Making a balding, insecure guy into a sex symbol, sort of More than George: Jason Alexander relishes playing George Costanza on 'Seinfeld,' but he also looks for other roles.

January 14, 1996|By Barry Koltnow | Barry Koltnow,ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

In a classic "Seinfeld" episode, Jerry is congratulating George about something he's done, saying people will remember him for it. George panics. "I don't want to be remembered," he says without hesitation. "I want to be forgotten."

Too late, George.

The character, played for seven seasons by Jason Alexander, has become a cult figure in our pop culture, a symbol for our time, a monument to annoying, exasperating and grossly insecure people everywhere. He also is a beacon of hope for every bald, middle-aged single guy cruising the dating highways.

"I have always assumed that everybody would hate George, and certainly does not fare well on the Internet," Mr. Alexander said during an interview to promote his new movie, "Dunston Checks In," which opened Friday.

"But I have been told that he has become a very strange sort of sex symbol. Let's face it, the guy keeps getting these unbelievable women."

Mr. Alexander, 36, speculated that the key to George Costanza's sex appeal is the same thing that makes him so annoying -- his insecurity.

"Because he feels the way he does about himself, he is always trying to put on a show, acting like he is beyond what he really is. Of course, he eventually gets frustrated and blows it, but I think many women see all that effort as flattering.

"From a woman's point of view, I think his attempt at trying to be something better is seen as a sweet gesture."

It is obvious that Mr. Alexander, a New Jersey native who cut his acting teeth on the Broadway stage, relishes playing George. But he said he did not feel that way at the start of this season.

"Frankly, I did not come into this season excited about doing it again, because I felt that we were yesterday's news," he said.

"I felt like we had had our biggest hurrah, and you really don't want to do anything past its welcome. I didn't think we could re-invent ourselves, but I was wrong. I have enjoyed this season. I have felt a new level of comfort and vitality.

"And I particularly enjoyed George's engagement story line. It was delicious material to play with."

But Thursday nights are just the appetizer. Mr. Alexander's face has been seen all over the place the past year. He played a villain in Damon Wayans' film "Blankman," was host of the Emmys, starred in the TV remake of the Broadway musical "Bye Bye Birdie" and appears in a series of pretzel commercials.

"I know it looks like a hodgepodge without any sense of a plan, and in a way it is. But the real plan is to keep doing different things," he said.

" 'Seinfeld' is going to end one day, and I don't want to end with it."

That's one reason Mr. Alexander accepted the role of a hotel manager raising two young sons in "Dunston Checks In." The title character is an orangutan.

"When we started talking about this movie, they told me they planned to further develop my character and enhance the role, and I said: 'No, you're not. This is a movie about a monkey and a kid.'

"But they did try to develop my character more, and I was excited that they tried. But when it came time to put the movie together, all those character development scenes didn't work. The monkey seemed incidental, so the scenes we shot were cut."

The amazing thing is that Mr. Alexander, who should know better, would tempt fate by ignoring the show-business adage about working with children and animals.

"I know you're not going to believe me, but that orangutan is like working with a child," the actor said. "He's got a personality, a sense of humor, and he is oddly professional. The kids might blow a take, I might blow a take, but never the monkey. We never had to wait for him; he knew exactly what he was doing at all times."

Besides the role being different from any he had tackled, Mr. Alexander said there was another reason he took the role: It was in a family movie.

"I don't know if it's because of my son and the fact that we're going to have another child soon, but I have found myself lately looking for material that is more inclusionary than exclusionary to people.

"In the last four or five months, I have become ultra-sensitive to how much is out there that is inappropriate for a lot of people, and I'd like to do something about that.

"It's not that I plan to be in a string of family films, because that would go against my desire to do different things all the time. But this time out, I'm doing my part."

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