Proving he's no George Costanza, Seinfeld's schmuck takes a risk
Best known as hapless shlep George Costanza on NBC’s Seinfeld, Jason Alexander has lately undertaken the role of Buzz—the drama queen of drama queens living with AIDS—in the film version of Terrence McNally’s Broadway hit Love! Valour! Compassion! Recently we chatted about winning an Oscar, George Costanza’s fears about HIV and becoming a gay sex symbol—in apron and nothing else.
Dominic: What’s the best thing for you about playing Buzz?
Jason: It’s a selfish-actor answer. Buzz is far and away the most interesting, complex, challenging character that I’ve ever been asked to play on film. I’ve done some interesting stage characters, but on film most of my work has been fairly lightweight, and “entertainment” more than fully wrought. The big challenge was to realize a character like him as fully as necessary in order to keep up with those other guys, especially in a film that was happening pretty quickly.
Tom Hanks won an Oscar for playing a man with AIDS. Do you think there might be an Oscar in this for you?
Oh God, no. But I never think those things. I went into Jerome Robbins’ Broadway thinking this would be the worst thing for my career and ended up winning a Tony for it. What I am aware of is that I think this is a movie the industry will see and hear about, and it could be a very helpful tool to get people to consider me for things that up to now they might not have if they just knew the Seinfeld work.
Speaking of Seinfeld—do you think George Costanza has been tested for HIV?
[Laughing heartily] I don’t know if he has, but I bet he tests every partner—though they do seem rather indiscriminate on that show, don’t they, just hopping into bed with anyone who comes along. You know, he probably has. George is probably convinced you can still catch it on a sneeze.
Do you have any concerns with people thinks that you might be gay?
God, no. The practical answer is that my life is basically public knowledge, and it’s well known that I’m married and have a family and lead a pretty straight life. But even if that weren’t known, I wouldn’t be worried. We’re not where we were 20 years ago, when I first started working, when, particularly if an actor was a romantic leading man and it came out that he was gay, it could hurt his chances of working in that capacity. I don’t think the stigma quite exists anymore. If people think I’m gay, that’s fine. I’ve gotten a number of gay marriage proposals, which is very flattering.
So you’re ready to be a gay sex symbol?
Absolutely! I’ll be a symbol anywhere. Beggars can’t be choosers. When we were shooting and doing on-the-set press, people would ask, “Are you concerned about the risk of this film?” And I liked to throw their own fear back in their faces. My reply was “You tell me what the risk is.” The risk is not being perceived as gay—that would mean I did my job well. The risk is being perceived as a straight actor trying to play gay. And the would be a very bad thing. You’ve gotta be gay—at least while you’re doing the part. Otherwise the job isn’t being done.
Is Buzz’s predicament any different now that the protease inhibitors are around?
You probably know more about that than I would. What I’m hearing in the press is that they’re practically a cure.
Some people are saying that, and it’s not the case.
But I’d like to think that Buzz’s imminent death, which is part of what makes this character so poignant, perhaps would not be as imminent. Perhaps there would be more hope for him and for James. There’s certainly more reason to be optimistic about AIDS than there was even a year ago---and had Terrence been writing in that climate, he might have been affected another way. Who knows? I think he chose these people’s paths for very specific reasons.
In the play Buzz wears an apron but shows his butt. Do you do that in the film?
I most certainly do.
So they kept all the nudity?
Yeah, there’s a fair amount of full-frontal nudity. But for the most part, it’s not sexual nudity, it’s tonal. The only scene where we’re all starkers is the final scene when we’re skinny-dipping in the lake.
It’s not provocative. Despite the fact that you don’t see penises in the movies very often, it’s not provocative nudity to me. You’ll see more of me than you ever cared to.