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Jason Alexander talks Judaism, Israel, and—of course—George Costanza

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04/17/2012

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You might call Jason Alexander a modern-day Renaissance Man.

Whether it is television, the big screen, or the live stage, he has tackled it. In addition to acting, Alexander has also taught, produced, and directed. Oh, and along the years, he has managed to nab a Tony Award, as well as a handful of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.

Alexander is also one of the lucky, as well as gifted, actors to play a character so memorable, so outrageous, that viewers around the globe recognize him on a first-name basis – George. Few characters are as engrained in television comedy history as the neurotic, often nauseating but somehow still lovable, “Lord of the Idiots,” George Costanza on “Seinfeld.”

Oy!Chicago recently conducted an email interview with the actor.

Oy!Chicago: You've been in movies, on television, and on Broadway. Are there any other professional pursuits you have wanted to explore?
Jason Alexander: I am very actively trying to develop two other aspects of my professional life—directing and teaching. . . They are both completely engaging when you are doing it. They are all-consuming. . .

I have come to adore teaching. That moment of epiphany in a student's mind when they suddenly are able to de-mystify their own process and understand how their imagination and emotions and intellect and artistry all come together—it is absolutely thrilling. It's as big a rush as performing.

Despite the variety of work that you have done, most people will always remember you as George Costanza on “Seinfeld.” How do you feel about that? Has playing such a memorable character had any impact on your career post-“Seinfeld”?
Well, it is an indelible impression. George is on TVs all over the world, every minute of every day. So most of the world knows me primarily as that persona. Having made such a strong impression as an actor in a singular way can and has affected my industry's willingness to look and consider me for totally different types of roles. But that is not particular of me.

That has been true for most actors who have a break out role. Type casting is still a real thing and I try very hard not to allow myself to be cast as another variation of George.

However, I love George and I love the ongoing impact that “Seinfeld” seems to have had in people's lives… over the years, I have met or heard from people who have told me how my work has gotten them through terrible times and tremendous loss and how I seemed to be a near constant source of laughter or levity during their dark times…or how now it has become like an old and reliable friend that they love to revisit.

How do you think your Jewish background and Judaism have inspired your work, if it all?
I don't know that I can point to Judaism specifically as inspirational or directional to my work. I think much of my comedic instincts are informed by the urban and Jewish rhythms that I was surrounded with as a child… Jews come from pretty remarkable backgrounds and tend to be pretty colorful people. . . living and growing up in a largely Jewish community helped me create and appreciate the canvass of characters that I draw upon in my work. But Judaism specifically has not colored either my choices or performances terribly much.

You recently traveled to Israel to promote peace in the region. Can you tell me about that experience, and what it meant for you?
I adore Israel and Israelis. And I have to say that I have also been honored to have been invited into many Arab homes and businesses in both Israel and Palestine…. I see so clearly that Israelis and Palestinians could actually be tremendous neighbors and partners. They are so similar in so many ways… People are people. They want normalcy. They want decency and respect. They want purpose. They want happiness and stability and the possibility that tomorrow will be better than today. Israel and Palestine could have this and they could be a beacon to the rest of the world. This trip and all my trips confirm that truth to me. It will take courage and conviction to achieve, but it is there.  

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