You might not recognize his real name, Jay Scott Greenspan, but bet you will recognize his “stage” name, Jason Alexander, and certainly the name of his “Seinfeld” TV series character, George Costanza. Alexander will be center stage at the Bushnell on Oct. 4 for the Lite 100.5 WRCH’s 16th Annual Nite of Lite Laughter. The show, titled “An Evening With Jason Alexander And His Hair,” benefits The Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center. While best known for his television role, Alexander is a Tony award winning Broadway star, a celebrity poker player, a social activist, director, husband and father of two sons. He was spending an afternoon fielding press interviews recently and that included a Spilling the Beans with Java.
Q: This has something to do with your visit to Hartford, I guess, but I am looking at two recent pictures of you, one with hair and one without. What’s the deal?
A: I started the toupee thing for a specific reason. It started because I lost a couple of roles because of the stigma of George Costanza. You try to look so much like the new character you are playing but no matter what you do the audience is going to say ‘Oh it’s George.’ On Broadway I won a Tony for playing 14 people, so changing my look is part of the job of acting. But people still identify me with the part I played on TV for nine years. So I decided to have some fun and add the hair. It opened up some thinking and made me appear a little less ‘George-like.’ A little less ‘schmoe-y.’ There is something about putting on the hair, like women using make-up. I realize it is incredibly eccentric but it is the only eccentric thing I do and I decided to own it. It has become a nice linch pin for getting into the comedy material of the night.
Q: How are you describing yourself these days, professionally, Broadway star, TV star, celebrity poker player, director, standup comic, social activist?
A: All of the above, and take out the word star. It’s so wild these days because I don’t have the absolute steady gig. So people ask and I say ‘I am doing exactly what I want to do.’ I think I am more picky about what I do professionally. I feel like I am coming into a period of my life that is so interesting. My baby boy, Noah, is in his final year of high school and I have kept a lot of things at arm’s length so I can be home with my family. The things I have been looking at now include a TV series. I have been trying to develop some TV things that are of interest to me. Written some pilots and stay connected to theater as director and occasionally as actor but not so much because New York City is where the most opportunity is and I am here on the West Coast. When Noah goes off to college I may take up one of the offers and go back to theater. And if not, I do hope to do more directing.
Q: I know George Costanza is a person of your past but how are you like him and how were you different?
A: I’m not anything like him but I think we all know people like him. I think I was channeling (“Seinfeld” writer/producer) Larry David to the best of my ability. There was nothing of George that I wanted to be but I truly embodied most of what George was or I couldn’t have played him effectively and would not have had any perspective on him. I don’t have his neurosis or his histrionics or his ego or in some ways, his courage to express himself.
Q: What role of yours did you most identify with?
A: No single one. There was a lot of my heart and soul in “Love! Valor! Compassion!” but the outward frame of that character was very different from how I moved through life. The things that motivated that character, Buzz, were his turmoil and conflict, his heart. A lot of that I feel is very similar to me. I don’t usually get cast to anything that is close to the real me. I am either a character who is wildly aggressively comedic where I am a force of nature like “George” or “Shallow Hal,” or a villain like the college professor I played on “Criminal Minds.”
Q: What’s the role you still want to play?
A: I think I want to move into directing. I find that directing is intriguing me and challenging on levels that acting alone doesn’t quite match. I get much more of a thrill from directing. While the characters I have played over the past 40 years are all different, you can only do so much and I have gotten to the point where I understand enough about stories and elements and how they come together, I think as a director I could be an effective coordinator.
Q: I know you were very involved in the international grassroots “OneVoice” initiative. Have you ever thought about becoming active in politics?
A: I have thought about politics and been prodded a little bit. Everyone is very sweet about that. The practical side of it is what the hell would I run for, city council, mayor of L.A., the Senate? I have none of the actual background the best politicians have, law, political science, economics. I have never run a business. Those are all skills the best politicians have. And then there is the illusion of who I am. My real name is not Jason Alexander, and let’s not forget, I am not George. The truth is I have some friends who are very successful politicians and they are so frustrated that they can’t get anything done. I would rather pick a cause and work from outside the system.
Q: What will you be bringing to Hartford with you? I assume you know it benefits the Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center. Does the cause hit any soft spots in your heart?
A: I don’t think there is anyone whose life has not been touched by cancer. We buried a cousin a couple of months ago and I have two friends right now with cancer. It’s a debilitating killer. It is definitely a disease we have to address and start making strides toward curing. And as far as what I am bringing to Hartford, a good show and lots of laughs.
Q: And finally, I must ask, what’s something nobody knows about you?
A: Is there anything left in this day and age? I’ve got nothing, no hobby, no hang ups. Well there was the stripper I dated, but Howard Stern got that out of me. She was a grad student and stripped to pay her way through school.
Q: Did you bring her home to mom?
A: I did, and Mom liked her. We went out for a better part of a year and she was a very lovely woman who is now a playwright and director. We kept in touch for years.
“An Evening With Jason Alexander and His Hair,” benefit show Oct. 4 at Hartford’s Bushnell Center For The Performing Arts for The Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center begins at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $38 to $103. Information: 860-987-5900 or www.bushnell.org