Henry’s departure for college hit the couple hard. “It’s a big adjustment, having a whole body out of the house,” Louis-Dreyfus says. She and her husband explored the subject in a short film, Picture Paris, which Hall wrote and directed. Louis-Dreyfus starred as Ellen, a woman who deals with the heartache of her son’s departure by obsessing over all things French. She learns to make pâté and say merde in just the right guttural tone. She leases a luxury apartment in Paris over the Internet. Her husband is less enthusiastic.
Hall and Louis-Dreyfus made the movie independently (HBO later picked it up for a December 2012 debut), shooting in L.A. and Paris. “It was a ball,” she says, “but it was a lot of hard work. Our older son worked on the L.A. portion, but when we went to Paris, we were on a tight fuckin’ budget, so just Brad and I went. We shot for a condensed period, 14- and 15-hour days. I loved it.”
Despite comic elements, bizarre ones at that, Picture Paris isn’t all laughs. “What’s nice about a short film,” says Hall, “is that a character can have quite a complicated inner life, but you have to express it in a very short amount of screen time. Julia’s very skilled in that, and I thought it would be fun to have her play a couple of different colors that she’s not known for.”
The two, who met while they were theater students at Northwestern University, work together constantly. “I’m always asking Brad to read scripts or whether he likes the rough cut,” says Louis-Dreyfus. “I seek his advice and his take on whatever I’m working on. Even if we’re not, on paper, doing a project together, we’re doing a project together.”
“Jules and Brad are such a good team on so many fronts,” says Louis-Dreyfus’s sister Lauren Bowles, an actress (she plays Holly the waitress on True Blood). “She is truly his muse.” Hall also wrote and produced the 2002 sitcom Watching Ellie for Louis-Dreyfus, casting her as a jazz singer. The show, costarring Bowles and Steve Carell, was shot with a single camera (before The Office ignited the trend), and each episode explored 22 real-time minutes of the character’s life. “Watching Ellie was a great show,” says Louis-Dreyfus. “Very inventive and a little ahead of its time, to tell you the truth.”
Despite decades of career kudos, “the family life that she has created is, hands down, Jules’s first priority and what she relishes the most,” says Bowles. “She and Brad—my God, theirs is truly one of those love affairs that have never waned.”
Asked if there’s any secret to the longevity of their marriage, Louis-Dreyfus pauses before deciding that it was “good luck. We were just right for each other, and it just so happened that we found each other.” What initially drew her to Hall, she says, was that “fundamentally, we share a similar set of values. That doesn’t sound very sexy, I know. But at the end of the day, it’s nice to know that’s in place. Particularly because in this town, with all the smoke and mirrors, it’s easy to believe and be seduced by your own hype. Success and failure are tricky here, maybe more so than in other businesses, except perhaps politics. In both universes, very often an image is being sold. The struggle is maintaining a sense of yourself and your ideals while selling that image. To have a safe place at home is that much more important.”