News Column

A hair-raising conversation with Modesto-bound Jason Alexander

October 22, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 22--Let's get the follicular elephant in the room out of the way first thing.

No, that isn't Jason Alexander's real hair. Yes, it's a hairpiece. No, he's not shy about telling you about his new hair. In fact, his one-man touring show is called "An Evening With Jason Alexander and His Hair."

Known instantly around the globe for his role as the very bald George Costanza from his "Seinfeld" days, Alexander said he began wearing his new hair a couple of years ago after losing out on roles because of his unavoidable resemblance to his famous former alter ego.

"At the end of the day, the producer had a problem that I kind of looked like that George Costanza guy. He didn't want to face that moment where the audience said, ?Oh George.'" Alexander said in a recent phone interview. "I just got frustrated. For a character actor to be pinned in and associated with one role is really detrimental. I mean, it wasn't like I was trying to pull a fast one. But I wanted to say, ?Look, I can look like anyone I want to.' Don't let the fact that George is bald and Jason is bald be a detriment. Enough people look at my hair and say, ?Hey that's pretty good.' I treat it with some whimsy. And I realize it's unbelievably eccentric of me."

Alexander chose to go with a hairpiece instead of hair replacement because of the versatility it gives him.

"I love the flexibility of being bald. I can change the color and style," Alexander said. "A lot of bald guys say that's great. We've never thought we can have so many different looks. We're too embarrassed we'd be ridiculed. I say, ?Hell with it,' go with it and have fun."

And have fun with it he has. Alexander discusses his hair in his new touring show, which is a mix of stand-up, live music and improvisation. Alexander sings and also elicits audience participation throughout his act. He said the mix in his performance is intentional.

Those who know Alexander only as the neurotic, self-absorbed best friend of Jerry Seinfeld from the legendary '90s sitcom might not know that before he landed the role, he was a Broadway veteran with a Tony Award on his mantel. After "Seinfeld" ended in 1998, Alexander returned to the stage, as well as starred and made guest appearances on numerous television shows in the 15 years that have passed since the "show about nothing" went off the air.

Alexander spoke with The Bee recently about his touring show, being George and his magical passion from his home in Los Angeles.

Q: You're, of course, instantly recognizable from your role as George on "Seinfeld." But that show ended 15 years ago. Do you miss him, or do you find yourself constrained by him?

A: Oh, yeah. The public reaction to me as George has never diminished at all. In fact, I think it has grown. I don't miss George. George and I had a lovely time together. I don't miss doing the show as far as thinking, "Boy, there were stories we could have done." I feel we did what we wanted to do and got out while the show was classy and still a great comedy. The only thing I miss is the family itself, the cast and crew. That's kind of sad.

Q: I understand the hairpiece is a way to help break away from the George persona. Has it helped?

A: It is so strange, when I was doing theater in New York, most of my theater life I played 12 people a night more than played one person a night. Playing and inhabiting different characters was really one of the joys with me. But I got very successful with one character and identified with him. Ninety-nine percent of that is great. One percent is not, and that is that it's very difficult for people to see me in different ways. So it has helped.

A: From what I've read and seen, your personality is very different from George ? in temperament and everything else. So it's probably easier to ask if there are any ways at all you two are alike? Enormous receipt-filled wallet? Referencing yourself in the third person when upset?

Q: We're both bald. You know, there isn't a lot. Really, the two parents of George were Woody Allen initially, who was the first image I had when I auditioned, and then ("Seinfeld" creator) Larry David. Everything I developed as George I did through the filter of Larry. I am so appreciative of who Larry is, but so dissimilar. It's the most dissimilar character to the real me. There is probably less element of me in him than any other character I've played.

Q: Besides an actor, your bio lists you as a "noted producer, teacher, children's author, magician, poker star, activist and traveling comic." Tell me about the "children's author, magician, poker star" part.

A: It means I have too much time on my hands. (Laughs) Well, the children's author thing was a book I wrote 11 years ago, which was published by Scholastic, called "Dad, Are You the Tooth Fairy?" It's the retelling of an interaction I had with my son. I thought I had a particularly good parenting day, so I relayed it to my agent and he said, "Yeah, let's do something with that."

Poker star started when I thought I was a pretty good player and was invited to tournaments. Then I realized it's a game with enormous skills and challenges. I am enormously challenged by it. And I am fortunate enough to be sponsored.

And magician, that's what I wanted to be most in life. When I was a kid, I thought if I could spend my life as a magician, that would be a pretty good life. I adore magic to this day. I started at 6 years old. The only reason there isn't any magic in my touring show is because it's a pain in the ass to carry the things you need to bring to have a magic show. But magic is very much a part of my life, to my wife's great chagrin.

Q: So, what kind of magic do you do?

A: I was never an illusionist. I really wanted to be a close-up magician with cards and coins. But I did not have any of that ability. So I did mentalism. That's what I won an award for at The Magic Castle (a well-known Los Angeles nightclub that features magicians). Of all the things I've done solely out of my imagination, how I created a magical persona for myself is one of the things I am most proud of and one of the things only the most geekiest people would be interested in. It's such a delicate art, so much can go wrong. Unless you can do over and over again, it is a little too scary. So I mostly now do it for friends and in private.

Q: Before "Seinfeld," you were a very successful Broadway actor, and have since returned. What is it about the live stage you enjoy and that brings you back?

A: I think it was one of the reasons I got into performing, because I was an incredibly shy kid and very introverted and kind of a loner. Live performance is a dialogue between me and the audience; it's interaction and human contact. It's real communication. You don't get that when doing film performing. As I became a more skilled craftsperson, (live theater) was the most challenging, the most thrilling, dangerous and fraught with complications. So much has to go right, and there are no second chances. All your facilities and skills have to be working to the fullest. That challenge is removed with film pieces. So I love it, it makes me feel the most real and most alive. I also, for better or worse, am fully in command with that performance. Once the curtain goes up, it's you and the audience. No one will interfere, improve or diminish that performance. It's very, very pure.

Q: Your "Seinfeld" co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus is back on TV with the HBO series "Veep." Is another series something you are interested in doing?

A: My baby child will be leaving us next year. He is a senior in high school. I would love to go back into television. It's a great steady gig. But I don't know what to do on television. I find comedy on television is very, very challenging. Very few people are able to do something special and do it well. The Internet has become the home of comedy. I'd love to be involved in a great drama. It would take a producer with a lot of guts to challenge the George thing. But I honestly don't know if I'd like to commit to another six to seven years.

I love the ability to do this show I'm doing for you guys. I love directing. One of things about an actor's lifestyle is you just don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. I kind of like it. But when doing a series, you know what you're doing tomorrow. We all have to be grateful for what comes our way. I try to say yes to anything that has great intentions with people that are worthy. Right now, I'm really having a blast doing the touring show. It's not something I ever anticipated doing in my life. I'm not a stand-up comic, but I really love getting up in front of audiences with this particular show. I'm having an immensely good time.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter @marijkerowland.

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