At 28, Julia Louis-Dreyfus joined Seinfeld & bought too many throw pillows

Julia Louis-Dreyfus found success early. At 21, she dropped out of college to join Saturday Night Live , breaking the show's record as the youngest actress at the time. But after three years in the tense atmosphere of the infamous sketch show, she ditched New York City for sunny Los Angeles and the busy halls of Studio 8H for the myriad TV pilot seasons audition room.

Becoming a "Saturday Night Live" alum wasn't quite the springboard Louis-Dreyfus had hoped for. “I didn’t become a big star from ‘Saturday Night Live’ by any means, and even on that show I didn’t have a lot to do. It's hard to get material that gets aired," Louis-Dreyfus tells Bustle. "I really wanted to be an actor and find great material. That was the challenge for me at the time and the challenge of being taken seriously as an actor. I'm very focused on that. "

Little did she know that at the age of 28, she would land the role that would change her career forever and cement her legacy in pop culture. It was 1989, and the pilot episode of a show called "Seinfeld" was airing on NBC. Executives decided the film needed a female character, and Louis-Dreyfus was soon cast to play Elaine Benes, Jerry Seinfeld's witty, hot-headed ex-girlfriend. That same year, she filmed the remainder of the first season of Seinfeld , which aired in 1990.

While it would be easy to say "Yada yada yada, and the rest is history," Seinfeld wasn't an immediate success. It would take a few seasons for viewers to fall in love with the humor that prevailed in this little show. But Louis-Dreyfus, 28, didn't think much of it. "I'm driven and ambitious, but I'm also free and have no illusions."

Looking back is something Louis-Dreyfus, 62, is also doing professionally, thanks to her podcast Wiser Than Me , in which she takes advice from older women on how to Advice for living a meaningful life. Looking back, she didn't change much in her 20s. "When I turned 30, it felt like I couldn't be more than 30. 30 sounds like a real adult," Louis-Dreyfus said. “When you’re in your 20s, you can still—at least that’s how I felt at the time—you can still fuck around.” And so she continued for another two years.

Below, Louis-Dreyfus reflects on joining Seinfeld , her obsession with Shabby Chic and her biggest skin-care regret.

Louis-Dreyfus in a promo for Seinfeld 28 . NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

Let me go back to 1989, when you were 28 years old. How do you feel about your life and career?

I live in the hills of Beverly Glen, Los Angeles. This is the first house I (my husband Brad Hall and I) have ever bought and I love it. That's a great house.

Before I did "Seinfeld," I had already done a series called "Day by Day." The show aired on NBC for two seasons. The story was that this couple set up a day care center in their home, and I was the neighbor next door who didn’t like kids—a snarky neighbor. I would come in with a barb and leave. Even though it's a fairly traditional sitcom in many ways, it's a pleasant experience to feel like the writers have your back from a creative standpoint. This was a confidence building experience for me. So when I started shooting the first four episodes of Seinfeld , I had a lot more control over my craft.

Four years ago, in 1985, you left "Saturday Night Live." A live sketch show also has to be a completely different environment than a sitcom.

OMG. completely different. When I was on Saturday Night Live in the early '80s, it was not a female-friendly environment at all. So it was a completely different experience and a happy one. When I started working on the first four episodes of Seinfeld with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, it felt like I was working with friends. We're doing what we think is fun, not what others tell us is fun. That's huge.

Do you remember what Elaine’s audition was like?

I did this in the easiest way possible. I’ve known Larry since he was on Saturday Night Live when I was a junior in college. We met each other there and became friends, we both suffered the same pain, so we bonded over it. A few years later, when I moved back to Los Angeles, I got a call from my agent and said, "These four scripts were written by Larry David. I think you know him." So they sent me these scripts. , let me tell you, they were completely different from anything on television at the time.

I went in and saw Larry. Jerry was there - I had never met Jerry before, but we got to know each other very quickly and I sat with him on a couch in some little office and we read a scene together. We talked for a while, hung out, and laughed. That's the end of it. This was not a standard [audition]. I mean, Jerry was eating cereal, so it was loose.

Luckily, I'm really lucky because I've worked at NBC, including Saturday Night Live and Day to Day, so they know me. So I didn't have to go through the normal network testing experience of being in front of executives and stuff like that. I had gotten approved by NBC, I met Lar, and then I met Jer, and we just clicked right away, and that was the end of it. We struck a deal over the weekend and started filming the following week. Hurry up.

I read that the character of Elaine was added after the pilot because the network wanted a female character. Do you feel any pressure as the only female protagonist on the show?

No, I feel no external pressure. I always feel pressure inside, not necessarily because she's a woman, if that makes sense. The great thing about this show, in its best version, is that it's neutral from a gender perspective. It's not like girl jokes and boy jokes. you know what I mean?

A good example is the masturbation incident. At the time, this was groundbreaking. I'm sure they're going to shut us down over this issue. No one is talking about this kind of thing—no one in prime time. So it's good to be a team player rather than a team girl. That's my desire, to play like everyone else.

What did you spend when you were 28?

I think this was the heyday of that Shabby Chic store. [I bought] stuff for the house and to make a home. I think I brought a lot of pillows. There are floral fabrics everywhere!

What does a typical Friday night out look like for you, 28?

I definitely stayed out later than I do now. We've always had this tradition in Seinfeld . After show nights, we would go to Jerry’s Deli in Studio City. We'd all go out for a nice meal, have a glass of wine, and sit there and talk about the show we'd just shot. That was so festive. Sometimes it's late at night. If I remember correctly, Jerry's is open 24 hours, which is why we were able to go there. It has a New York presence.

Do you have any regrets since you turned 28?

I'm going to tell you one of my regrets, and I hope all readers will pay attention to what I'm about to say: I wish I'd always worn sunscreen, I wish I'd never laid out in the sun, which I do a lot. I didn't pay attention and that was a mistake. So if someone was really smart, they would take my advice and wear sunscreen all the time.

Besides wearing sunscreen, what advice would you give to your 28-year-old self?

I would tell my 28-year-old self to just relax and everything will be fine.

What do you think your 28-year-old self would think of you now?

I don’t think the 28-year-old me would believe this. I do not believe. This has been my incredible life so far. I have these two beautiful boys. I have a husband that I still love dearly, I have a very interesting career, and I feel very lucky. I mean, a lot of my dreams have come true, and I'll touch wood as I say that, because I don't want to jinx it, but when I think about that, I pinch myself. Because that may not be the case.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.