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An interview with Jason Alexander

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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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8 Gonzo Facts About Hunter S. Thompson
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Hunter S. Thompson in Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
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Like any real-life legend, there are many myths surrounding the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson. But in Thompson’s case, most of those stories—particularly the more outlandish ones—are absolutely true. The founder of the “Gonzo journalism” movement is one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. In celebration of what would have been his 80th birthday, here are some things you might not have known about the eccentric writer.

1. HE WAS NAMED AFTER A FAMOUS SCOTTISH SURGEON.

Hunter S. Thompson was reportedly named after one of his mother’s ancestors, a Scottish surgeon named Nigel John Hunter. But Hunter wasn't just your run-of-the-mill surgeon. In a 2004 interview with the Independent, Thompson brought along a copy of The Reluctant Surgeon, a Biography of Nigel John Hunter, a biography of his namesake, which read: "A gruff Scotsman, Hunter has been described as the most important naturalist between Aristotle and Darwin, the Shakespeare of medicine and the greatest man the British ever produced. He was the first to trace the lymphatic system. He performed the first human artificial insemination. He was the greatest collector of anatomical specimens in history. He prescribed the orthopaedic shoe that allowed Lord Byron to walk."

When pressed about what that description had to do with him, Thompson responded: "Well, I guess that might be the secret of my survival. Good genes."

2. HE MISSED HIS HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION … BECAUSE HE WAS IN JAIL.

Just a few weeks before he was set to graduate from high school, at the age of 17, Thompson was charged as an accessory to robbery and sentenced to 60 days in jail. 

“One night Ralston Steenrod, who was in the Athenaeum with Hunter, was driving, and Hunter and another guy he knew were in the car,” Thompson’s childhood friend Neville Blakemore recalled of the incident. “As they were driv­ing through Cherokee Park, the other guy said, ‘Stop. I want to bum a ciga­rette from that car.’ People used to go park and neck at this spot. And the guy got out and apparently went back and mugged them. The guy who was mugged got their license number and traced the car, and within a very short time they were all three arrested.

“Just before this Hunter had been blamed for a nighttime gas-station rob­bery,” Blakemore added, “and before that he and some friends got arrested for buying booze under­age at Abe's Liquor Store on Frankfort Avenue by the tracks. So Hunter had a record, and he was already on probation. He was given an ultimatum: jail or the military. And Hunter took the Air Force. He didn't graduate with his class.”

3. IT WAS A FELLOW JOURNALIST WHO COINED THE TERM “GONZO.”

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While covering the 1968 New Hampshire primary, Thompson met fellow writer and editor Bill Carodoso, editor of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, which is where Thompson first heard him use the word “Gonzo.” “It meant sort of ‘crazy’ or ‘off-the-wall,’” Thompson said in Anita Thompson’s Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S. Thompson. Two years later, in June 1970, Thompson wrote an article for Scanlan’s Monthly entitled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which became a game-changing moment in journalism because of its offbeat, slightly manic style that was written with first-person subjectivity.

Among the many fellow journalists who praised Thompson for the piece was Cardoso, who sent a letter to Thompson that “said something like, ‘Forget all the sh*t you’ve been writing, this is it; this is pure Gonzo.’ Gonzo. Yeah, of course. That’s what I was doing all the time. Of course, I might be crazy.” Thompson ran with the word, and would use it himself for the first time a year later, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

4. HE TYPED OUT FAMOUS NOVELS TO LEARN THE ART OF WRITING.

In order to get the “feel” of being a writer, Thompson used to retype his favorite novels in full. “[H]is true model and hero was F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker. “He used to type out pages from The Great Gatsby, just to get the feeling, he said, of what it was like to write that way, and Fitzgerald’s novel was continually on his mind while he was working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was published, after a prolonged and agonizing compositional nightmare, in 1972.”

"If you type out somebody's work, you learn a lot about it,” Thompson told Charlie Rose in 1997. “Amazingly it's like music. And from typing out parts of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald—these were writers that were very big in my life and the lives of the people around me—so yeah, I wanted to learn from the best I guess."

5. HE RAN FOR SHERIFF IN COLORADO.

In 1970, Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado on what he called the Freak Power ticket. Among his political tactics: shaving his head so that he could refer to his opponent as his “long-haired opponent,” promising to eat mescaline while on duty, and campaigning to rename Aspen “Fat City” to deter "greed heads, land-rapers, and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name 'Aspen.'" Unfortunately, he lost.

6. HE STOLE A MEMENTO FROM ERNEST HEMINGWAY.

In 1964, three years after Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at his cabin in Ketchum, Idaho, Thompson traveled to the late author’s home in order to write “What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?” While there, according to his widow, Hunter “got caught up in the moment” and took “a big pair of elk horns over the front door.” Last year, more than a decade after Thompson’s death, Anita returned the antlers to the Hemingway family—which is something she and Hunter had always planned to do. “They were warm and kind of tickled … they were so open and grateful, there was no weirdness,” Anita said.

7. HE ONCE USED THE INSIDE OF MUSICIAN JOHN OATES’ COLORADO CABIN AS HIS PERSONAL PARKING SPACE.

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Earlier this month, musician John Oates—the latter half of Hall & Oates—shared a story about his ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado, just outside of Aspen, which is currently on the market for $6 million. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio, Oates recalled how when he first purchased the cabin, there was a red convertible parked inside. “I happened to ask the real estate agent who owned the convertible, and he said ‘your neighbor Hunter Thompson,’” Oates said. “Why is he keeping his car in a piece of property he doesn’t own? The real estate agent looked at me and said ‘It’s Woody Creek, you’ll figure this out. It’s a different kind of place.’” After sending several letters to his neighbor to retrieve his vehicle, Oates took matters into his own hands and deposited the car on Thompson’s lawn. Oates said that the two became friends, but never mentioned the incident.

8. AT HIS FUNERAL, HIS ASHES WERE SHOT OUT OF A CANNON.

On February 20, 2005—at the age of 67—Thompson committed suicide. But Thompson wasn’t about to leave this world quietly. In August of that year, in accordance with his wishes, Thompson's ashes were shot into the air from a cannon while fireworks filled the sky.

“He loved explosions," his widow, Anita, told ESPN, which wrote that, “The private celebration included actors Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, rock bands, blowup dolls and plenty of liquor to honor Thompson, who killed himself six months ago at the age of 67.”

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15 Memorable Quotes from George A. Romero
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Hollywood has lost one of its most iconic horror innovators with the death of George A. Romero, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 77. “He died peacefully in his sleep, following a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer, and leaves behind a loving family, many friends, and a filmmaking legacy that has endured, and will continue to endure, the test of time,” his manager, Chris Roe, said in a statement.

Though he rose to prominence as the master of zombie flicks, beginning with Night of the Living Dead, Romero honed his filmmaking skills on a far less frightening set: shooting bits for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

“I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made,” Romero once said. “What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.” (Rogers returned the favor by being a longtime champion of Romero’s work—and even called Dawn of the Dead “a lot of fun.”)

It’s that high-spirited sense of fun that made Romero’s work so iconic—and kept the New York City native busy for nearly 50 years. To celebrate his life and career, here are 15 of his most memorable quotes on everything from the humanity of zombies to the horror of Hollywood producers.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A SENSE OF HUMOR

“For a Catholic kid in parochial school, the only way to survive the beatings—by classmates, not the nuns—was to be the funny guy.”

ON THE HOLLYWOOD WAY

“If I fail, the film industry writes me off as another statistic. If I succeed, they pay me a million bucks to fly out to Hollywood and fart.”

ON BEING PIGEONHOLED

“As a filmmaker you get typecast just as much as an actor does, so I'm trapped in a genre that I love, but I'm trapped in it!”

ON ZOMBIES AS A METAPHOR

“I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.”

ON FINDING OBJECTIVITY AS A FILMMAKER

“There are so many factors when you think of your own films. You think of the people you worked on it with, and somehow forget the movie. You can't forgive the movie for a long time. It takes a few years to look at it with any objectivity and forgive its flaws.”

ON THE REAL VALUE OF THE INTERNET

“What the Internet's value is that you have access to information but you also have access to every lunatic that's out there that wants to throw up a blog.”

ON THE HORROR OF DEALING WITH PRODUCERS

“I'll never get sick of zombies. I just get sick of producers.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION

“Collaborate, don’t dictate.”

ON THE BEAUTY OF LOW-BUDGET MOVIEMAKING

“I don't think you need to spend $40 million to be creepy. The best horror films are the ones that are much less endowed.”

ON HUMANS BEING THE REAL VILLAINS

“My zombies will never take over the world because I need the humans. The humans are the ones I dislike the most, and they're where the trouble really lies.”

ON BEING IMMUNE TO TRENDS

“Somehow I've been able to keep standing and stay in my little corner and do my little stuff and I'm not particularly affected by trends or I'm not dying to make a 3-D movie or anything like that. I'm just sort of happy to still be around.”

ON THE HUMANITY OF HORROR

“My stories are about humans and how they react, or fail to react, or react stupidly. I'm pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies. I try to respect and sympathize with the zombies as much as possible.”

ON THE ENDURING APPEAL OF HORROR

“If one horror film hits, everyone says, 'Let's go make a horror film.' It's the genre that never dies.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SURROUNDING ZOMBIES WITH STUPID PEOPLE

“A zombie film is not fun without a bunch of stupid people running around and observing how they fail to handle the situation.”

ON LIFE AFTER DEATH

“I'm like my zombies. I won't stay dead!”

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