Julia Louis-Dreyfus likes complicated questions. Chilling out in her room at the Four Seasons Hotel on a winter day in Beverly Hills, the actress with long, slightly curly brown hair and a wry smile is contemplating the big issue at the center of her five-year passion project.
The movie is called “Downhill” and is based on the Swedish film “Force Majeure.” Louis-Dreyfus plays Billie, a control freak corporate lawyer, who is married to Pete (Will Ferrell), an indifferent but pleasant type. They’re on a family vacation in the Alps when an avalanche comes pounding down a mountain. She grabs their two boys to save them. He grabs his phone.
Hello, marriage counseling?
“It’s a tough one when one of the partners chooses not to save the family,” Louis-Dreyfus said. “He makes all the bad decisions, which brings up a major life issue. Good people can make bad decisions. But does it make them bad people?”
At age 59, life is all good for the cancer survivor who just said goodbye to her Emmy-winning series “Veep” and voices the mother in the new, animated “Onward” opposite Chris Pratt and Tom Holland. The mother of two grown sons, Henry, 28, and Charles, 23, also just signed a deal with Apple.
Review-Journal: What is your idea of the perfect Sunday?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I’m home with my husband (actor-director-writer Brad Hall). The day begins at the farmers market. Then we go home or out for a delicious, yummy situation involving breakfast foods. This is followed by a nice, long hike somewhere. That’s the perfect day.
Tell us about “Downhill.”
I had made a movie with Searchlight called “Enough Said” (2013), and they originally came to me with “Downhill.” They had seen the original film at Cannes and were very interested in an American adaptation. I said, ‘Great. Sign me up.’ Five years later, we have the film.
Why does it always take so long?
We just really wanted to get it right. It’s a movie based on behavior in a relationship, internal things and that kind of stuff. This is a deeper look at a marriage. I’m hoping it opens up a lot of conversations about truth telling, shame and gender roles.
There is a scene where your kids haven’t had breakfast, but you’re rushed to a helicopter waiting to take all of you to ski some untouched slopes. As a mother, you go into freak-out mode and say “forget it.” Your husband says, “But I paid $2,000 to do this.”
What I loved is it’s not black and white, but a little bit gray. He doesn’t tell her and rents a helicopter so that the whole family can fly into weather and slopes that are far away from the resort. She’s rushed out where everyone is yelling to get on the helicopter with the kids. One kid lost his glove; they’re starving. She’s wigged out as a mother wondering if it’s safe. He’s taking liberty with what might be a dangerous situation, to say the least. But she also behaves badly in her own right by bringing their kids into the middle of an adult fight.
Is it true that you hadn’t met Will Ferrell before doing this film?
We had never met. But when I heard that he was interested, I was so thrilled. I’m such a fan of his as a comedian, but I was also very keenly aware of his work in “Stranger Than Fiction.” I had a sense he could really tackle this drama, and I knew it after we talked at great length about the material. We were on the same page.
Did you do your own skiing?
I did. I’ve been skiing for years. I did feel bad for the cameraman who was on skis, skiing backwards, filming it. I can’t even imagine how you would do this while filming.
How hard was it to say goodbye to “Veep” after winning six Emmys for it?
I think I will have “Veep” withdrawal for the rest of my life. I loved “Veep” for its fast-paced, authentic messiness. It was also grounded in a kind of reality. I’ll really miss it.
You just signed a deal with Apple to work on new shows.
I like working on TV, if we can even call it TV now. I like working on that medium even if people watch it on a computer, which is why maybe we shouldn’t call it TV. Would I do computer next? The answer is yes.
You were diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2017 and underwent chemo, plus a double mastectomy. How did you get through that time?
It was very hard when I was diagnosed. It’s so terrifying, but it also made me acutely aware. I said, “Holy (expletive), what if you’re met with this crisis and you don’t have health care? How do you reconcile that?” It strikes me as inhumane. That’s why I voice my utter and complete support of health care for all. It’s an obligation we have to our citizens.
Did you come out of this crisis stronger?
You do come out stronger. I lived. That is everything.
You’ve helped a lot of women who are dealing with cancer.
I reached a lot of people by making my journey public. I was able to raise a lot of money for women who have had a mastectomy and who need reconstruction but insurance doesn’t cover it. If I can help one person, it’s what I want to do.
On a lighter note, will you watch a “Seinfeld” rerun?
Ah, the memories. You know, I might watch part of it if I happen to land on a rerun. I don’t watch often. Sometimes, I will watch if I don’t remember what happened on that episode. I can’t remember it all! That’s when I watch. Sometimes, I’ll go down the rabbit hole of watching “Seinfeld” bloopers. Now, that’s fun. It’s also a reminder of how much fun we had on the set together.
There is a famous “Seinfeld” episode where you do the Elaine dance. No offense to your TV character, but are you a better dancer in real life?
(Laughs): Yes, I am so, so, so much better than Elaine, but come on … she’s her own dancer, which is good, too. She dances from the heart.