And They’re Spectacular! 10 Actors on Their Memorable ‘Seinfeld’ Roles
The library cop, out to collect 20 years’ worth of overdue fees on Tropic of Cancer. The girlfriend with the “Jimmy Legs.” “No soup for you!” “They’re real, and they’re spectacular!” Seinfeld was lucky enough to have an all-star fantastic foursome at its center, but you can’t underestimate what the variety of supporting characters who orbited around Jerry and co.’s world brought to the mix. Some of the sitcom’s best-known lines and funniest moments came from recurring sidekicks, sweethearts and arch-villains, or from one-off performances that helped turn funny episodes into flat-out classics.
So we reached out to a handful of actors who played those memorable roles and asked them to talk about shooting the episodes, working with Seinfeld‘s stars, what these parts did for their careers…the whole yada yada. Here are nine performers who popped in for an episode (or six) and left an indelible mark on viewers’ memories — as well as a tenth participant who lent both his voice and his unique sensibility to the show.
Teri Hatcher (‘Sidra’)
I'd heard that both Larry and Jerry were fans of The Big Picture, this Christopher Guest movie I'd done, which is how they knew who I was. I remember being really nervous when I was at the table read for the episode. I also remember Jason Alexander telling me to relax, and that he said something along the lines of "People who've done this show as guest stars, it's been really lucky for them. Good things tend to happen." A week after I did the episode, I got Lois and Clark. So he wasn't wrong [laughs].
Larry may remember this differently, but in terms of the now-famous line…when you were taping in front of a live audience, Larry would feed you lines. He'd say "Okay, go through the door, turn this way, and say this." I remember that being one of the lines he fed me when, after I'd said it, it just stuck. I don't think it was the original script; I'm pretty sure he just came up with it on the spot. Larry David deserves all the credit for the joke working so wonderfully. Well, Larry and Mother Nature, I guess [laughs].
I was with my daughter up in Boston a few weeks ago, and we were at a restaurant. We had our meal and as we were leaving, the maitre'd told us to have a nice day "because the weather is real and spectacular!" I was like "It is a beautiful day, isn't it, and…oh, right! I see what you did there!" [Laughs] I've been a Bond girl, I did Lois and Clark, I did Desperate Wives, but I swear to you, those five words will probably be what ends up on my tombstone. "Teri Hatcher: She Was a Great Mom, and They're Real and They're Spectacular!"
Bryan Cranston (‘Tim Whatley’)
"We had to stop filming a number of times, because Jerry could not stop laughing at a variety of different takes. I remember one of the episodes, Jerry meets a young woman at a party Whatley was throwing, and in some lights, she looks pretty, and in others lights…not so pretty at all [laughs]. So there's a part where she walks out and I'd go 'Oooh,' and sort of whistle and grimace…and he'd crack up every single time. Larry would go [in Larry David voice] 'Don't weaken the look, Cranston! Jerry, stop laughing! Stop laughing already!' [Laughs] When that's the reason you have to postpone shooting, you know, it's a pretty good day, I'd say."
"I had a big crush on Julia Louis-Dreyfus…when I saw the script for "The Labelmaker," I remember thinking, Oh, so I have to make out with her? Hmmm…[laughs]. The night that we shot that, she was terribly sick, and she kept apologizing, knowing full well that I would get her cold. Which I did…but my god, it was worth it!"
"There's the episode where we have Jerry go under for surgery…you know, the tucked or untucked shirt? So we rehearsed the scene, everybody goes off to work on something else, and I stay on the dentist office set…I just want to get more familiar for the environment, you know? So I'm sitting there by myself, and suddenly I hear this voice: 'You know what would be funny?' I look around and I don't see anybody…then I spot this ladder, and there's a guy up on top of it, adjusting a light. I said, 'Are you talking to me?' He goes 'Yeah, you know what would be funny? When you ask for the nitrous oxide, before you give it to Jerry, take a hit of it first.' I just looked at him incredulously, and I'm thinking, this is some guy on a ladder telling me what's funny…and he's absolutely right!"
"So when we do the dress rehearsal, I ask the nurse for the nitrous, she hands it to me and I [makes loud inhaling noise], and react like I just took a giant bong hit…and then I went to put it on Jerry, he wasn't there, because he was bent over laughing. He just lost it [laughs]. Keep in mind that Larry David, even when he thinks something is hilarious, the usual reaction you get is [in Larry David voice] 'Yeah, great, very funny, wonderful. That's fine. Wait two seconds before you say the next line.' He's like a doctor when it comes to comedy. And I look over, and Larry is smiling wide. He says, 'Oh yeah, that's good…we're going to keep that!' I say, 'Tell that guy, he gave it to me.' Every head turns and looks at this lighting guy, who just sort of shrugs his shoulders. But it taught me that a good idea can come from anywhere. It doesn't matter where, just know it when you hear it and then use it. [Pause] Also, I made Larry David smile. I can die a happy man."
Steven Hytner (‘Kenny Bania’)
"I read for three or four different roles before getting Kenny Bania. The character description just said 'the most annoying guy in the world,' and I remember thinking, 'I don't really have a feel for this guy.' I remember hearing other people auditioning, and that's when it hit me: What if he's not annoying for the sake of of it, what if he just so desperately wants to be Jerry's friend that he comes off annoying? So I made him an upbeat annoying guy. That seemed to make all the difference in the world. Jerry [Seinfeld] and Larry [David] were in the room and, as soon as I started doing that character, they just exploded in laughter. It was a relief."
"The tapings of the show were like rock concerts back then. Jerry would do 10 to 15 minutes of stand-up, right up front. There would be a band playing in between scenes. When we were going to do the taping, it hit me that I was going to do this insanely broad character on the Number One show in the world. You don't want to bomb on the Number One show doing something way too big. Jerry kept saying, 'Please just trust it. It's going to be awesome.' I think that one of my first lines was, 'Yeah, I'm huge!' — and the audience just exploded. I'll always remember Jerry sitting in the booth at the diner and him looking up at me with this look on his eyes like 'I told you so.'"
"I feel lucky and blessed to have been a part of Seinfeld. Out of everyone from the show, I've kept in touch most with Patrick Warburton, who played Puddy, the most. When we did the final episode, he took out an ad in Variety, saying he wanted to thank NBC, Castle Rock [Entertainment], Jerry, Larry and everyone associated with one of the most amazing experiences he could have ever had. 'I wish I could have taken out a full-page article,' he wrote, 'but I'm sure it's better than what that cheapskate Hytner did.' And he was right [laughs]."
Wayne Knight (‘Newman’)
"I remember when we were going into the last week, and David Hume Kennerly came to photograph backstage – he had been the photographer for Clinton, Nixon, presidents – and he's up in the rafters, shooting from the side as I'm preparing to make my last entrance as Newman. You realize just the magnitude of what you found yourself in. I remember shooting the finale and thinking, that it was the last chance. You're stepping into the batter's box, and you're trying to hit a home run. Backstage, when you were waiting to go on, there was Play-Doh and gum that people had made into figurines and statues on the back of the refrigerator on the set. I remember looking at that and rolling a little ball into a period, and sticking it on there prior to my final entrance, like, 'This is the end.' It was an amazing time."
"Over the years, I've gotten pretty used to people coming up to me and saying, 'Hello, Newman.' My wife is not necessarily thrilled by it. But I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that people are happy to see me, they appreciate what I've done. I think the important thing for me to remember is how fortunate I've been in terms of being part of iconic things. Jurassic Park was one of them. Seinfeld was one of them. And even looking up Sharon Stone's dress in Basic Instinct is one of them. They're iconic moments where you are part of something that enters the zeitgeist. I consider myself very lucky and whatever my resentments are over being famous, they're minuscule compared to my gratitude for being part of something really good."
Brenda Strong (‘Sue Ellen Mischke’)
"Obviously, Jerry had a long line of girlfriends on Seinfeld; I didn't want to be one of Jerry's girlfriends, as those are generally a one-off. That's why I loved it when the writers came up with Sue Ellen, because she always was looking for an opportunity to win with Elaine. She was Elaine's personal Lex Luthor."
"When I auditioned for the role, I was so happy when I got into the room, because they were really emphasizing the class of this woman. At one point, I remember saying, 'So how tall is Julia?' And you could just see Jerry and Larry David's eyes light up, because they realized that the character of Elaine would be just around bra height, because I'm tall and Julia was obviously not as tall as I am. So the physical comedic aspect of the proximity of my breasts to her face weren't lost on any of them."
"People always assume Sue Ellen was in the final episode, but she wasn't. Only the characters that had been wronged by Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer came back for the finale. But Sue Ellen was never a victim, she was always the perpetrator. She became the parallel to the OJ Simpson trial, so there was this kind of meta-moment where life and art reflect each other. I've had a couple times where I've walked down the street and someone will yell out their car window: 'Sue Ellen'. I've had firemen ask me to sign bras for their wives."
Sarah Silverman (‘Emily With the Jimmy Legs’)
"Getting the role on Seinfeld was huge for me. After my audition, they left a message on my machine saying 'You got it.' I just sat there in disbelief, I was so happy. The episode was shot without an audience. We shot a scene with Kramer and me in bed, first. I was nervous and instead of saying, 'It's probably the wind,' I said, 'It's probably the rain.' Michael Richards yelled at me, 'Do you see rain in that window?!' I was mortified."
"The next day we shot a scene at Monk's Diner, and, before we started, Michael was telling me how he's looking at houses and having trouble deciding on the one. I looked at him and said, 'I don't give a shit about your stupid house.' After that, we were friends."
Philip Baker Hall (‘Lt. Bookman’)
"It's funny, Lt. Bookman was one of the last roles I ever auditioned for, simply because so many doors opened up after I did the show. I remember that Jerry had a hard time keeping a straight face during the reading. Usually, when you read for things, no one lets on too much, even if they like you. But people were fighting to control their laughter, so when I called my wife afterward, I told her 'There's no such thing as a sure thing…but I'm pretty sure I got this part [laughs].'"
They had said they wanted him to be a blunt, hard-spoken guy…a Raymond Chandler detective type. I wasn't exactly sure what they were after at first — hell, I don't think they knew either, it was going to be a 'we'll know it when we see it' thing. But they knew I was a theater actor primarily, and that I'd bring some of the gravitas and the swagger that you associate with theater actors to the role, you know? As soon as I we started filming it and the whole rat-a-tat-tat thing with the dialogue happened, there was this collective 'that's it!' feeling behind the cameras. Jerry certainly liked it; he was incredibly supportive and really generous, I have to say."
"It's been over 20 years since we shot that episode, and I still can't go out in public for very long before someone says 'My god, it's Bookman!' Or: 'Are you Bookman? I returned that library book, I swear!' [Laughs] It's not just in New York or L.A.; it's happened in a mall in the Midwest or even other countries where they air the show. The guy made an impression."
Keith Hernandez (‘Keith Hernandez’)
"My former baseball agent Scott Boras called me and said 'Look, I just got a phone call from the Seinfeld show…they want to know if you're interested in a role.' I had just retired, I didn't want to be an actor, so I asked him what it would entail. He said 'You'll have a few lines, and they'll fly you first class to L.A.' I said 'OK, well, how much are they gonna pay?' Scott told me and I said 'OK, I'll do it.'"
"They FedExed me the script, and I saw I had lots of lines. I thought 'Holy shit, I'm can't do this!' So I kind of got a head start on it, because I was mortified. I memorized everybody's lines in every scene I was in. I knew when they were going to speak, when it was my turn, all that. I was really nervous before we shot in front of the live audience, and Jerry turns to me and went 'What the hell are you nervous for? You play in front of 50,000 people.' And I said 'Well, I don’t have to memorize lines when I'm playing in front of them.'"
"I guess they liked it, because they used it during sweeps. But after I was done, [executive producer] George Shapiro told me they had written in an extra subplot just in case I was unsatisfactory. It was George going for unemployment benefits, the whole 'Vandelay Industries' thing. So, with those scenes, it turned into an hour-long show. If I was bad, it was only going to be a half-hour."
Larry Thomas (‘The Soup Nazi’)
"I had the mustache already. I hadn't shaved in a couple days, and I got the phone call: There's a character named the Soup Nazi and they want a Middle Eastern accent, and there's nothing on paper other than that. So I went home, and the first thing I did was take my videotape of Lawrence of Arabia and pop it in there and listen to Omar Sharif talk to get the accent.I had an old Army shirt and some green pants and a beret, and I got dressed up like that for the audition; I looked like Saddam Hussein."
"Then I just ad-libbed what I thought the Soup Nazi might be like. I was trading ideas with a comedian friend of mine, and came up with 'You, small fry, get to the end of the line. No soup!' I really liked the 'No soup!' thing. So I went in for the audition, and there were a couple other guys dressed in aprons and t-shirts, and I thought, 'Oh god, it's either gonna go one way or the other.' There were actually three scenes written when I auditioned, and sure enough, in the very first scene, the character says 'No soup for you!' I thought, 'That's a coincidence.'"
"During the callback, Jerry was laughing so hard. But later, he asked 'Why are you playing the character so mean? Maybe lighten up, give him some hills and valleys.' So I tried it that way — and Jerry didn't laugh at all. After I got that part, I showed up for the taping and Jerry approached me: 'Forget about the direction I gave you. Do what you did when you came in. The meaner, the funnier.' For a guy with that kind of power to be as open to something other than his own ideas, that's really rare."
"I couldn't be more surprised to this day about the Soup Nazi's popularity. At the table read, the character everyone was really laughing at was Yul Vasquez as the armoire thief. He had all of them on the floor, including me, so I thought he was going to be the real breakout character. People say to me 'How come you don't mind saying "No soup for you" or being called a Soup Nazi?' They think it's some sort of magical thing about my attitude; it's not. The Soup Nazi is a lot cooler than I am. It's not like Urkel, where it might be embarrassing for you to be doing it years later. The Soup Nazi has held up on such a hip level. Everybody still loves it."
Larry David (‘George Steinbrenner’)
“After we wrote the [Steinbrenner] character, I was just talking about it with Jerry. And he said, ‘Well, what is this character? What does this character sound like?’ And I did the voice that I did on the show, and Jerry goes, ‘Well, you should do it.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ You know, it was no big deal. But we always knew that we would only see him from the back. In fact, I think we changed the guy who did it — I don’t think anybody knows that [laughs].” (For our complete Larry David interview, click here.)
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