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.
DI: 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.
DI: 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.