A conversation between friends and acting legends Julia Louis-Dreyfus & Succession star J. Smith-Cameron. Watch You Hurt My Feelings now available on demand!
Topics covered include: Nicole Holofcener’s genius, the vulnerability of writing a book, June brides, parenting adult children, Julia and J.’s mutual love of YHMF/Succession co-stars Jeannie Berlin and Arian Moayed, Gerri’s best moments that didn’t make the final cut of Succession S4, alternate endings, baby men, J.’s internalized bias against celebrities, not being able to log in to Uber, hyphenated last names, the potential for a Veep/Succession mashup, wanting to ride exquisite trains, learning Antonin Scalia was a Veep fan, keeping cherished pieces from Selina Meyer’s wardrobe, wishing she could re-do Elaine's signature hair, and slow-reading The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson.
J. Smith-Cameron: So now we have to do our intro.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Hi, this is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and I'm here with...
J. Smith: J. Smith Cameron, and we are talking on the A24 podcast.
Julia: We are, about seemingly nothing.
J. Smith: Just like Seinfeld.
Julia: It's just like Seinfeld. [Laughs] Hi, J.
J. Smith: Hi.
Julia: Where are you?
J. Smith: I am in... We have a house in the Springs in the Hamptons. Julia, I have to say, first off, that I saw You Hurt My Feelings last night in a theater—
J. Smith: I opened the link, Kenny and I were looking forward to watching it, and then we saw it was playing in Sag Harbor, and it was, I don't know when I've seen a movie in a theater that wasn't a screening. I don't know when I've been in a movie theater and bought a ticket and got popcorn. You know what I mean? It was so fun. It was so great. What a great movie.
Julia: Thank you so much. Oh, I'm so touched that you went to the theater.
J. Smith: Oh my God. Well, of course, that's a preferable way to see anything, right?
Julia: Yeah, totally.
J. Smith: But you were so great. You were so funny, but also you were so moving. I thought you were just great.
Julia: J, that's high praise coming from you. I'm very, very complimented to say the least. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
J. Smith: Oh my god, it was so specific and real, like painfully real, and it was just great.
Julia: Well, you're married to a writer, so you know the dynamic, and Nicole Holofcener pitched me—Do you know Nicole?
J. Smith: I know of... My friend Katie is a close friend of hers. That's it. I don't really know—I don't think I've ever met her.
Julia: Okay. Well, first of all, you need to work with Nicole Holofcener because you are built for her material.
J. Smith: I would love—
Julia: Oh, yeah, totally. I'm going to tell her we had this conversation as soon as this podcast is finished. [Laughs] But before she'd written it, she pitched me this idea of a writer in a long, successful marriage whose husband's opinion she relies upon wholly and completely. And he's been so supportive of her work and loves her new book and tells her over and over again, only for her to overhear him saying to someone else that he really can't stand it. And when she pitched me that, just that concept, my jaw was on the ground, because I think, I don't know, as an artist, it really is gutting, the idea that somebody you trust wholly and completely, their opinion about your work, that all of a sudden it’s not to be trusted is really a devastating—
J. Smith: Absolutely. Also, just how we might have developed a tougher hide about critics or colleagues, or, you always know that there's a fine mix of appreciation but possibly envy from peers and all that stuff in the mix. But there's one or two people that you're just so utterly sensitive to what they think.
J. Smith: There's just a few people that—it's hard for other people to relate to, maybe? I don’t know if it is. To write a book, I mean, not that I've written a book, but it's just such a vulnerable thing, putting out everything you thought in your brain as if it could hold someone's attention for hundreds of pages. It's a bold, kind of brave thing, and it's so hard. I mean, there's such a thin skin at some level that it's—that movie hit that exactly.
J. Smith: You know what I mean?
Julia: Yeah. It really did. And the other thing too, I think, is that it certainly explores people's connection to their work and their self-worth and that dynamic and what that's all about. Who are we minus our work?
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: How long have you and Kenny been married?
J. Smith: This month it will be 23 years.
Julia: Wow. Okay.
J. Smith: It's pretty long.
Julia: Pretty long.
J. Smith: How about you guys?
Julia: This month it will be 36 years. I know.
J. Smith: That's really an achievement because you're not that old.
Julia: Yeah, I know. It's weird because I'm only 35, so it is—
J. Smith: So you married—
J. Smith: Child bride.
Julia: In utero.
J. Smith: In utero.
J. Smith: It's amazing how many marriages are like that, that we don't realize.
Julia: Yeah, I know. Hey, what's your anniversary?
J. Smith: The 26th.
Julia: Oh, we're the 25th. How funny.
J. Smith: Oh my gosh. Well—
Julia: Oh my goodness.
J. Smith: Happy anniversary in advance.
Julia: And to you.
J. Smith: But there were a lot of things, also parenting things in that movie that made me tremble. I was like, oh my God, mhm, I really relate to that, unfortunately. And oh, I was just thinking—
Julia: Well, parenting adult children, as it were. Adult in quotes, I'm going to say. Because—
J. Smith: Yeah. But then they remember all the supportive things you said when they were coming up, that you did mean, but you might have a bias that you don't know of. Whatever. It's just, it's a no-win thing.
Julia: Yeah. The big takeaway is do not have children. I think that's the big takeaway.
J. Smith: [Laughs] Yeah. Try not to.
Julia: That's the theme of the film. [Laughter]
J. Smith: That's the theme of the... And don't get married in the first place.
Julia: Yeah. Don't get married and don't have children.
J. Smith: And don't try to be a novelist.
J. Smith: [Laughs] Or have friends.
Julia: And stay away from the arts. Stay away from the arts altogether.
J. Smith: I know Arian was so good in the movie too, my buddy, and Jeannie was hilarious.
Julia: Hilarious, right?
J. Smith: They were my Succession peeps.
Julia: Yes. Arian played my brother-in-law married to Michaela Watkins. God, he was so funny. Wasn't he—
J. Smith: He's really funny. And not like anything I've ever seen him in.
Julia: Yeah. Right.
J. Smith: He was very dear.
Julia: Dear, vulnerable, insecure.
J. Smith: He captured that thing that actors have where they're really nice and smart and deep, but they're kind of baby men. [Laughs]
J. Smith: Don't tell him I said that, but he got it. He must have observed that himself.
Julia: Yes, exactly. He's not like that.
J. Smith: No, actually he's not. He's a real standup guy, I must say.
Julia: I'll say. I'll say. Anyway, so—congratulations on your finale.
J. Smith: Thank you. I wish there hadn't been a finale in a way.
Julia: You wanted to keep doing it.
J. Smith: Yeah, because I can see why they made that choice and how this Succession story—I mean, after all, it's called Succession—and I could see how that was coming to a rapid boil, and they had to kind of address that, because how much longer could you have Kendall switching sides and Roman switching sides, and—
Julia: Right, exactly.
J. Smith: But in terms of the Succession universe, I feel like it was just starting to be a great show.
J. Smith: In the way of Veep, the sort of social and political commentary and the satire. I thought our whole globe right now is facing these oligarchs and totalitarian... this threat of totalitarianism and, I mean, he created this world that's just getting... that guy might become our president—the fascist guy—and, I don't know if you like to steer into or away from political conversations, but—
Julia: Well, I'm all down for them, but—
J. Smith: I know you are. [Laughs]
Julia: It's funny doing a series, isn't it? Because, you're right, by the time you're in your third, fourth season, I do feel as if you're starting to get your groove on and—
J. Smith: Exactly.
Julia: It's a very British thing to sort of cut it off on the early side.
J. Smith: Yeah. Yeah. It's very British.
Julia: It's very British.
J. Smith: Our mutual friend, Georgia Pritchett was from the beginning like, "No, only three seasons." And then she admitted “there might be a fourth.” There would in no way be a fifth season, whereas Jesse himself was vacillating, supposedly.
Julia: I have to say, I thought that that fucking finale was pitch perfect. I really do.
J. Smith: Oh, good. It was really an achievement, I think.
Julia: It was an achievement.
J. Smith: That's a big thing to go for. It has to somehow emotionally answer a lot of questions, but also top something—the expectations are so high. I mean, I was barely in it, so in that way, it was weak. [Laughs]
Julia: I know. No, actually, if I were... Honestly, I'm not kidding you, I don't know if I should bring it up or not, but if I were to critique it, I would say, you should have been given a moment. Because your character is... Yeah.
J. Smith: Well, I had some, but they just didn't make the final cut.
Julia: I see.
J. Smith: They were remnants of... We did versions. You must have done that on Veep, where you did alts and stuff. Right? Alternate—
Julia: Please. Are you kidding me? Yeah. Those shows were... The rough cut would be like 58 minutes, and we had to get it down to 29, 30, 31. So yeah, there was a lot of shit on the cutting room floor. Well, then let me ask you, what were those bits and bobs that you got to do, that were ultimately edited out?
J. Smith: Well, they were in all the last... well, really the whole season. But in the finale, I felt the squeeze of the other stories being winnowed down, pretty much mid-season. Just for instance, when we went to Norway, which is back—you asked me about the finale, fair enough—but to go back up for a minute, when we went to Norway, that episode was pitched to all of us as a Hunger Games for the executives at Waystar, that the Swedes were going to see the survival of the fittest on the staff and who to cut and who to keep. And they had all these nature things they had to do where everyone made an ass of themselves. But there was nothing of Gerri proving herself, and yet she made the cut. And I sort of pitched to some of the writers, I feel like we should see—even if it's just a moment—we should see Gerri doing something that—
J. Smith: she's crafty or driven or something that would make her valuable. So there was the scene in the sauna, which you can kind of see us in the background, but there was a scene in the sauna where all the Swedes had challenged all the guys from Waystar to see who could last longest in the sauna. And that was a hilarious scene because Fisher and Patch and Brian were all with towels around their waist sweating and really highly uncomfortable. And then you'd look across the room and all the Swedes were sitting there with their legs open and completely enjoying themselves and talking in Swedish as a laugh. And I say us, but I'm jumping the—so what I pitched was that Gerri should be in there, because—
Julia: Of course—
J. Smith:... Male event, and I was like, "I think Gerri should show up for the sauna event." So we did this whole scene where I was in there, my glasses were all fogged up, and I was the one making them turn it up. And my guys were like, "What are you trying to do? Trying to kill us?” and “shut up." And then we had this whole scene, and then I really was the last man standing, (“last man standing”), and we just had all these great improvs in it. And at the very end, the guy who plays Oscar, this sort of right-hand man of Alexander Skarsgård's character, got up to leave. He was like, "You make good sauna."
And then as he left, I just was like "quitter." But the whole scene was good. I called him, I said, "Hey, hey, it's getting a little cool in here, isn't it, Peer Gynt?" I just had all this fun with him. And then the whole scene was cut.
J. Smith: Yeah. And there were just lots of things like that. But there was a scene in the funeral, a scene where I actually tried to comfort Roman after he fell apart when he's doing his eulogy. And then in the final episode, there was a whole scene with me and Tom, where he asks me if we could talk about me coming back. And I imply that it will cost him a lot of money, but that I'm very much interested. We even did a take where he took my arm at the end and walked down the corridor with me, like a reference to the end of Casablanca when Claude Rains and over there walking aways the start of a beautiful friendship.
J. Smith: We even did that. And then we did a shot—just a shot, no dialogue from me—when Greg and Tom are talking and you see Gerri, and that's in there. But we did one, where I happened to be looking at him too. So we kind of locked eyes, which was just a little bit more dramatic than what they chose, which was just me talking to someone else. When I shot it, I felt like I was really in the episode, even though it wasn't very much. But then when I saw it, I was like, "okay, I guess you can kind of remember Gerri."
Julia: Yeah. I think that's a threat— Well, anyway, again, I say I really do believe the show was fantastic, but I think that should have been... I'm not going to say resolved, but Gerri should have been factored into this. Particularly, I think the shot of you guys walking off would've been fucking genius without any dialogue. That would've been fabulous.
J. Smith: I guess we wanted to stay between Tom and Greg since they're the other couple being shipped all the time on that show.
J. Smith: Remember, you kind of... I understand that.
Julia: When did you guys wrap it? When did you actually wrap?
J. Smith: We wrapped principal photography, I suppose, in late February or early... I don't remember when it was, but then they went to Barbados.
Julia: For that other scene.
J. Smith: Yeah. Other sequence.
Julia: Other sequence, pardon me.
J. Smith: It wasn't in the first, well, I can't remember. There's so many versions of it. But anyway, I need to watch it again, because I was kind of watching like this, and we were all together. Not all of us, but a lot of us who lived in New York watched together. And there was a lot of... It was kind of half party and half screening, and I feel like I need to watch it again.
Julia: It's pretty great.
J. Smith: I got used to all the traveling we did, we went to all these cool places.
Julia: What was your favorite place you went to?
J. Smith: Oh, man. I don't know. I mean, I love Italy, and we were there the longest of any place
we visited. So—
Julia: How long?
J. Smith: Because it was the finale. A lot of people, not so much me, but a lot of people stayed on. And Kenny had been in Italy, a different part of Italy, to be a jurist for a film festival. And then he stayed on to kind of write, and then he would find out where we are and blow into town where we were and visit for a while and then go off alone again. And we kept connect—
Julia: Oh, wow.
J. Smith: Very glamorous, in a way, because we kept connecting in different places all over Italy.
Julia: Oh yeah. That's very glam. I love it.
J. Smith: It was kind of glamorous.
Julia: Yeah, that's really nice. I love that.
J. Smith: Yes. So I want another job that's got a perfect crew, a perfect cast, genius writers, where I'm well paid and where we travel all over the globe.
Julia: That's easy-peasy. There's nothing to it.
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: You can get that lined up in the next couple hours.
J. Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, as soon as the strike is over, baby.
Julia: Yeah. As soon as the strike is over, both strikes. Do you think our union is going to strike? I think so.
J. Smith: Of course. Yeah. Don't you?
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: Oh gosh. Anyway, were you supposed to be working right now?
J. Smith: I have another job, a guest, a recurring role on something that I'm not supposed to directly talk about because it's not been announced, I guess, I've been told not to identify it. I had just started it, and then the strike happened. So I did that. Stuff like that. But that's it. I don't have anything else.
Julia: I was supposed to be in Atlanta shooting a movie.
J. Smith: Oh, right.
Julia: For months on end and—
J. Smith: Was this—
Julia: I ain't.
J. Smith: Is this another superhero movie?
J. Smith: Oh, baby.
Julia: Speaking of which, we went and saw, for Father's Day—talking about going into theaters—we went to the theater and we saw the Spider-Man Spidey-verse movie.
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: It's a masterpiece. It's a masterpiece. So, take Kenny, get yourself some popcorn again, and go watch it.
J. Smith: Okay. Okay.
Julia: Because I honestly couldn't believe it. And by the way, I hadn't seen the first Spidey-verse one, but I went anyway. And it's incredible to be in a theater with people.
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: It's so nice. People clap or laugh or whatever. It's so nice.
J. Smith: It's great.
Julia: Yeah. It's a real community feeling.
J. Smith: It's been so long.
Julia: I know.
J. Smith: Hey, look who's here to say hello?
Kenny: Hi, Julia.
Julia: Hi, Kenny. How are you?
Kenny: How are you?
Julia: I'm good.
Kenny: How's this podcast going?
Julia: This podcast, I guess it's horrible. I mean, J's like... She doesn't talk, so I've just got to carry all the weight.
J. Smith: I was going to say, I don't shut up. [Laughs]
Kenny: You're both so closed mouth. It must be very dull for your listeners.
J. Smith: She was just telling us we have to go see this Spidey-verse—
Julia: The new Spider-Man Spidey-verse movie. I sound like an old woman because I'm not saying what the title is correctly, but it is legitimately fantastic.
Kenny: Spider-Man movie.
J. Smith: The second.
Julia: Yeah. The second one.
Kenny: Spider-Man movie, I can get behind.
Julia: This, you can get behind. I think.
Kenny: I'm really looking forward to it. Is it a story of personal growth and overcoming past traumas for Spider-Man?
Julia: Yes, but it brings it to new levels for reals.
Kenny: I'm glad to hear it. Spider-Man, of course, a tragic figure.
Julia: Tragic. I know. We think about them all the time. Thoughts and prayers.
Kenny: Superhero with teenage problems. Well, I loved you in your movie, and I loved the movie.
Julia: Thank you.
Kenny: J mentioned. You're always great. How was that—
Julia: Yeah, thank you.
Kenny: How do you do that?
J. Smith: Yeah, you're always great.
Julia: Oh, well, maybe that's really not the case, but I appreciate the compliment, but thank you so much. And wasn't Jeannie Berlin, and I know you know all these people. Amazing, right?
Kenny: Everyone, the whole cast was really good. Can I just ask the actor who plays your husband, whose name, of course, I'm blanking on.
Julia: Tobias Menzies.
Kenny: What an interesting and good choice for the husband. Was that Nicole—
Julia: Yes. And actually, that was a difficult role to cast because of... Well, I don't want to give away what happens at the end of the film, but this is a man who's struggling with aging and what that means for him. And there are a lot of men who wouldn't do it.
Kenny: Oh, really?
Julia: Isn't that fascinating?
J. Smith: Really?
Kenny: Because they're not struggling or don't wish to be seen to be struggling, or—?
Julia: I suppose, yeah. We're all very vain, of course. But—
Kenny: I am.
Julia: I am too. But anyway, Tobias just embraced the whole thing, and he did a great job and a great American accent, I might point out.
J. Smith: Yeah.
Kenny: Yeah. Perfect.
Kenny: Anyway, I thought he was wonderful. I thought you were really wonderful. Seriously, just—
Julia: Thank you. Oh, that's nice.
Kenny: But once again, and a really good character, and—
Julia: Thanks, man.
Kenny: Really good.
Julia: Thank you.
Kenny: Yeah. All right. I'm going back to my life now, but it was nice to say hi.
Julia: I'm glad you did. Hi.
J. Smith: So when the strike's resolved, you'll go back to that movie probably?
Julia: Yeah. I don't know when.
J. Smith: Just a working fool, my friend. Just one thing after another. Boom, boom.
Julia: You too. You too.
J. Smith: Well, we hope.
Julia: We hope. Yeah, I know. We have to find a way to work together. That's what we have to do.
J. Smith: I would like that.
Julia: I would like that too.
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: A lot.
J. Smith: Let me think on this.
Julia: Well, you're married to a very amazing writer man, and let's kick—
J. Smith: You would think that would—
Julia: You would think. He's got two women with capable actress women, and he can employ them. And yet, off he goes to do his thing, as he says. I don't even know what he's doing, but now he's on my shit list because—
J. Smith: He's working on a project, working on something that includes you and I. So that's exciting.
Julia: That is exciting. Hopefully we can actually... And hopefully they'll be seen if, assuming that happens, the project he's working on, you can pitch to him perhaps on your anniversary night. Perhaps you can sort of leverage a few things and you can pitch to him that we need scenes together.
J. Smith: Do you know what? He said that when I told him, I reminded him this morning that I was going to be talking to you, and he was like, "I have to find a way to put X and Y together in the show. They need scenes together."
Julia: Good, good. All right.
J. Smith: I'll be on it.
Julia: Great. Well, as soon as you get pages, send them to me and I'll start memorizing.
J. Smith: Okay. Give them our notes.
Julia: Yes. Yeah, exactly.
J. Smith: I was thinking, I was running around this morning doing some errands and I was thinking. I never really realized this, but for many years in my career… You know, decades, I had this sort of bias… Or I don't know what it was, about celebrities. I might admire Meryl Streep in a movie, but I would always be a little aware of all the buildup she constantly had. And I would always be like, "Well, what do I really think?" And also, I'd clam up around celebrities. If I went to a party that there were big celebrities at, I would just... It would look like I was snubbing them if they cared to notice, but you know what I mean? But I would—
Julia: Yeah, I do. I'm the same.
J. Smith: I was just shy and both intimidated and also just wary. Just wary of it so much. And you are a mega celebrity that I don't have that bias about at all. You're like a... Is this coming out right? You are a mega celebrity, but you have this very human, relatable personality. And also your work is just very… I don't know. You somehow have escaped that, whatever that thing is, that neurotic thing I have about... That suspicion I have about celebrities.
Julia: Well, that's very, very nice. It's so weird because I certainly don't think of myself as a mega celebrity. You know what I mean?
J. Smith: You don't?
Julia: I really don't. I'm not kidding. I mean, I know that some of my work... I'm aware that a lot of my work, and particularly Seinfeld, of course, is very known. But I don't know that that catapults me. I don't consider myself that. It's weird.
J. Smith: Well, I suppose it's all relative. Maybe you're pure of heart, and so therefore you can't think of yourself that way. You know what I mean?
Julia: Well, yeah. I mean, I mean, you are very famous now. You've had this Succession experience. Are you aware of how you're perceived as being different?
J. Smith: Oh, yes. A little bit, but I still think it's just that people are just liking that character. The character was sort of a fan favorite kind of character, I feel like… Or, “Ooh, Gerri. Hi Gerri.” I don't feel like people know my name exactly. I know professional people might, but… Do you know what I'm saying?
Julia: I do.
J. Smith: I mean, between Veep… Well, really all your shows, but certainly, Seinfeld and Veep are these iconic... I mean, there's such a body of work just even in those two shows and not all this other stuff you've done that's so good.
Julia: Are you on Instagram?
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: I've got to put you into my thing. My phone, by the way, died the other day, so I had to get a new phone, and now I have to reboot everything in this fucking thing. And it's a nightmare, actually. It's such a drag. But I have a very young assistant who's helping me do all of these things.
J. Smith: Just have them go do the whole thing.
Julia: Yeah, I know. But things keep popping up, you know? I wanted to order an Uber, and all of the sudden I have to log in and, oi, anyway, whatever. Again, I sound like I'm 85. What does J... Does J stand for anything, or is it just J?
J. Smith: No, it stands for Jean. I was named Jean Isabel Smith, and I was called Jeannie up until I went away to college. And then I decided that was too much like a little girl name which, I think I would've outgrown that bias, but I remember signing in for auditions at Florida State. You'd go and put your name on the list that you would read, and I remember, I just put J. Smith, and it was kind of like putting John Doe up there or something. It was so anonymous.
And they called me in to read for a guy part, and they were like, "Whoa, you're not a guy." And then I eventually read, but it inadvertently, I mean, in a tiny baby-ish way, created this kind of little mystique. And I loved it. I loved this gender-neutrally kind of name, like J. Smith was... I don't know. I loved it. And then when I started joining unions, I couldn't be initial Smith because there were just too many people I'd be confused with.
Julia: I see.
J. Smith: Which I guess is a thing. Your checks might go to the wrong person and stuff like that. So for a while, it was J. Cameron, which is a family name. Both the women I'm named after, both Jean and Isabelle, their last name was Cameron. So I was J. Cameron for a while, and then I'd made this indie movie when I was in college, and it went to the New York Film Festival. I was getting ready to move to New York, and I said to the... It was a film that was printed, so it wasn't like a digital thing they could change the credits for.
So I realized that the film was already... But is there any way in the press releases that you could help me out? Because I kind of go by the name Cameron now, and I'd been sort of, I imagine, a pain in the ass for this poor director the whole time. So anyway, the answer I got was he sent me the poster and it said, J. Smith-Cameron. And it was right when I moved to New York and I was trying to meet agents and stuff. So I was like, "Yeah, yeah, that's me, J Smith-Cameron." And then I kept thinking I would change it because it sounded so pretentious to me. But then I got used to it and it didn't sound like me after a while.
Julia: He inadvertently locked it in for you.
J. Smith: I mean, that's how I remember it. Unless I suggest—
Julia: Yeah, no, I'm sure you're right. I'm sure you're right.
J. Smith: Somehow or another that he did. But I may have suggested the hyphen. I don't know. I don't—
Julia: But now, as somebody with a hyphenated name, do you or do you not—
J. Smith: It's all the rage.
Julia: It is? Is it all the rage?
J. Smith: Well, for some time now. So you can't really say it's all the rage, but I think at some point when there were lots of people with an overlap with names, the unions got so full of people that they would have to be like, “Use their middle name,” or… A lot of hyphenated names in our business now.
Julia: Right. Well, it's a pain in the ass, I think. I mean, isn't it? Because you're under, I would imagine, you're under S, you're under C. I'm under L, I'm under D.
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: I'm under H because of my married name, all that shit. It's pretty… Anyway, that's so fun— Does anyone call you Jean?
J. Smith: What's the story of your hyphen if I may ask?
Julia: Oh, the story of my hyphen is that it was, in fact, my dad's last name, Louis-Dreyfus. His name was William Louis-Dreyfus.
J. Smith: With the hyphen?
Julia: Yes. And that is our French family's name. Where are you from?
J. Smith: Well, because both my parents were first-generation American. And I know a little bit about my dad's family, those grandparents, but I know almost nothing about her parents. They came on a boat through Ellis Island. I don't know. I'm not even sure whether their last name was Roma or Romano. The family now say it's Romano. So I mean, I don't know much about them.
I know that sort of roughly where the grandmother and the grandfather were from in Italy. I don't really know how to find them, because I don't even know the spellings, and I don't know the year of their births or anything. And then the other side is really kind of interesting. Way before the internet, my dad used to tell me that I had this famous great-uncle named John Stuart Blackie, who was a classicist at the University of Edinburgh. His side of the family is Northern English and Scottish.
Julia: I see.
J. Smith: That's the Cameron side of the family. And John Stuart Blackie was this classicist who translated the Iliad and the Odyssey, and he was a famous Victorian. He was friends with J.M. Barrie, the Peter Pan—
J. Smith: Stood up for him when he was under so much trouble, which is a whole nother story. And he was this witty professor that there were lots of anecdotes about. And I remember only one that my dad told me, and then years later, when there was the internet, when I was an adult, I thought to look him up. And I saw that same anecdote that I remembered, and I was like—
Julia: Which was?
J. Smith: Oh, it's kind of a cute story. He was, I guess, apparently it's something like this, that he was going to have to miss the beginning of his classes all day for some university reason. And so he'd written on the blackboard, “Professor Blackie will meet his classes at quarter past the hour,” something like that. And he came in late, as he'd said, and all the boys started snickering… Only men in the university then. And he looked back at the board and someone had erased the C so that it read, “Professor Blackie will meet his lasses at quarter past then. And he chuckled with everyone, and he walked over and erased the L and started class.
Julia: I love it.
J. Smith: I know. And so I want to know if it's really true that I'm related to him. It doesn't seem like something that my dad would make up, because he's very famous there. His plaque is in the cathedral.
Julia: We were just in Scotland, by the way. We went there for a proper vacation. I'd only been there when I was 18, briefly. And, oh God, do I love that country. Wow.
J. Smith: So beautiful.
Julia: Oh, it's so beautiful. In fact, our mutual friend, Georgia, has been saying to me for years, “You have to go to Scotland,” because she and Catherine and the kids go there all the time.
J. Smith: Yeah.
J. Smith: It's beautiful. Yeah. She told me she loves Edinburgh. I think the house they got is in the country, maybe. Do they? I don't know.
Julia: No, they go to some spa-resort place, somewhere in the country. But we went to the Highlands, which is where Balmoral is and shit. Oh Lord have mercy, is that the best.
J. Smith: It's really beautiful there.
Julia: Yeah. I want to go back.
J. Smith: They had those beautiful old trains. They had the train that they modeled the Hogwarts Express from, that goes—
Julia: That's right.
J. Smith: Engine train. And it goes—
J. Smith: A sleeper.
J. Smith: Trying to take that train.
Julia: Oh, yeah.
J. Smith: I really want to go on all those famous trains. But they cost— I don't know about that one, but I want to go on the Orient Express.
Julia: Exactly. But it's very expensive. Haven't they redone it? They've completely rebooted it or whatever. It's gotten a makeover, and I think it's an absolute fortune. As soon as we're done talking, I'm going to look that up, because now I've got this in my head. I think that really sounds—
J. Smith: Remember when you start acting, and then you hear about somebody in the theater world having gone on a famous cruise ship and doing monologues from Shakespeare and they get the free cruise—
Julia: Ride? Yes.
J. Smith: Don’t they need some thespians to do a scene from an old thirties movie? [Laughs]
Julia: Yeah. Maybe we get a free ride together. We could get you and me and Kenny and Brad, we'll just do a couple sketches or, I don't know, right?
J. Smith: Kenny can write us some.
Julia: Yeah, we could do a Veep-Succession mashup.
J. Smith: Oh, that's actually—
Julia: How about that great idea?
J. Smith: Let's do it anyway.
Julia: Let's do it anyway. I'll play Selina, you'll play Gerri and our paths will cross.
J. Smith: Yes. In Veep, am I right that you never know what party Selina—
J. Smith: That's amazing.
Julia: That was a genius of Armando Iannucci, never to identify party. And it really, as a result, just… I think it opened up a whole realm of possibilities.
J. Smith: Why is that? Because you could make fun of both things in the news?
Julia: Yes. And everybody was invited to the party. It wasn't a partisan show in that sense. In fact, a great story I have is that I was in D.C. for something and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan was at this event, and she came up to me and she said that she really loved Veep, so already my jaw is like… Yeah, exactly. And she said that she and Antonin Scalia, after every episode, then the following week, they would get together and have lunch and talk about the episode and laugh about the episode. And I thought, well, I think we've done our job. Right?
J. Smith: Oh my God.
Julia: I know! It's so fun. I know. It's so fun.
J. Smith: It's so fun.
Julia: I know. I love it. I absolutely love it.
J. Smith: Frank Rich, who was your producer and our producer in Succession—
Julia: Correct. That's right.
J. Smith: He said that you guys could not stay out in front of the news cycle, because things began to be so topsy-turvy in the news that you couldn't think of anything crazier than what was true. And we had that, I think, in Succession too.
Julia: Yes. Strange, right?
J. Smith: By the time this season aired, there was already the Elon Musk Twitter stuff, you know what I mean? But—
J. Smith: But they'd already thought of the Elon Musky character trying to buy Waystar, and then they... You know what I mean?
Julia: Yeah. We were constantly being... I mean, we even had a whole anti-vax storyline that was the throughline to… I think it was the last season, or was the second to last season. I can't even remember. Yeah, it was anti-vax, and then there was a measles outbreak, and Jonah ends up infecting his stepfather who dies.
J. Smith: Oh my God. Because he's an anti-vaxxer?
J. Smith: Jonah's an anti-vaxxer.
Julia: Oh, yeah.
J. Smith: You know what, one of the many things that drove me crazy about Veep, in a good way, was your wardrobe.
Julia: Oh, please.
J. Smith: How great you looked in all your clothes. So not just your wardrobe, but your figure. I mean, you just were like—
Julia: Oh, thank you.
J. Smith: There was a pleasure in what you'd wear every episode.
Julia: Well, I have to say, the costume designer is a woman named Kathleen Felix-Hager. She now works on the show Hacks, and she's a stone-cold genius. And it was so much fun to dress like Selina, just get zipped into things, tight as possible.
J. Smith: Were you uncomfortable on set?
J. Smith: Very. [Laughs]
Julia: Very uncomfortable.
J. Smith: That's part of what she's feeling, right?
J. Smith: She's feeling her Spanx and she's feeling—
Julia: Constricted. She can't relax, everything's tight. And yeah, it was really incredibly uncomfortable.
J. Smith: But that character is so devoted to being a rockstar, also looking like—
Julia: Yeah, it's a power move. It's a power play. Although at the same time, she really hates... She has a love hate relationship with being a woman, because she sees it as being a liability, which of course it is. And so she recognizes that and also uses it to her advantage if she needs to. So she's a fucked-up lady for sure.
J. Smith: So fun. Oh my God.
Julia: But the clothes were great. I have some of them, and I love having them.
J. Smith: You do?
Julia: I do. Yeah.
J. Smith: Do you ever wear them though?
Julia: No, I just have them stuffed away. I keep pieces of my wardrobe. I've kept them. I do. I have them stuck in a closet and I just hang onto them because I figure… I have all of my Elaine clothes from Seinfeld, believe it or not.
J. Smith: Shut up.
Julia: I do. I do.
J. Smith: Those were great too.
Julia: Well, I'm not so sure I agree with that.
J. Smith: Well, now they're very much like the eighties—
J. Smith: Or the nineties.
Julia: Yes, exactly. They're kind of retro, and I know people kind of like that look, but for me—
J. Smith: You've had an Annie Hall kind of… you had your own ID with your clothes, it seems to me. Like you had the effulgent hair and the blazers, and you had a sort of look that you created that really caught on. That's kind of—
Julia: Yeah, I guess so. I guess. Yeah. Big wall of hair.
J. Smith: Oh, it was fantastic.
Julia: I'd like to redo it, to be honest. I'd like to go back and redo that hair, but it is what it is. I can't, so—
J. Smith: Really?
Julia: I would. It was ridiculous. Yes, it was ridiculous.
J. Smith: Oh no, it was the signature thing. It was great. I disagree. I mean, I didn't have to have my hair fixed all those years. But I have another little anecdote for you.
J. Smith: Which is… I'm not going to tell it right though, because I don't know enough facts about it, but my big sister moved to Chicago, lived there several years, did theater in Chicago, and I believe… There's some story where she met you sort of, because she was moving into an apartment that you had an apartment in, and it may have been you and Brad, but—
Julia: East Lake Terrace? It was on East Lake Terrace, probably.
J. Smith: I'll ask, but she was moving in and you guys stopped and asked her if she needed any help, and then were very relieved when she said no.
J. Smith: But she said you were so nice that she had this—
Julia: Oh, wow.
J. Smith: Isn't that cool?
Julia: That is cool. Ask her if it's East Lake Terrace, and I'll tell you why, because I wonder if she knows about… Okay, I'm going to butcher this, but do you remember there was a documentary about this female photographer in Chicago?
J. Smith: Vivian Maier?
J. Smith: Vivian Maier. Yes.
Julia: And I think Vivian Maier lived in our building.
J. Smith: How cool.
Julia: And so you need to ask your sister.
J. Smith: Okay.
Julia: Would you do that?
J. Smith: I'll do it.
Julia: You have my email?
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: Kenny does. Just because I want to know if she has any memory of seeing Vivian Maier.
J. Smith: Seeing her? You remember seeing her as a older—
Julia: Well, I don't know if I did or not. There was a very crazy old lady who lived in our building. I don't know. It's possible because I think she went a little nuts at the... Or very nuts at the end of her life, I believe. I believe. Ask your sister, yeah?
J. Smith: Okay. I remember when people were kind of rediscovering her. Remember somebody found a treasure trove at—
J. Smith: Flea market or something, and then he grabbed—
Julia: Yes. That's what the movie's based on. Right.
J. Smith: Yeah. I think I saw the movie, but as those were coming to light, I remember just noticing them on the internet, I guess, and being like, "I love her whole eye." She would—
J. Smith: Oh God, I just loved it. And how she'd often put her little reflection. It's kind of like, wasn't she a nanny or something?
Julia: Yes, she was a nanny.
J. Smith: She had Mary Poppins… Not Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins, but do you remember the books, the drawings and the books by P.L. Travers of Mary Poppins? Did you ever read those as a kid, or read them to your—
Julia: No, no, I didn't.
J. Smith: P.L. Travers… I can't think who did the illustrations, but she's kind of plain, which makes her incredible egotism about how she looks. She's very fastidious and very… about how she looks, but she's drawn to be very plain. She's like a little stick figure.
It's one of my favorite things about the books actually, is that she's kind of plain, but very proud of the way she looks. And it was evocative of that to me, the strength of an old single lady who went around just imagining into other people's lives, strangers, taking photographs. Boy, those photographs are something else.
Julia: Yeah, they're something else. I think I need to watch that documentary again. I watched an amazing documentary last night, which I recommend, called Turn Every Page about Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb and their relationship.
J. Smith: I'm dying to see that.
Julia: Oh, you got to watch it.
J. Smith: I can't believe Robert Gottlieb just died.
Julia: He just died.
J. Smith: Yeah.
Julia: But it is such a window. Oh, you're going to love it, and Kenny will love it. It's just such a window into their world, and you can get it on Apple TV. I just loved it. Turn Every Page is the name of it.
J. Smith: Well, just a little bit that I know of Robert Caro's oeuvre, however you say it, his research is staggering.
J. Smith: It's just like—
J. Smith: It’s a page-turning thriller, but it's a history book… You can't believe—
J. Smith: It's so great.
Julia: I haven't read his first book, the Power Broker, and it's very much featured, very much discussed in this documentary, because it landed him. But I'm going to read it. I'm reading this Abraham Verghese book right now, and as soon as I finish that, which will be in another seven months because it's 800 pages… I'm a really slow reader, but I'm going to read The Power Broker. I can't wait actually, I'm looking forward to that.
J. Smith: Yes. I'm still reading— Oh, are we out of time?
Julia: Oh, yeah. I have to talk to Tig Notaro in 15 minutes.
J. Smith: Shoot. I was just getting started, man.
Julia: I know.
J. Smith: So much to talk about.
Julia: So much to talk about. Well, we'll have to get together in real life, not on a podcast, right?
J. Smith: Yes. Remember we were at the theater the same night?
J. Smith: Wasn't that great? And then they all were at the Tony's, I don't think they won, but they were... Georgia's friend, Katie, who played that part, and then the other actress, they were both nominated. Anyway.
Julia: That was a great show.
J. Smith: So great.
Julia: I enjoyed that so much. Yeah, we had a great time that night.
J. Smith: Yeah. I can't remember the name of it right now.
Julia: Neither can I.
J. Smith: Oh, The Cost of Living.
Julia: The Cost of Living.
J. Smith: Which is kind of a terrific name for it. Anyway, so...
Julia: It's been lovely speaking with you on the podcast, and I look forward to continuing the conversation off the podcast.
J. Smith: That sounds great, Julia. Thanks for having me on.
Julia: Thanks for you having me on.
J. Smith: Oh, and I'll see you soon, I hope. We'll talk some more about Robert Caro, because I'm reading, still… Have been for months and months, the LBJ books, which is really a lifetime pursuit.
J. Smith: Anyway.
Julia: All right. Well, keep reading. I'll keep reading, and lots of love to you.
J. Smith: You too.