‘Seinfeld’: Bryan Cranston, Teri Hatcher, ‘Newman’ on Memorable Roles – Rolling Stone
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And They’re Spectacular! 10 Actors on Their Memorable ‘Seinfeld’ Roles

Bryan Cranston, Teri Hatcher and ‘Newman’ himself weigh in on their unforgettable turns on the groundbreaking sitcom

larry david Seinfeld

Kramer, George, Elaine, Jerry

Andrew Eccles/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Image

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.

NBC

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." 

Castle Rock Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection

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."

Courtesy Everett Collection

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."

David Hume Kennerly/ Getty Images

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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