In Depth

‘Christine’ Star Beats the ‘Curse’

Emmy Success, Series Renewal Prove Jinx Is No Concern for ‘Seinfeld’ Vet Louis-Dreyfus

Just as she did as a cast member of “Saturday Night Live” in the mid-1980s, Julia Louis-Dreyfus finds performing in front of a live audience exhilarating. As Christine on the CBS sitcom “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is heading into her fourth season on the program after its recent pickup by the network—with many more opportunities to experience the thrill.

She is an Emmy hopeful again this year, after taking home the statuette for her performance following the first season and being nominated again last year. But Ms. Louis-Dreyfus isn’t taking anything for granted. The show’s pickup itself was uncertain until the announcement at last month’s CBS upfront, ending speculation that it might move to another network.

In 2006, when her name was announced as the winner of the Emmy Award for lead actress in a comedy series, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus was stunned. “I just figured I was absolutely not winning. And I was getting used to that idea,” Ms. Louis-Dreyfus said. “I was just shocked; it was just pure shock! I just kept—I sat there looking at my husband, I just couldn’t believe it. It was a real surprise, I think, frankly, to everybody because we’d only been on the air 13 episodes. So it was like, ‘What? You’re kidding!’”

Ms. Louis-Dreyfus attributes the show’s acclaim to its writing staff, and the strength of its creative team, including executive producer Kari Lizer and director Andy Ackerman. “It’s just a really good team. The bottom line is, from a creative point of view, if the story and the words aren’t on the page, then you’re nowhere. You’re going nowhere fast, and in our case we have both, so that’s great,” she said.

Keeping Pace

Her character, Christine Campbell, is a divorced mother who owns a gym and whose young son goes to private school. She finds herself trying to keep pace with the other moms, even as her ex-husband starts to date one of them—the so-called new Christine to her old one. The lead character’s brother Matthew, played by Hamish Linklater, lives with them, acting as a sounding board and sometimes nanny, and her rough-around-the-edges best friend is played by Wanda Sykes.

“I think that Christine’s relationship with her brother is very well drawn right now, and there’s a lot of comedic material yet to be mined from that relationship, which I would say is a highly dysfunctional relationship, to put it mildly,” Ms. Louis-Dreyfus said. “And it’s been very well set up. So I’m really quite pleased with that. There isn’t a relationship in the show that doesn’t work—they all seem to work. They’re clear, the characters are very clear, which is nice.”

For old Christine, bad news seems to draw the most laughter. As Ms. Louis-Dreyfus sees it, Christine lives in the “land of the pathetic,” and will be more firmly implanted there as the show continues.

“Her son’s getting older, she’s getting older, she doesn’t have a lot of money, private school’s an issue, and I think her husband’s relationship with his girlfriend, new Christine, is going to get more solid. And that’s the potential problem for her,” Ms. Louis-Dreyfus said. “So it seems as if the sort of pathetic aspect of her life seems to bear the best fruit comedically, and so that’s where we’re headed.”

Yet one of Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’ biggest challenges in playing Christine in the most recent season had nothing to do with any of the other actors on the show. It was, in fact, one of her costumes.

“Walking around in an ugly bra and sweatpants was pretty tough. That was very scary and took a lot of bravery on my part, only because I’m as vain as the next person—and that was just terrifying,” Ms. Louis-Dreyfus said, laughing.

“So I’m happy to say I did it and I got the laughs—laughter at me—and I would definitely say that was one of the biggest challenges. That, and perhaps rock climbing. We shot a scene at a rock-reation type of joint, and we made a rock-climbing wall, and actually going up there and holding on and rock climbing was not the easiest thing in the world. I had a few bruises. I’ll take the bruises, that’s no problem. As long as the scene works.”

Her Emmy for “Christine” joined the one she received for playing Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld”—after being nominated four times—and obliterated the so-called “‘Seinfeld’ curse.” “Seinfeld” co-star Jason Alexander recently did a brief guest spot on “Christine,” with a wink and a nod to the show that made them both household names in the 1990s.

“It was a really good season,” said Ms. Louis-Dreyfus. “It was a short season because of the writers strike, and that was too bad we couldn’t do more episodes, but I’m just happy that we got to do the ones we did, and I’m proud of how they came out. I think they were all really strong episodes.”