What Julia Louis-Dreyfus Learned From Jane Fonda, Carol Burnett and Other Legends

Fifteen minutes into the debut episode of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s podcast, the power is knocked out by a bomb cyclone. Her guest, Jane Fonda, continues speaking, unaware the connection is lost, and Louis-Dreyfus frantically attempts to reconnect, amid a few choice swear words and a blaring home alarm.

Rather than edit it out, Louis-Dreyfus saw it as an asset and kept it in the episode: “It’s just funny. So, I figured why not? Let’s include it. Everybody can relate too. I was so tense.”

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The Veep and Seinfeld star was inspired to create Wiser Than Me after watching the 2018 documentary Jane Fonda in Five Acts and reflecting that older women, despite having cultivated decades of wisdom, are rarely heard from. In each episode of the podcast, Louis-Dreyfus asks guests, including Diane von Furstenberg, Isabel Allende and Carol Burnett, about their careers and relationships, as well as their views on sex, aging, body image and ambition. In turn, she shares her own anecdotes gleaned from her life and career, and ends each episode with a call with her mother.

The show, which is produced by Lemonada Media, is resonating with audiences, having been named Apple’s 2023 podcast of the year and nominated for an Ambie Award for best interview podcast.

And it has been renewed for a second season, with a roster of more illustrious guests, including Sally Field, Julie Andrews, Billie Jean King, Beverly Johnson, Ina Garten, Anne Lamott, Patti Smith, Bonnie Raitt, Gloria Steinem, Debbie Allen and Vera Wang.

Ahead of the next season, which debuts on March 27, Louis-Dreyfus spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how the podcast has changed her views on aging and has led to new connections with her guests, including now exchanging Wordle scores with Burnett.

What about the podcast do you think is resonating with people?

I don’t think there’s any sort of platform where we only want to hear from older women, seniors. It’s an untapped natural resource, right in front of our faces. Both men and women seem to really respond to this show.

Speaking only for myself, selfishly, I like the idea of talking to somebody who’s really been through it, decades and decades and decades of life, and asking them what they’ve learned.

Have you applied any of their tips to your life so far?

I think there’s a common theme with all the women that I’ve spoken to, and frankly the women that I’m speaking to now for season two, and the theme is being very comfortable in their own skin in a way that was absolutely not the case when they were younger. And there’s a sort of pride that’s in place that maybe was not quite there before. There was a kind of questioning. I think that’s emboldened me as a person who’s not quite old enough to be a guest, but, as I get older, it gives me a confidence about aging.

On the podcast, you ask the guest’s actual age and then what age they feel. You recently turned 63. What age do you feel?

I feel like I’m a very confident 35-year-old.

In your conversation with Carol Burnett, she called you “one of the greatest comedic actresses of our time.” What did that mean to you?

I could barely take it. I started to cry. Honestly, when I introduced her, I started crying. I cry all throughout the podcast. I’m weeping the whole time. I find these conversations to be very moving. And Carol Burnett has been impactful in my own life. So then when she said that at the end, I practically fell over and passed out.

I hear that you now play Wordle with her.

Oh, yes, now we Wordle and we’ve become friends, and we have dinner occasionally, which is really nice, too. Let me tell you, this woman is incredible at Wordle and all word games. She does Spelling Bee until she gets not Genius, but Queen Bee. This woman does not fuck around when it comes to word games.

You start each episode with anecdotes that can get pretty personal, including stories about recovering after a miscarriage and the sexism and power you’ve felt as a woman in the workplace.

My instinct to do it was really based on my desire for these conversations to have an intimacy, so it feels like a fuller experience as a result. It’s born out of the conversations with each guest. There’s an authenticity in place, I hope, with these conversations themselves, and therefore, I feel like it’s appropriate to share some of my experiences prior to having these conversations with these glorious women.

You include a phone call with your mother, discussing your conversation, at the end of each episode. What made you decide to do that?

My mother is a very thoughtful person. I talk to my mom a lot, and she’s very intellectual. She’s a poet and a reader and an absorber of arts and letters and books and all the rest of it. So she has an enormous amount of wisdom and insight, and I thought, “Jesus, why don’t I talk to her about some of these conversations?” Because frankly, I would anyway. I feel like she’s the secret sauce. It’s kind of the perfect full circle to have my mom in the thing.

This story first appeared in the March 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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