In the life of an actor there is always that one role that – for better or worse – defines a career.
For Jason Alexander that role will always be George Constanza.
But Alexander has always been fervent about letting people know that he’s much more than the neurotic Constanza character from the “Seinfeld” sitcom. He can dance and sing, and he won a Tony Award in 1989 for his work on the show “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway .” And since “Seinfeld,” he has added standup comedy to the mix.
Despite the career diversity, he finds it hard for producers and directors to get past seeing him as George.
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Still, he’s not complaining.
“It’s OK,” Alexander said via phone from his home in Los Angeles. “I still get to do wonderful things. I make a great living. And as far as I can see, ‘Seinfeld’ is a gift that keeps giving – it has opened more doors that it has closed.”
Indeed, one of the doors that has opened is the chance to do live comedy, as in his latest one-man show, “An Evening with Jason Alexander and His Hair,” which he’s set to perform Wednesday at the Harris Center.
That show, a mix of humor, music and conversation, will give audiences the chance to see what he calls the “real Alexander.”
Also notable about the show is its unusual title. Alexander now sports much more hair on his head than “Seinfeld” fans will remember him having – another way to distance himself from his former TV character, he explained.
“What I wanted was a way to come out in the show and change the expectations of the audience,” he said of his post-balding look.
How did this show come to be?
This show has been in formation for years and came to be after my agent told me, “Why don’t you think of doing a comedy show?” Back then, I looked at him as if he had three heads because nothing could be further from anything that I wanted to do.
Why was that?
I never thought of myself as a standup comic. I have enormous respect for standup comics. I know firsthand from working with some of the best in the world what it takes to do it well. I just never saw myself in that guise.
So why did you go for it?
What I’ve been doing over the years is hosting and emceeing gigs where I would need a minute of comic material here, three minutes of material there. Then I started doing a show eight years ago. It was a corporate show and it was more or less a standup show – even though I didn’t think of it that way.
That was your “Donny Clay” show where you played a motivational speaker?
Yes. I was playing a very bad motivational speaker and I was doing entertainment in the guise of a motivational seminar – but it was a comedy show. When the corporate market started diminishing two or three years ago, and corporations were not spending the money it took to produce such shows, my agent suggested I do straight comedy. That’s when I stepped back and realized that after 12 years of building little routines and the corporate show that I actually had enough material to build this standup show.
A small part of the show will be a Q-and-A session about “Seinfeld”?
There is something like a “Seinfeld” tribute in middle of the show that affords people to ask some questions. I keep that brief because I find that the audience is averse to ask questions during the Q-and-A. People get shy all of a sudden and the momentum falls out of the show. But people will definitely get their “Seinfeld” fix in the show.
It’s been 15 years since “Seinfeld” ended. Has it been easy to get other roles?
It’s interesting. I’ve been working consistently and happily since the show went off the air. I’ve been doing all kinds of different roles. But it’s hard to make a bigger impression than what we did with “Seinfeld.” It’s hard, frankly, to broom the George impression out of people’s heads. And I don’t think I’m going to.
That must make it difficult to get certain roles.
It’s a little tricky for major roles. When I’m being considered for a major role in a film, or whatever, eventually every producer and director has to ask themselves if they are willing to meet the moment ... where the audience will see me for the first time – and they will think I’m George. The truth is the first time you see Tom Hanks in a movie the first thing they say is “Look, it is Forrest Gump.” But no one cares because that is what we expect of our movie stars; they play a lot of roles. But because “Seinfeld” was so iconic and so pervasive ... there are producers and directors (who) just don’t want to face that moment. That has had an impact on me, absolutely.
Is having hair where there was none a way of you playing a role outside yourself?
The hair may make it seem like I’m playing another character, but this show, it is more or less me. ... The anticipation is I’ll be doing George. I have to dispel that. I literally would not know how to sustain a 90-minute show as George. So I thought the visual device of the hair alone says to the audience – immediately – that I’m not George. It has become an easy, funny and unusual and distinctive way to make a first impression.
I understand that you have an interest in moving into directing.
I’ve always had a challenge seeing projects purely through the eyes of my character. I tend to see the big picture more than the micro. For a lot of actors, if you delve into their psyche, you see there is a reason they need to perform. As I’ve gotten older I think whatever compels me to perform has diminished. And what has replaced it is the excitement and satisfaction I get in helping others achieve what they’re reaching for, whether it is another writer or a project as a whole.
If you could choose one thing to do differently in your career, what that would be?
I don’t think there is anything I would do differently. I think the better question is “Could I have done other things?” One area that has always called to me is teaching. I think I would have loved teaching something in the humanities. I do a lot teaching of acting. I’ve done master classes in universities and do private master classes.
The other thing that calls to me is politics. I find I’m more and more interested in it. One cause I feel we must all focus on, regardless of ideology, is finding a way to get the money out of our elections and political processes. Money has polluted the system.
Would you consider running for office, then?
The more I engage in it the more I realize I can be more effective outside the system than inside it. The only skill I have that is useful to a politician are people skills. I do not have the educational background to provide any insight to inform what a politician can do. So, if I can become more effective outside the system, I’d be very happy with that.
AN EVENING WITH JASON ALEXANDER AND HIS HAIR
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Stage One, Harris Center at Three Stages, Folsom Lake College, Folsom
Information: (916) 608-6888; www.harriscenter.net