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Catherine Keener's Seinfeld Appearance Was All Thanks To A Last-Minute Casting Change

Catherine Keener's not really what we'd consider a "television actor." Widely recognized for her roles in hits like 2017's "Get Out" and 2005's "The 40-Year Old Virgin," and Oscar-nominated turns in "Being John Malkovich" and "Capote," Keener is associated with thought-provoking, creatively ambitious and unique projects, and emotionally complex roles.  

But back in the early '90s, before she was an established cinema star, a one-episode guest spot on a major primetime network comedy probably seemed like a major opportunity. 

Granted, Keener's short-lived "Seinfeld" gig doesn't look like a career make-or-breaker in hindsight. She had already appeared alongside Brad Pitt in Tom DiCillo's feature debut, 1991's "Johnny Suede," which led to Keener playing the lead in the director's 1995 meta-masterwork "Living in Oblivion." Maybe she could've passed on "Seinfeld" without it impacting her future prospects all that much, but nobody could've known that at the time.

In Season 3, Episode 20 ("The Letter") of "Seinfeld," Keener takes the form of Nina West — an artist with a jealousy issue who manipulates George Costanza (Jason Alexander) into buying one of her paintings and uses plagiarism to manipulate Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) out of breaking up with her. Nina seems to have a lot of personality faults and makes a lot of poor decisions, but it all amounts to slightly less depravity than George demonstrates on a routine basis. 

Keener says her Seinfeld performance isn't her best work

"Seinfeld" is still one of the most popular sitcoms in history despite its final episode airing in 1998, so we can safely presume the sad saga of Nina West has played out many, many times on TV screens throughout the years. But according to Keener, she mostly landed the job on a fluke and doesn't seem to think her acting holds up very well.  

"There's a 'Seinfeld.' Oh my god, I was sooo bad in it!" she told she told The Guardian in 2009. "I replaced someone at the last minute." Keener didn't expand on who she replaced or what exactly she thinks is wrong with her performance. We don't want to guess what she's talking about, but it's hard to gauge, as the acting abilities of her primary scene partner in the show were, shall we say, infamously specific. It just goes to show that sometimes for actors, what might seem like a glamorous role at the time won't always turn into the biggest deal in the long run. 

Keener continued, "When I started out, I was more open to doing anything I could get, but there came a time when I was getting pretty good movies, so I liked that. I found my spot in the room — and it was a comfortable spot."