If there were to be a spinoff with your character in it, what would it be called?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: There will be no spinoff. But it would be called "This Wretched Old Hag." In which she drinks herself into a stupor. It could be quite comedic.
Michael Richards: There wouldn't be. But I know they'd love to say "Kramer." Like "Frasier." It's unthinkable, although I see him more as a "Kung Fu" character, just a guy who's wandering. Wandering about the countryside.
Jason Alexander: Jerry always said it would be called "This Poor Man." I don't think any of us would ever be stupid enough to do that.
Jerry Seinfeld: "Just Shoot Me."
Wednesday, April 1st, Afternoon
On that last Wednesday, April 8th, the newspapers confidently proclaimed that the final Seinfeld scene would be shot that night, behind closed doors, after the audience had gone home. They were wrong. The final scene of Seinfeld was slipped without fuss into the schedule one afternoon seven days earlier.
I watch them rehearse the scene for the first time. Afterward, Larry David walks up to them but doesn't say anything.
"Speak now," says Seinfeld.
"No, no, no," mutters David. "I have nothing."
Though they show no sense of realizing how appropriate this is, while the camera moves are being blocked, Seinfeld and David sit to the side of the set, reminiscing about their early days playing in New York comedy clubs.
"It was twenty-five-dollars a night," says Seinfeld. "Fifty dollars, the weekend. You went out, and you did not come back the same person. You were scarred. You were the audience's plaything. There was nothing too hostile you could say to them, or the opposite. It's like a lion-taming act gone bad. They're so much stronger than you."
"Once they worked up a head of steam," says David, "forget it." A long pause. "You think once you've had an experience like that, there's nothing you can ever be afraid of again." A half-smile. "And then you need to ask a woman for a phone number, and it doesn't make any difference. It's just as frightening."
"If we could be back there ..." sighs Seinfeld. He sounds nostalgic. "That's how the whole thing started. That we were there then."
"Where?" says David.
"That we were in those clubs," says Seinfeld.
"Yeah," says David.
A pause. Seinfeld laughs. "Perhaps that's stating the obvious."
They watch the final shot on the monitors, with their stand-ins in their places.
"That's great," says Seinfeld, watching quietly.
"Great," says Louis-Dreyfus.
Larry David shrugs. "That's the series."
They stand there in silence for a moment.
"I'm going to get a piece of gum or something," says Louis-Dreyfus, absent-mindedly.
Now they have to act it themselves. Before his final scene, Seinfeld examines his mouth in a mirror and goes to work with an orange toothpick. They take their places. Jason Alexander looks down at his shoes. "They made it," he says. "Six out of nine years."
It is the fourth take that is the good one.
"That was the take, wasn't it?" says Seinfeld. "All right. Call the museum."
"No hugging, no learning," says Shapiro, who has been watching, repeating David's famous statement of Seinfeld's fundamental attitude.
Seinfeld smiles brightly. "I didn't learn anything."
But it isn't over, even then. After the director has shot a few related shots, it is decided that the actors can do the final scene better. Richards rises from the floor, where his legs have been stretched out almost 180 degrees apart, his head bent forward onto the ground between them. Seinfeld shaves on the set with a small electric razor, and they take their places once more. "Let's bang it out," says Louis-Dreyfus. The fifth take is no good. After the sixth, Seinfeld says, "That's as well as I can do it," and Louis-Dreyfus says. "We've got it – let's move on." But they are overruled. The seventh take isn't perfect. After the eighth, Larry David simply says, "thank you."
I can't tell you much, but I can tell you this: In the days during the filming of this episode, Seinfeld's obsession with the number nine was revealed, via a magazine article, to the public. (Nine seasons, for instance. Stage Nine. And this show is, of course, scheduled to be filmed for nine days.) What was not revealed was how, on the evening of April 2nd, the believer began to doubt his own superstition. That night he was talking to a friend, and they wondered whether, if they picked any number and looked for a similar number of correspondences, they would find them. Seinfeld tried the number four. Hey, presto. "Four actors... Channel Four... the initial run was four episodes ..." Etcetera. "And all of a sudden," he realizes, "you're ruining the whole thing."
Friday, April 10th, Afternoon
It is 3 P.M. when Jerry Seinfeld meets me for lunch at an unpretentious cafe called Hugo's on Santa Monica Boulevard. "What can you eat now and still eat at six?" he asks the waiter, and plumps for the chutney-chicken salad. He is trying to decompress. This morning he did a photo shoot. Yesterday he took a walk with a friend in Mandeville Canyon. Tonight his sister is coming for dinner. Sunday he must work on scripts for commercials to promote the HBO special. "I'm still waiting for that free space," he says.
Seinfeld draws up at the restaurant in a blue '58 Porsche Speedster convertible. It has been printed that Seinfeld owns sixty cars. He would like the world to know that this is not true. That would be excessive. He has only twenty-five Porsches. And one Mercedes. ("I feel so much more well-adjusted now," he says, having made this clear.) But he loves his cars. One day I hear him explaining that he watched a particular movie – Love and Death on Long Island – only because it had a 1959 356 Porsche Speedster in it. "I saw it in the trailer," he explains.
ME: There is no possible sane reason to have that many cars though, is there?
Seinfeld: No, not at all – that's exactly the point.
Me: The point being?
Seinfeld: It's insane. You have to have some container to put your madness in life – to keep it out of your life, you've got to put it somewhere. You've got to do something with it. Otherwise you're going to do it to yourself.
Me: So, for you, it's in cars?
Seinfeld: Yeah. I let myself go there. In that area I'm allowed to do anything I want.
Me: So where do you advise poorer people to put the equivalent madness?
Seinfeld: Um, model Porsches. The little ones. It's not a matter of money. It's just a matter of being irrational.
This is the thing. When Jerry Seinfeld steps into one of those Porsches, he imagines himself as the person who owns that car as his only car, back when the car was made, living the life that that person lived. Driving down Santa Monica Boulevard this afternoon, he was imagining that it was 1958 and he was living someplace warm, driving his car: "When you're in a 1958 car, you can easily pretend it's 1958. That's what old cars do – they enable you to travel through time. Everything around you is from 1958. I imagine that that's all I have, and I need this car to get around. A car is a lifeline. Everyone needs their car. If you have a car, it's because you need one. Generally. And I like the fantasy of life that that car fits into."
We talk about his cars; we talk about his hair.
Me: Have you kept the same haircut through the Nineties out of loyalty to the character or because it's a haircut that works?
Seinfeld: Yeah, I thought that it would give the show consistency. Same with the clothes. I haven't had time to shop, but I could use some new clothes. And I could use a haircut. I was thinking of getting, like, a buzz cut.
Me: Yes, because your haircut is of an era now. I don't know if that's good or bad.
Seinfeld: It's probably bad. I mean, I just don't like it on my face. I'm always pushing it away.
Me: I think the interesting bit is where it curves out below the ear. It's some kind of statement, though I can't deconstruct it.
Seinfeld: [Nods, saying nothing]
This haircut banter riles him a little bit. At the end of the interview, when his publicist comes over, Seinfeld asks, "Do you think my haircut's of an era? He thinks it's of an era. I thought it was timeless. I thought it was classic and timeless. His haircut is of an era." He turns to me. "You're going to hate pictures of yourself in ten years' time."
I pick up the check.
"Well, thank you," he says. "Unless you're just paying for your part ..."
Saturday, April 11th
On the morning of April 9th, the newspapers – which have managed to glean nothing of the show's substance – report what they have been told. Seinfeld is over.
Yes. Nearly. Though if one were standing around Stage Seventeen early on Saturday morning, one could have reasonably wondered whether this was true. The cover story had been put around that Seinfeld is shooting something for American Express. He is not. And why would Richards and Alexander also be here? (Louis-Dreyfus is not required.) A couple of days earlier, Seinfeld thought up another scene that might, in its strange way, act as a perfect epilogue to the "final" scene. "I just wanted this little piece of film," he says. "It just had to do with tone, that the last note is the right note." There is a good chance they won't use it. "But I just want to have it, in case."
Seinfeld beckons to me. There's something about him. He looks different. In some strange way he looks... better.
"I gave it a little trim," he says, pointing to his hair. "Am I more in my era now?" Indeed he is. "You know what I wanted to mention to you about that? It's the Einstein principle – he wore the exact same clothes every day because it enabled him to focus on his work. And I subscribe to that. I wore the same clothes, and certainly never thought about my haircut. But now I have time to think about it. It's better, isn't it? It's more of my time. I feel more in my era now." He explains to a co-worker, pointing at me: "He said my hair was of its time. Which I think is an insult. So I had a little trim, so I could be more of this time."
They shoot the scene. Seinfeld acts out his part of it several times, working on the dialogue in between. Then Alexander and Richards do their bit. They only do it once.
"Is that it?" Seinfeld asks, uncertainly.
"One more?" suggests Alexander, wryly.
"Ladies and gentlemen," says Andy Ackerman, "that was our last shot on Seinfeld."
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