JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS IS SITTING IN HER wood-paneled dressing room, son Henry Hall, age 4½ months, on her lap, and a lactation pump on the coffee table. NBC's Seinfeld initially rearranged its schedules this season to allow the new mother to work some half days and to bring Henry (with nanny) to the Studio City soundstage where the show is filmed. But that doesn't mean life is hassle-free for the actress, who plays Jerry Seinfeld's ex-girlfriend Elaine, a quirkily neurotic urban Everywoman. "Sleeping is a thing of the past," she says, bouncing a calmly observant Henry, who is wearing a pin-striped baseball uniform. But, she advises, "you've got to go with the flow and laugh about it, or you re dead."
It's a philosophy that could apply to her role on Seinfeld as well. She is the lone female on the hip hit comedy about four single friends on New York City's Upper West Side. Louis-Dreyfus, 31, could have been relegated, like many women in prime time, to fourth-banana status. But as Elaine, she actually steals scenes from the star himself and from Jason Alexander (Seinfeld's pal George) and Michael Richards (the wild-haired, oddball neighbor Kramer). "I've always done well in a boys' club," she says, then laughs. "Oh, boy, that could sound bad."
Not to her costars, who have accepted the Saturday Night Live alum in true fraternal fashion. She may be toting a newborn infant and have lost 30 pounds she gained in pregnancy, but, says Alexander, affectionately, "she's still one of the guys. She just doesn't hang around as much after they call wrap."
Louis-Dreyfus believes that Elaine "is very much like myself, times 150. She's a fairly stable, high-strung woman who's independent but a little confused about where she's going." Louis-Dreyfus, however, never veered from a path toward showbiz. Growing up in New York City and Washington, D.C., she divided her time—happily, she recalls—between two sets of parents: her mom, Judith Bowles, a writer, and stepfather, L. Thompson Bowles, a doctor; and her father, William Louis-Dreyfus, a businessman, and stepmother, Phyllis Louis-Dreyfus, a teacher (she has four younger half sisters). Louis-Dreyfus began performing in high school at the exclusive Holton-Arms girls school in Bethesda, Md. At Northwestern University, she was the only female member of an improv troupe, the Practical Theater Company, run by Brad Hall (now the supervising producer of CBS's Brooklyn Bridge). They wed in 1987, and both her father and both stepfather walked her down the aisle.
In 1982, after they saw the couple in a Chicago comedy revue, the producers of Saturday Night Live invited her and Hall to join the cast, which at first made Louis-Dreyfus feel "like Cinderella," then more like Cinderella under the sway of her wicked stepfamily. "It was an extremely political environment, and I'm not talking about government," she recalls of the three seasons she spent alongside Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo and Billy Crystal. "Ultimately I learned that it's not worth it unless you're having a good time."
After SNL, Louis-Dreyfus had a part in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, then vividly created the role of Eileen Swift, a fast-track stockbroker who hated kids, on the short-lived day-care sitcom Day by Day. Then, in 1989, a Seinfeld script landed in her lap. "Normally I would have hesitated," she says, "because my inclination would have been to get a lead, right? But the writing was truly spectacular—no bull." According to Seinfeld, Louis-Dreyfus was a shoo-in for the role: "It was just, yeah, this is the girl," he says. "She had an intelligence and appeal that was exactly what we were looking for—the ex-girlfriend you can't seem to get past." She quickly ingratiated herself with cast and crew. Says Elaine Pope, the show's only female writer: "She really is the least complaining actress I've ever worked with. Of course, the hair's gotta look good. That's a whole separate career to keep it looking good."
These days, Louis-Dreyfus claims she worries less about her cascading curls and more about the lactation pump. Though Henry was delivered by a difficult and painful C-section, and though she "cried a lot in the beginning," she has adjusted happily, if wearily, to her new routine. When they're not working, Louis-Dreyfus and Hall, 33, cocoon in their four-bedroom, country-style home in the hills above Westwood, Calif. In mock-horror, Louis-Dreyfus laments that all pretense of a social life has been abandoned. Then she turns to Henry and coos: "But it's all worth it, yes it is; it's all worth it."
KATHRYN BAKER and TOM CUNNEFF in Los Angeles
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