Julia Louis-Dreyfus never stopped working during her cancer battle.
In a new interview with Porter Edit, the 58-year-old actress discusses her six rounds of chemotherapy — which caused symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea and sores — and reveals how she maintained her work ethic, despite the fact that her hit HBO series, Veep, wasn’t filming at the time.
“We weren’t shooting, but I read scripts. My rounds of chemotherapy were three weeks apart, so at the end of every three weeks I would go in and do table reads,” she shares. “The effects of chemotherapy are cumulative, so I definitely felt that more towards the end, but going to work was a very joyful distraction, and I was so pleased to have the strength to do it.”
She adds, “To be creative for a living, to make people laugh or cry, is a f**king gift. I love it and I love hard work to that end.”
Though she kept up with and found joy in her work, Louis-Dreyfus was still plagued by fear, particularly that she wouldn’t “have the brain power to get back to the hard work” of filming the series, which is currently airing its final season.
“I have to memorize a lot and I was concerned about whether I’d be able to do that,” she says, before revealing how she managed to combat that worry. “I started doing tricks, trying to memorize poems and things. I think it was mainly just comforting to me to get them in my head.”
With all the trials and tribulations that come with fighting cancer, many were surprised that Louis-Dreyfus decided to be so open about her battle, starting with revealing her diagnosis on Instagram alongside a call for universal healthcare.
“If I hadn’t had a show that was relying on me, I don’t know that I would have gone so public with it,” she admits. “But I had 200 people waiting to go back to work. And I wanted to talk about it in a way that could maybe highlight something important. Universal healthcare was an important issue to me prior to getting this diagnosis, and it certainly is even more so now.”
The comments echo what she told ET back in October about deciding to go public with her diagnosis.
“I knew it would get out there because I knew we had to shut down production [on Veep] for a number of months in order to accommodate my situation,” she said at the time. “So then I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to embrace this and attack it and try to do it with a sense of humor. I was really pleased with the reaction.”
Aside from a healthier diet, the main thing Louis-Dreyfus took away from her cancer battle is a “a deeper appreciation for the good stuff.”
“[Cancer] finally crystallized my priorities, which didn’t really need that much crystallization,” she tells Porter Edit. “But I would certainly say that I have an even deeper appreciation for the good stuff. That sounds corny, but it’s f**king true.”
On Veep, Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, a crass multi-time presidential hopeful. “It’s delicious to play someone so self-obsessed; I tap into my inner two-year-old toddler,” she quips.
Despite her only goal being to “make an exceptionally funny show,” Louis-Dreyfus is pleased that it’s helped “opened up the conversation about powerful women.”
“Why is a powerful woman a complicated thing? Why is asserting ourselves so hard?” she questions. “I feel it myself; any time I assert myself in a strong way, or I feel highly opinionated about something in a work environment, there is a voice in my head that is questioning it, wondering if I should rein myself in.”
One place she makes sure to rein herself in is when discussing and displaying her many awards, which include 11 Emmys. “I don’t want to keep them all in one spot — that feels sort of show-off-y,” she says. “So I have some out… but others are tucked away under a bed.”
While many of those awards are thanks to Veep, others come from her iconic run on Seinfeld as Elaine Benes, a role she loved, but likely wouldn’t return to.
“I don’t want to sully it. It was pretty special and it’s been a long time now,” she says. “You don’t want to f**k something like that up.”
With Selina and Elaine having cemented their places in comedic history, Louis-Dreyfus has no plans to stop looking for the next role that could do the same.
“Storytelling is what keeps me motivated,” she says. “A really good story, that you can sink your teeth into and help tell to the world, is, for me, the most inspiring way to live.”