“Like Mark Twain, Julia has enriched American culture with her iconic, unforgettable, and outright hilarious brand of humor,” said Deborah F. Rutter, president of the Kennedy Center in the announcement Wednesday morning. “Over four decades, her wildly original characters and her gift for physical comedy have left us in stitches. Julia is a role model for so many, and we look forward to honoring her on October 21.”
Louis-Dreyfus, 57, has built a sitcom career on playing boldly neurotic single women. She caught her big break at 21, joining the “Saturday Night Live” cast for three years, but became a household name in the 1990s playing the self-absorbed Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld.”
NBC had picked up the off-kilter series in 1989 on the condition that creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld balance the male-centric setup with a compelling female character, and Louis-Dreyfus beat out the likes of Rosie O’Donnell and Megan Mullally for the role.
David told Rolling Stone years later that Louis-Dreyfus was “bright, charming — striking, actually — and she had a great disposition, which, considering the bunker mentality that was ‘SNL’ at the time, wasn’t easy. When it came to casting Elaine, we were lucky she was available.”
After the series concluded in 1998 with one of the most-watched finales in TV history, Louis-Dreyfus jumped between small projects and eventually broke the so-called “Seinfeld” curse with the titular role in the acclaimed “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” The CBS comedy, which ran from 2005 to 2010, centered on a single mother who runs a women’s gym.
Two years later, Louis-Dreyfus took on what is widely considered the strongest role of her career: the rather inept Vice President Selina Meyer on HBO’s “Veep.” The Los Angeles Times deemed Louis-Dreyfus “one of the medium’s great comedians” when the show premiered, and the Hollywood Reporter applauded “what is clearly an Emmy-worthy effort.” The Television Academy agreed. Louis-Dreyfus has won six awards for acting in the series and three as a producer. (She has been nominated for 24 Emmys total.)
The actress said in a statement: “Merely to join the list of distinguished recipients of this award would be honor enough, but, as a student of both American history and literature, the fact that Mr. Twain himself will be presenting the award to me in person is particularly gratifying.”