The Decade-Long Julia Louis-Dreyfus Heel Turn

She’s so bad, it’s good
The Decade-Long Julia Louis-Dreyfus Heel Turn

Julia Louis-Dreyfus always had an “America’s Sweetheart” quality, notes Time. From her early days impersonating Marie Osmond on Saturday Night Live to playing Jerry’s mostly platonic best gal-pal on Seinfeld, Louis-Dreyfus built a Hall of Fame TV career based on Elaine, the funny, ambitious, quirky character who more than held her own against three complete goofballs in George, Kramer and Jerry. She cemented America’s affection in The New Adventures of Old Christine, playing a divorced mother doing her best to keep up with a crazy world. Between Seinfeld and Old Christine, Louis-Dreyfus picked up 12 Emmy nominations and 2 wins. She was TV royalty. And then she decided to turn our love and devotion against us.

It’s as if JLD has been on a mission over the past 10 years to prove just how coal-black her evil, evil heart can be. That’s one of the benefits of building that affection over decades — you can inflict more delicious pain when you hurt the ones who love you. 

As carnivorous political animal Selina Meyer on Veep, Louis-Dreyfus chews the scenery with vicious insults and truly terrifying threats. “I’m going to have the IRS crawl so far up your husband’s colon, he’s going to wish the only thing they find is more cancer.” Whew — hard to imagine Mary Tyler Moore delivering that line. Meyer’s political history is littered with horrors, from getting a woman deported (shades of Seinfeld), to revealing an opponent’s personal medical history, to actually murdering a mayor. The fact that the mayor in question was a pooch probably makes it worse. Is there any other living American actress that could kill a dog and get away with it?

At least Meyer isn’t an all-out villain. For that, Louis-Dreyfus has taken on the role of Marvel big bad Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a nasty soul generating havoc across the MCU in Black Widow, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the upcoming Thunderbolts. So far, she’s been a manipulative operative working in the shadows of government, bending superheroes to her will. In the comics, she becomes Madame Hydra, a terrorist leader bent on destroying Nick Shield and all we hold dear. So, not nice. And unlike Selina Meyer, her Marvel character won’t just be about cruel insults. In Thunderbolts, she told Variety, she’s dying to kick ass: “I told them I really, really want to fight.”

Less overtly evil but no more attractive to audiences is JLD’s turn as Shelly, the not-as-tolerant-as-she-likes-to-think mother in You People. The entire film is designed for discomfort and Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t disappoint, doling out microaggressions like they were free samples at Costco. She’s the kind of lady who “hated Gone With the Wind before it was cool,” a prospective mother-in-law more intent on impressing people with her liberal views than being a decent human being. Shades of Selina Meyer, there’s a lot of ugliness hiding just behind Shelly’s America’s Sweetheart smile. 

It’s just another chapter in a decade-long run of patently wicked acts, behavior no actor should be able to get away with. For Christ’s sake, she even cursed at Elmo. But doggone it, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Despite your turn to the dark side, we’re still with you anyway. 

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