halt and Catch Fire'
Eric Ogden, AMC

Possessing leading man looks and chops with a character actor’s transformative ability, Scoot McNairy is a deft craftsman who brings meek powder keg Gordon Clark to life on Halt and Catch Fire as well as embodying slimy slave trader Brown in 12 Years a Slave and amateurish holdup man Frankie in the crime drama Killing Them Softly.

4. TILDA SWINTON

Tilda Swinton in 'Only Lovers Left Alive' (2013)
Sandro Kopp, Sony Pictures Classics

Some character actors are in the hall of fame, some have won awards, but Tilda Swinton is on (and possibly from) another planet. She can more than hold her own as a leading performer, delivering searing portrayals in We Need to Talk About Kevin and deathly mystery in The Only Lovers Left Alive. But it’s her bizarre character work that most endures, like having your brain smacked with a rainbow baseball bat. From her toothy despot in Snowpiercer to her thousand-year-old dowager in The Grand Budapest Hotel to her wintry witch in The Chronicles of Narnia to a dozen other deeply strange performances, Swinton is playing a totally different game than everyone else. If Hollywood ever makes a David Bowie biopic, they know who to hire.

5. OLIVER PLATT

Oliver Platt in FX's 'Fargo'
Chris Large, FX Networks

An actor’s actor, Oliver Platt never seems content to play the same role twice, yet he has the peerless ability to make it feel as if we’ve known a character our whole lives. That bone-deep familiarity is a quality that comes from another level of acting talent. Even if he’s only in one scene, Platt never phones it in. He’s never less than fantastic. Whether droll and off-the-cuff or stridently severe, you get the feeling that Platt is in it for the pure, unbridled love of acting.

6. ANN DOWD

Ann Dowd plays Aunt Lydia in 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

This Emmy-winning, 30-year veteran is in five movies coming out this year alone. That’s on top of a busy slate of guest starring roles on TV shows where she almost always becomes the best thing about the episode. She just finished up a remarkable run as the dead-eyed, chain-smoking Patti in The Leftovers, but her reign of matronly terror as Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale has only just begun.

7. GIANCARLO ESPOSITO

Giancarlo Esposito in 'Breaking Bad'
Michele K. Short, AMC/Sony Pictures Television

To offer some perspective on Giancarlo Esposito’s genius: he recently did a single episode of Westworld where he delivered a fiery monologue that shook a character to the core, and the creators of Westworld almost definitely hired him because they knew he’d deliver a fiery monologue that would shake an entire audience to its core. Best known as Gus Fring on Breaking Bad (and Better Call Saul), Esposito has appeared in more than 75 movies and a list of TV episodes no one has time to count (though it's worth a reminder that he played Big Bird's camp counselor on Sesame Street). Unfailingly charismatic, Esposito is a modern marvel who, over four decades of acting, has never failed to astound.

8. CARRIE COON

Carrie Coon stars in HBO's 'The Leftovers'
HBO

Carrie Coon’s acting talent is so outstanding that she often commanded entire sequences in The Leftovers without interacting with anyone else. Her character was marked by isolation, and you could wind up not remembering to blink while watching her complete even the most mundane of tasks with a seemingly infinite pool of sorrow. She brought that concentration of anxiety to Gone Girl, where she played the sister of Ben Affleck’s character, and, most recently, to the third season of the Fargo TV series.

9. MICHAEL STULHBARG

Michael Stuhlbarg in 'A Serious Man' (2009)
Focus Features

Last year, in addition to his starring role in the third season of Fargo, Michael Stulhbarg was in three Best Picture nominees—The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post—where he played pivotal roles as a modest Soviet spy, a father with a barn-burning monologue of compassionate acceptance, and a cosmopolitan newspaper editor, respectively. Three in one year. That’s incredible, but easy to believe when it comes to a talent like Stuhlbarg, who combines a workmanlike consistency and a stage actor’s perfectionism to create everymen who, far from being boring, are each singularly memorable.

10. MARGO MARTINDALE

Margo Martindale in 'The Americans'
FX Networks

The one. The only. Margo Martindale is so transcendent that BoJack Horseman features a character called “Beloved Character Actress Margo Martindale” (which is voiced by Martindale). Perhaps the most famous character actor currently working, she brings a maternal energy to even her craziest characters, which probably makes them seem even crazier. She also excels in roles that exude a sense of cool confidence, which helps if you’re handling soviet spies on The Americans or leading a weed-dealing family on Justified.

11. WALTON GOGGINS

Walton Goggins in FX's 'Justified'
FX Networks

Speaking of Justified: Walton Goggins earned an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of gritty-yet-charming criminal Boyd Crowder on the show, but he deserves so many more awards (though it's worth noting that he did win an Oscar in 2002, when The Accountant—a short film he produced and starred in—was named Best Live-Action Short Film). He’s got a flare for playing wild-eyed thugs and weirdos blissfully lacking self-awareness, but the scummy majesty he offers isn’t solely used for black hats. Goggins popping up randomly in movies and TV shows is always a delight because he’s a hell of an actor who seems to have time traveled here from the Wild West.

12. CCH POUNDER

CCH Pounder in 'NCIS: New Orleans'
CBS

CCH Pounder’s niche is serious professionals in police stations and emergency rooms, but she’s also brought steely playfulness to the neighborhood witch Madame Dorothea in the Mortal Instruments franchise. She’s consistently fantastic, drawing on years of expertise, natural magnetism, and an amazing number of starring and guest-starring roles on TV.

13. STEPHEN ROOT

Stephen Root in 'Idiotsitter' (2014)
Comedy Central

Stephen Root has portrayed so many outlandish characters that it’s shocking when he turns up in a movie in khakis and a Polo shirt. There are no limits on his range, and you can take your pick from a metric ton of favorites: Office Space, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Dodgeball, Idiocracy, King of the Hill, NewsRadio, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Get Out are just a few. In his TV career, he’s been in over 700 episodes and continues to elevate his game. This is legendary character actor status here.

14. ALLISON JANNEY

Allison Janney in 'I, Tonya' (2017)
Neon

West Wing fans have known about Allison Janney’s ability to command a room either with charm, severity, or by doing "The Jackal" since the late 1990s. But she solidified her place in the Character Actor Hall of Fame with her Oscar-winning turn as Tonya Harding’s abusive, bird enthusiast mother in I, Tonya. With a comic edge that echoes vaudeville (see: Hairspray) and a scary intensity when things get serious, Janney excels in any role you lay at her feet.

15. PAT HEALY

Pat Healy in 'The Innkeepers' (2011)
Magnolia Pictures

Often portraying the disturbing or the disturbed, Pat Healy is willing to push extremes of manic glee while staying grounded. He most notably shines through the grit in Cheap Thrills as the downtrodden mechanic Craig who performs increasingly violent and degrading stunts for a bigger pot of money. He also menaced Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker by phone in Compliance and was menaced by ghosts in The Innkeepers.

16. MICHELLE HURST

Michelle Hurst in 'Orange Is the New Black'
Netflix

If you’re a fan of Law & Order and its 1000 spinoffs, you’ve seen (and likely marveled at) Michelle Hurst a dozen times. She possesses a sharp ferocity, as proven by her portrayal of the acerbic Miss Claudette on the first season of Orange is the New Black. She was sidelined after a 2013 car accident, but she’s back this year in a supporting role in the romantic comedy Permission, so hopefully casting directors will take of this criminally underused powerhouse.

17. MICHAEL PEÑA

Michael Peña in 'CHIPS' (2017)
Peter Iovino, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

If you only know Michael Peña as the fast-talking goof in Ant-Man, you’d be forgiven for not realizing the dangerous dramatic work he has done since Crash. He’s the rare talent who’s at the top of his game whether trying to make us laugh, cry, or wrestle with difficult truths. How else can you explain him stealing scenes in Marvel’s miniature superhero film a year after transforming wholesale into Cesar Chavez for a biopic of the civil rights activist?

18. KATHRYN HAHN

Kathryn Hahn in 'Happyish'
Showtime

Kathryn Hahn has been outshining her leading counterparts for years, but Bad Moms really gave her room to run. She absolutely has the skills to heighten the drama in movies like Revolutionary Road and This Is Where I Leave You, but the sweet spot of her talent is in finding humor by playing an exaggerated version of our funny best friend. Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight proved Hahn could shoulder a starring role, but it’s great that she has found her stride as the bar-hopping, sexually adventurous single mother ripping through stereotypes in a budding Bad Moms franchise and continues to command the screen in ensembles.

19. KEITH DAVID

Keith David and Parker Young in 'Enlisted'
Adam Taylor, Fox

This Juilliard graduate got his cinematic start with The Thing and Platoon, then went on to lend his unmistakable, Emmy-worthy voice and stature to a slew of harrowing dramas. But Keith David’s secret weapon is his comic perfection as an exasperated authority figure on display in There’s Something About Mary, Rick and Morty, the short-lived-but-brilliant Enlisted, and later seasons of Community. You can count on the Tony winner for acting perfection on screen or on stage.

20. BETH GRANT

Drew Barrymore and Beth Grant in 'Donnie Darko' (2001)
Newmarket Films

If you need an actor to play a religious zealot or snappy rule-enforcer, Beth Grant is your first and last phone call. She’s the consummate stick in the mud, crafting figures who scold and harangue the main character for having even the tiniest bit of fun. We often love to hate the characters she portrays in movies like Donnie Darko and No Country for Old Men (not to mention her regular role on The Mindy Project), but she always transforms flat antagonists into fully realized humans by carving out space for sympathy.

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10 Fun Facts About Grauman's Chinese Theatre
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Grauman's Chinese Theatre is one of the world's most famous cinemas, and one of Los Angeles's best-known tourist traps. With the handprints, footprints, and signatures of Hollywood's biggest stars peppered across the forecourt of the theater—and everyone from Spider-man to SpongeBob standing by ready to pose for a photo with you—tourists can't really help themselves. But there's more to this theater than meets the eye. Here are 10 things you might not know about the world-famous cinema, which opened its doors on May 18, 1927.

1. IT WAS THE LAST OF SID GRAUMAN'S THEATERS TO BE BUILT.

It may (arguably) be the most well-known of Sid Grauman's theaters, but it was the last one to be built. After Grauman was unsuccessful at gold mining during the Klondike days, he decided to open up a chain of theaters in Alaska and Northern California before setting his sights on Los Angeles. The Million Dollar Theatre (which actually cost $800,000 to build, not $1 million) opened in 1918 and the Egyptian Theater opened in 1922. Hollywood quickly caught on to Grauman's movie theater vision and started booking his establishments for high-profile events. In fact, the first-ever film premiere, for an adaptation of Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks, was held at the Egyptian the same year it opened. Grauman built the first two to appeal to the public, and once they were successful, he was able to build a theater in the style that he personally really wanted to see, and that ended up being the Chinese Theatre.

2. IT GOT ITS FIRST NAME CHANGE IN 1973.

If you're sitting there thinking to yourself, "Wait, wasn't it Mann's Chinese Theatre?" Well, you're right—it was. Ted Mann purchased the theater in 1973 (nearly 25 years after Sid Grauman's death) and renamed the historic landmark. He even had a wax likeness of his wife, actress Rhonda Fleming, created to sit in a chair in the middle of all the Chinese wax figures that stood in the lobby. They divorced in 2001, which was the year before Mann declared bankruptcy and sold the theater to Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures. Though it reverted to its original name in 2001, that changed yet again in 2013, when the TCL Corporation, a Chinese television manufacturer, purchased the naming rights to the theater, which is now officially known as TCL Chinese Theatre (though no one will mind—or argue—if you still call it Grauman's).

3. THE FIRST FOOTPRINT WAS SUPPOSEDLY NORMA TALMADGE'S.

The story of how the idea to immortalize celebs in cement came about has been told in many a brochure about the place, though it may not necessarily be true. The story is that Norma Talmadge, a friend of Grauman's, stepped out of her car to check out Sid's new digs. The cement was still wet, and a light bulb went off in old Grauman's head. But the theater owner himself later said that yes, it was an accident—but that it was he, not Talmadge, was the one who stepped into the fresh sludge. The first "official" signature in the forecourt was Mary Pickford's. Mary and her then-husband Douglas Fairbanks were the theater's co-owners.

4. THE INSIDE OF THE THEATER IS DECORATED WITH PIECES HAND-SELECTED BY GRAUMAN HIMSELF.

The inside of the theater is decorated with authentic treasures hand-selected from China by Sid Grauman himself, but one of the things that draws the most attention is the Chinese wax figures. They were once considered to be so lifelike that people would actually try to talk to them, then turn away in embarrassment when their lack of response tipped the inquisitive conversationalist off to the fact that they were just wax. It used to be good luck for actors and film execs to come to the theater and touch the wax people for good luck before embarking upon a new project.

5. IF YOU EVER GET THE CHANCE TO PRESS YOUR PALMS INTO THE CEMENT AT GRAUMAN'S, DON'T BE AFRAID TO GET CREATIVE.

Marilyn Monroe's handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre
iStock

Should you ever get the chance to press your palms into cement at Grauman's, feel free to think outside of the box and include more than just your hands, feet, and signature. Whoopi Goldberg pressed a dreadlock into the cement; Betty Grable did an imprint of her leg; George Burns left his cigar print; and John Wayne left his fist. Marilyn Monroe dotted the "I" in her name with a rhinestone but some souvenir-hunter chipped it out of the cement.

6. NOT ALL OF THE IMMORTALIZED NAMES ARE FAMILIAR ONES (AT LEAST NOT TODAY).

You might find a few unfamiliar names in the cement: Charles Nelson, the Talent Quest winner, for one. But there's also former Yahoo! chairman and CEO Terry Semel; Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck; and opera singers Lauritz Melchior and Ezio Pinza. Any of the other unfamiliar names are probably older actors. Rosa Grauman is the only person in the forecourt with her own square who has nothing to do with the entertainment industry except for the fact that she gave birth to Sid. Also vying for the best son title: actor Donald O'Connor, who had his mom write her name in his square right next to his.

7. ONCE A SLAB OF CEMENT HAS BEEN SIGNED, IT STAYS IN THE FORECOURT FOREVER.

Once a slab of cement has been signed, it stays there. Yes, even the guy who won Talent Quest in 1949; Though he ended up more like Ruben Studdard than Carrie Underwood, and could probably be removed without anyone protesting too much, he's still there today.

8. IT'S BEEN THE SITE OF A NUMBER OF MAJOR MOVIE PREMIERES.

Movies that premiered at Grauman's include A Farewell to Arms, The King and I, Shane, Giant, West Side Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mary Poppins, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Hello Dolly, Jungle Book, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Star Wars—and the hits keep coming. More recent premieres have included Solo: A Star Wars Story, Avengers: Infinity War, Call Me By Your Name, and It.

9. IT'S ALSO HOSTED THE OSCARS.

The theater has been home to Hollywood's biggest night on a few occasions; from 1944 to 1946, Grauman's Chinese Theatre was home to the Academy Awards.

10. THE EXTERIOR ARCHITECTURE HAS CHANGED A BIT OVER THE YEARS.

Right now, it's simply the theater and the forecourt. But there used to be marquees on either side of the pagoda-esque building announcing what movie was playing and who was starring in it. And at one point, a Cinemascope sign stood directly in the view of the pagoda. There also used to be a small ticket booth right in the middle, because the theater was (and still is) a real, working theater—not just a showcase for premieres and galas. It's gone now as well.

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