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Long before he became famous as curmudgeon George Costanza on the long-running hit TV series Seinfeld, actor Jason Alexander was making a name for himself on Broadway. He starred in Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along and in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound before winning a Tony Award for his performance in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 1989. Alexander (CFA’81, Hon.’95) drew on these experiences during a master class he conducted before more than 100 College of Fine Arts School of Theatre students on September 22.
Dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt, the actor recounted how the late Jim Spruill (CFA’75), then a CFA associate professor of theater arts, gave him some indispensable career advice. Noticing Alexander’s physicality, he said, “I know your heart and soul are Hamlet. But you will never play Hamlet.” Spruill urged him to do comedy. The actor left BU a year shy of graduating to appear in a film being shot in New York City. Months later he was on Broadway starring in Merrily We Roll Along.
Over the next 30 years, Alexander appeared in dozens of films and television shows, including Pretty Woman, Shallow Hal, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He is currently lending his voice to the 2015 documentary The Gettysburg Address. Alexander’s performance in Seinfeld, which ran from 1989 to 1998, earned seven Emmy nominations and four Screen Actors Guild awards.
Alexander told the CFA students that famed acting coach Larry Moss gave him four rules of acting. For every role they assume, actors must ask the following questions:
Following the master class, Alexander stuck around for students’ questions, many of which focused on the differences between acting for stage and acting for film. Acting teachers who coach for a film performance many times “tell you to bring it down,” Alexander said. “But think of any performance you’ve loved in a movie. Was it small? No.”
By way of example, he recounted the time he and Michael Chiklis (CFA’85) both auditioned for the role of John Belushi in the film Wired. Although they were neck and neck for the part, Chiklis went for a bigger impact, and trashed the set during the audition. Alexander laughed: “He got the part.”
But it was the heartfelt advice and encouragement Alexander offered to the students that made the evening especially memorable. At one point, he told students that they have no reason to not do what they want to do, noting that iPhones and YouTube have made it easier than ever to produce a film. “Be gentle with yourself,” Alexander counseled. “You don’t yell at a bud because it’s not a flower yet. It’s going to take time.”