Jerry Seinfeld’s sitcom apartment remains one of the most iconic and analyzed sets ever. A quick Google gives one plenty to dig into, from the set’s bizarre, impossible dimensions and what its rent would cost today to the survival horror game and the tiny replicas it inspired and the time Hulu built an exhibit for fans to visit before losing the streaming rights to Netflix. But according to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the most unique and challenging part of the set was its size.
On Hot Ones, host Sean Evans asked Louis-Dreyfus about a quote from her fellow former castmate Jason Alexander, who said the set was the most challenging part of the show. Shaking off the heat sweats caused by The Spice Shark hot sauce (71,000 Scoville), which caused her to wonder aloud, “I don’t know why anyone would subject themselves to this,” Louis-Dreyfus said that the set challenged the actors to do something as soon as they walked in.
“What we were always challenged by was, as soon as you walk into the apartment, what are you supposed to do? ‘What business am I going to find to do in this apartment?’” Louis-Dreyfus told Evans. “You’re not just going to come in and sit on the couch every time. You had the couch, you had the kitchen, and then you had the sweet spot, which I believe we called the ‘Alleyway,’ between the counter and couch.”
“That was where a lot of stuff happened. It felt like you could hold court there in a way, but you also had to figure out what you were going to do, which is why I often would go to the refrigerator and just find things or even just go and look in the refrigerator and not do anything, but we were limited, but we had to be creative about it.”
Louis-Dreyfus’ response sheds some light on her answer about the set for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. After Evan’s shared a photo of the actor on set and before a slew of green screens, he asked about the biggest bit of Hollywood magic she experienced working in the MCU. Her response: “This,” referring to the green screens. “If you’ve seen Wakanda Forever, a scene that I’m in is meant to be a bridge in Boston,” she said. “That is the bridge. You can see how much green screen is everywhere. It’s all CGI—the entire thing. I was watching it, thinking this is incredible. We were just on pavement in the middle of Atlanta.”
The scene she’s describing, a walk and talk between her character, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, and Martin Freeman’s Evertt Ross, isn’t the explosive action scene that precedes it. Instead, it’s simply two people walking in the foreground with the background out of focus. Aside from the McGuffin Ross picks up, no creative business is asked of any of the actors. They’re only there to share information.
It’s apples and oranges because Seinfeld’s apartment has appeared on TV multiple times a day for decades. But on a more granular level, there’s a reason Seinfeld’s apartment is so memorable, and this CGI bridge is not. The apartment was a space that its actors interacted with—heck, Kramer’s entrance into the apartment was basically his catchphrase. As her response to both questions indicates, the sitcom space required its actors to act. The CGI one required her to read some lines as quickly as possible before she could board a flight out of Atlanta. Obviously, that speaks to the assembly-line production of Marvel, which requires actors barely interact with each other, let alone the space they’re inhabiting, and creates exploitative conditions for visual effects artists. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but a real set gives performers something to act with, and that makes all the difference.