When Julia Louis-Dreyfus joins you for coffee and a chat, don't expect to be treated to a glimpse of Elaine's spazzed-out dance. And if you catch her off-guard with something you say, don't expect her to register surprise, Elaine-style, with "Get OUT!" followed by a two-handed shove.
For any devotee of "Seinfeld," on which Louis-Dreyfus served so indelibly for nine seasons (and will reign large in reruns until something better than "a show about nothing" comes along), a certain point, however obvious, bears repeating: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is not Elaine Benes.
Nor, by the way, is she the equally dizzy character she plays on her CBS sitcom, "The New Adventures of Old Christine."
Instead, Louis-Dreyfus seems someone who knows just what she's doing, which includes being funny when the camera rolls. It also entails a serious streak: levelheadedness, no matter how her lush head of hair might hint otherwise.
Except on this recent morning, her mane — a Louis-Dreyfus trademark, on- and off-camera — is disappointingly pulled back tight in a bun.
"Still wet," she explains. "But it's clean!"
"Old Christine," which premiered in March and airs at 9:30 p.m. EDT Mondays, won't make anyone forget "Seinfeld." What could? Therefore, while her hopes are high, they're within reason: Louis-Dreyfus just wants the new show to be funny and to run many years, she sums up.
"Old" Christine is a character who resonates with this phase of Louis-Dreyfus' life: Unlike perpetually self-absorbed Elaine, Christine is a devoted mother.
But fueling the comedy, Christine is an insecure single mom locked in a triangle with her amicable ex-husband, Richard (Clark Gregg), and the "new" Christine (Emily Rutherford), who is Richard's younger, goodhearted if dimwitted girlfriend.
Sharing Christine's mate-less homestead are the former couple's son, Ritchie (Trevor Gagnon), as well as her brother, Matthew (Hamish Linklater), who pitches in with childcare while Christine is at work.
Christine owns a 30-minute-workout spa for women, which is a funny notion since she clearly has doubts about her own body, especially as she re-enters the dating pool. Implicit in a 30-minute workout plan is the promise of near-instant transformation — and the likelihood of failure. Failure can be funny, Louis-Dreyfus notes. And it's very relatable.
"There's a lot of pressure on us girls," she declares, hastening to add, "Not that there isn't pressure on guys, too." But this is a show from a girl's point of view.
Back on the male-oriented "Seinfeld," Elaine shared the guys' comic bent for self-sabotage stemming from their stubbornness, sloth and an insatiable appetite for generating chaos out of (yes) nothing.
Christine's self-sabotage feeds on more substantial origins. She's a woman on her own with a youngster to raise, a business to run and a romantic life to kick-start — while fretting that she doesn't measure up in any department.
Workout coach, heal thyself! But in the interest of comedy, Christine doesn't seem to know how.
Louis-Dreyfus seems to know plenty.
Besides her success as a comic actress, she can boast of a long-standing marriage to writer-producer Brad Hall, with whom she has two sons, aged 13 and 8.
Another thing going right for her: She is petite, fit and beautiful, and looks a decade or more younger than her 45 years. But are the woebegone qualities of Christine undercut by the allure of the woman who brings her to life? As played by "old" Elaine, Christine is a babe.
"Thanks," says Louis-Dreyfus, before drawing a sharp distinction between Christine looking good and Christine feeling good about her looks.
Even Louis-Dreyfus, who insists she isn't "cover-model beautiful," will cop to a dread of getting wrinkles. But as her fingers press her temples for a momentary facelift, she voices fear of ever going under the knife.
"I'm scared to death I might die on the operating table," she says with a laugh. "Now, wouldn't that be something?"
The fact is, Louis-Dreyfus looks no different from her "Seinfeld" days, which ended eight years ago.
In between, of course, she returned with a new series, "Watching Ellie," which she created with her husband. It was an innovative single-camera comedy that tracked the life of nightclub singer/thirtysomething single Ellie Riggs in a real-time format that never took flight. "Ellie" premiered in 2002, was quickly pulled off the air for retooling, came back a year later, then was swiftly canceled.
"A sad day," says Louis-Dreyfus, recalling the mood around her house when the ax fell.
Now, with 13 episodes of "Old Christine" in the can and a sizable audience on board, she awaits the May 17 unveiling of CBS' fall schedule. By then, she'll know if more good "Old" days lie ahead.