Award-winning actor and director Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza on the iconic television series Seinfeld, spoke to a packed room of Emerson College Los Angeles students, alumni, and friends on December 4.
Moderated by radio and television personality Tanya Hart, “An Evening with Jason Alexander” featured the veteran actor dishing on acting, directing, and navigating the entertainment industry. Naturally, the evening began with Alexander discussing his most famous role.
“George Costanza began as a blatant Woody Allen interpretation,” said Alexander, who struggled with the hapless character initially, but found his way after discovering that Costanza was based on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David.
Jason Alexander discusses his career with Tanya Hart at Emerson College Los Angeles.
Alexander says that the Seinfeld set was an “amazingly funny place to work,” yet a sitcom today could never succeed in the same way because the “show about nothing” struggled well into its third season. In an age of instant gratification where old-school sitcoms are struggling to find success, letting a show limp to its third season nowadays is inconceivable.
“The network hated our show because no one was watching,” said Alexander. “The writing on Seinfeld was unusual for its time. We would go off on these tangential riffs that had nothing to do with the story.”
Though he is most famous for Seinfeld, Alexander never thought he would be in comedy. Theater was his first love and what he pursued in the ’80s, starring in productions of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, Kander and Ebb’s The Rink, Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound, and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, for which he won a Tony Award for Best Musical Actor. To this day, live theater is Alexander’s preferred medium “because it’s you and me.”
“The only thing that TV can give you is the ability to play on a larger canvas,” said Alexander. “You can get a laugh by lifting an eyebrow, which you can’t get on stage.”
Jason Alexander says one role he might like to play in the future is Sweeney Todd.
When asked for advice about acting in drama and comedy, Alexander said the difference is in the technique and technicalities. An actor’s technique, the process by which you make your choices, doesn’t change, no matter the genre. The technicalities, he says, do change.
These days, Alexander says he would prefer to be behind the camera rather than in front of it. Having directed episodes for a variety of TV series and two feature-length films, Alexander is looking to work more as a director, recently signing with Abrams Artists Agency for representation as a director.
“I feel more engaged as a director than I do as an actor,” said Alexander. “There’s more to deal with. It’s problem solving in a way that, as an actor, you don’t have to do.”
Jason Alexander, Tanya Hart, and ELA Vice President and Founding Director Kevin Bright '76.
At the end of the evening, when asked for career advice, Alexander encouraged students and alumni to create.
“Don’t wait for a job,” said Alexander. “Make them. Tell them.”
Among the alumni in the audience heeding Alexander’s advice was Francis Escuadro ’09, a developer for an entertainment startup.
“The discussion about his career and craft was awesome,” said Escuadro.
For Assistant Professor Suzanne Feller-Otto, listening to Alexander talk brought back fond memories.
“I watch the show every night,” said Feller-Otto, who worked as a set designer on Seinfeld for five seasons. “It was the best job of my life and I’m thrilled to be here to support Emerson and Jason.”