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How Pretty Woman Led To Jason Alexander's Role On Seinfeld

On "Seinfeld," Jason Alexander's George Costanza is neurotic, annoying, sometimes relatable, and always good for a laugh. Think of his comical downfall when he's forced to move back in with his parents in Season 5, Episode 2 ("The Puffy Shirt"). It's one of many times that the hilarious imbecile embarrasses on a second-by-second basis. Who could forget his unfortunate encounter with the bubble boy in Season 4, Episode 7 ("The Bubble Boy")? Or his extraordinary efforts to maintain his high score on a video game machine in Season 9, Episode 18 ("The Frogger")?

Once you get to know George Costanza and the terrible things he does, it's almost impossible to separate the character from the actor who plays him. Think back through the mists of time, however, and you may remember: This guy was in the 1990 movie "Pretty Woman." And there was nothing funny about him! Even with the knowledge that he's a trained and talented actor, it's puzzling to consider Alexander embodying such disparate characters. But the mystery goes even deeper. Somehow, his "Pretty Woman" role actually helped him get his part on "Seinfeld."

In Pretty Woman, Alexander played a quintessential villain

Let's take a moment to recall Jason Alexander as Philip Stuckey in "Pretty Woman." As Edward Lewis's (Richard Gere) lawyer, business partner, and frenemy, he's annoyed when Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) sweeps onto the scene. Sweet, kind, stunning, and grounded, Vivian is the hero of this story and we're all rooting for her. We want her to get the guy and live happily ever after. But who's standing in her way? Mean-hearted, misogynistic Stuckey. He catches her alone at the hotel and with a few choice words tells her exactly what he thinks of her and what she should think of herself (it's not good). He moves to rape her and slaps her in the face when she fights him off.

As bad guys go, Alexander as Stuckey delivers a picture-perfect performance of a villain. You'd think this would inspire producers to look at him and imagine other villainous roles he could easily slip into. Instead, word traveled about his work in the movie from "Pretty Woman" director Garry Marshall to producer Penny Marshall to Rob Reiner, head of Castle Rock Entertainment, which was casting for "Seinfeld." Somewhere in that convoluted game of telephone, it was communicated that they ought to bring Alexander in to test for the role of George (via Inside of You Clips).

"They'd seen a gazillion people I guess, for George, some very famous, who I think had been offered the role and either turned it down or they got nixed," Alexander said, name-dropping Chris Rock, Danny DeVito, and Paul Shaffer among them. Whatever the case, the role remained open and the guy who'd played Stuckey had a real shot.

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For George, they needed a real New Yorker

It's not as if Alexander hadn't played a variety of parts throughout his acting career up to that point. In 1985, he had a recurring role on "E/R" and he sang and danced his way through a McDonald's commercial. The following year, he appeared in an episode of "One Life to Live." And in 1987, he starred in the TV series "Everything's Relative" (via IMDb). He also had an extensive background in theater, appearing on Broadway in the 1986 play "Broadway Bound," as well as a variety of musicals, including 1981's "Merrily We Roll Along," 1984's "The Rink," and 1989's "Jerome Robbins' Broadway" (via Playbill).

All of this was proof that not only could Alexander sing (surprise!), he had range as an actor that went well beyond the "Pretty Woman" part that put him on Hollywood's radar. And even though filming for "Seinfeld" would take place in L.A., the fact that he was New York-based figured into the draw, too. "Somebody said, 'You know, we should get some New York actors into the mix,'" Alexander recalled. This led to his getting a few pages of the script to look over as well as a vague description of the character he'd be reading for—a man around his age who'd be a sort of sidekick to the main character, comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

That wasn't much to go on, but Alexander had seen Seinfeld perform stand-up, and he was a fan. With only morsels of information about the character, he was already interested in taking a shot at a role on the show, playing a fictionalized version of co-creator Larry David, a man he'd never heard of before.

Alexander let loose and proved he was the best actor for the job

As he prepared for his "Seinfeld" audition, Alexander got the sense that the dialogue in the script read like a Woody Allen film. "And I went, 'All right, let's go with that,'" he said. At the time, he didn't wear glasses, so he went out and bought some frames. Then, when he read for the part, he ramped up a thick New York accent and literally played Woody Allen, mimicking his voice, his gestures, everything.

Though he did what he could with the part, Alexander wasn't at all convinced he'd nailed it. "I finished the tape and went, 'I'll never see that again,'" he said. But just days later, he got a call. He was asked to fly to L.A. and audition live for Seinfeld and the network.

When he arrived, he got some specific directions: Lose the Woody Allen voice, but keep everything else. He also met his competition. There was one other actor reading for the same part and his name was Larry Miller. He'd been in "Pretty Woman," too, as Mr. Hollister, the manager of the Rodeo Drive store who snubs Vivian. And he was Jerry Seinfeld's best friend (via L.A. Times).

Now Alexander was sure the part was lost to him. Knowing he didn't stand a chance, he completely relaxed for his reading. "I was loose. I was loosey-goosey, and I just had a great time going, 'I'm not gonna get this, so just have fun,'" he said.

Afterward, he flew right home to New York. By the time the plane landed, the news was in. Alexander had won the role of George Costanza. And today, it's impossible to imagine things turning out any other way.