Julia Louis-Dreyfus Wants Your Laugh

She’ll do anything to be funny. And she’s really, really happy she won the Emmy. But at 45, she knows what matters most — and it’s not fame.

By Dashka Slater

"I Do Believe in Luck"

A cell phone isn’t usually required when going on a hike in Will Rogers State Park, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s 14-year-old son, Henry, is on his way home from two-and-a-half weeks at summer camp, and she’s worried that he might need to reach her. "I’m so sorry I’m late," she calls from the window of her black Prius as she pulls into the parking lot. "I was halfway here, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get a phone.’"

She emerges from the car clutching the phone and then realizes that her running shorts don’t have pockets. What follows feels like a scene from The New Adventures of Old Christine, the CBS sitcom in which Louis-Dreyfus, 45, stars as an appealingly neurotic single mother (and for which, a week after our hike, she wins a best comedy actress Emmy Award). The phone goes in my backpack, the backpack goes on my back, and then the phone rings and I fumble around trying to retrieve it while Louis-Dreyfus tries not to hyperventilate. The call isn’t from Henry, but after that, she carries the phone in her hand.

This combination of maternal eagerness and anxiety helps explain why Louis-Dreyfus jumped at the opportunity to play out the complexities of Christine Campbell. A single episode of the show might find Christine gloating, seething, sobbing, and flirting — just for starters. "If this was on TV and I wasn’t in it, I’d be really jealous," she says.

When we meet, on a foggy August morning, Christine is gearing up for its second season. Between taping the show and making a slew of media appearances, Louis-Dreyfus hasn’t had much time for nature walks. So she strides down the trail purposefully, as if determined to extract the maximum amount of endorphins from her day outdoors. Not that she’s complaining about her life. Halfway through a description of her jam-packed schedule, she breaks off. "But these are all good problems, right?"

Louis-Dreyfus admits to being superstitious about good fortune, even though her father, French-born businessman Gerard Louis-Dreyfus, is one of the world’s wealthiest men, worth $3.4 billion, according to Forbes. On her left wrist she wears a gold charm bracelet with the medallions of Saint Gerard, the patron saint of motherhood, and Saint Claire, the patron saint of television (seriously!). Her husband of 19 years, writer and producer Brad Hall, gave her the bracelet, and she rarely takes it off. "I don’t believe in curses," she says. "I do believe in luck."

The bracelet is the only jewelry she wears on the day of the hike. In a week, she’ll be drowning in accolades for the sleek white-and-black Narciso Rodriguez dress that she wears to the Emmys, but now she is dressed to sweat. She wears a tight white Adidas T-shirt, black running shorts, and a navy blue visor. With her curly hair pinned up haphazardly and her face unadorned by makeup and shaded by the visor, other hikers don’t recognize her.

As we talk, she is thoughtful, serious, and a trifle bossy, the kind of person whose enthusiasms lead to orders. "Read it!" she commands when I admit to not having read Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Interpreter of Maladies. "Get one!" she instructs when she discovers I haven’t applied for the sticker that will allow my Prius (and all the other hybrid cars that have a sticker) to sail through the carpool lane.

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