Sean Stoker | Editor-at-large | @theroyalthey
Sean: This being your third visit to UVU, one has to wonder, what makes us so special?
Jason: What is unusual about UVU is that because this program is relatively new, there is a willingness and eagerness to go, ‘what are we doing that’s really good, what are we doing that could be improved, and what could we do that others aren’t?’ There’s an openness to ideas that doesn’t exist in the same way at other schools that are more entrenched in what they’ve done. As an outside artist, I have big high-falutin’ ideas about what arts education could be, there’s a really exciting engagement here because the possibilities of doing something really new, different, exciting, and potentially more rewarding exists more here than at any other place I’ve visited.
Sean: What advice do you have for someone wanting to break into showbiz?
Jason: I wish I had the magic answer for you, but there is no magic answer, because that’s the question that everyone asks, but it’s not the question they should be asking. The question is, “How do I get really good at what I do?” In a perfect world, if you’re really good at what you do, showbiz will find you. That’s what they’re looking for: the superstars. How do you become a superstar? Hard work. You have to study, you have to train, you have to get out there and do, and you have to do it in less than showbiz conditions. The practical thing is it depends on what kind of showbiz you want to be in. If you want to be in theatre and make a living in theatre, you have to go where that’s possible. New York is surely the Mecca of theatre but there are places where there are highly renowned theatre companies and if you can become part of that you can begin to make a decent living there. If your ambition lies in being a movie star, there is no root to that, you have to be movie star material, which is either really beautiful or really unusual, and in both cases it would help if you were extraordinarily talented and charismatic. That’s what movie stars are. If you have all that, go to where they make movies: Los Angeles, New Orleans, Austin, Texas, and all the right-to-work states. You’ll watch movies that will say, “Thank you to the community of such-and-such, and that’s where they shot. You’ll find that there’s a lot of places where it happens over and over, so you go to those places and you put your work out and make your connections. A lot of people who say the want to get into showbiz are asking, “How do I get an agent or a manager?” I don’t know. Be really good and be seen. Other than that, you’re knocking on doors, handing out pictures and keeping your fingers crossed. There is no magic answer. The only answer is to be extraordinarily and undeniably talented, and the business will find you.
Sean: You’ve worn many hats in showbiz. You’ve been an actor, producer, writer, and even a director. What has been favorite position on stage and screen?
Jason: There has been no directing experience that wasn’t gloriously rewarding, so at this point that would be one of my favorite things. That said, I’ve done a lot more acting than directing. There are a few favorites, but each role is rewarding in different ways. Seinfeld was an unusual situation in that it had to be good for a very long time, it had to change every week and be good for nine years, and the fact that it did that made for an awfully fun and rewarding place to work, which makes it an exceptional experience besides the success. The most challenging bit of acting I had to do was a movie called Love, Valor, Compassion. It was a character that was far removed from myself, and it was a piece that had a great deal of importance to the gay community, and as a non-gay man, I thought there was a responsibility to do that extraordinarily well. The fact that they invited me to do that and trusted me with it was extremely rewarding.
Sean: It’s been almost 17 years since Seinfeld ended. How do you think your career has evolved and developed in that time?
Jason: It’s become smaller and more diverse. I don’t do as much high-profile stuff as I did when we were making Seinfeld, and the strange thing is, I think that’s because the audience for the show has grown since we stopped. There was not a “Seinfeld Curse” for lack of a better word, when we were doing the show. But I have become iconically, globally, George Costanza. Not a problem for the audience; they’ll watch me do something else. But the business goes, “Eh, everyone thinks he’s George.” So it takes a braver or more visionary producer or director to invite me to their party. So the high-profile stuff has gotten a little smaller, but I’ve also gotten into symphonic performance, stand-up comedy, and teaching. It’s opened doors that I would not have thought of, but they are also rewarding.
Sean: I hear you were also a magician?
Jason: That’s very complimentary. I’m not a good magician. That was the thing I wanted to be and when I wasn’t good enough at that, then I went into acting and thought, “Oh, that’s an illusion, I could do that.”
Sean: When did you finally realize that you had “arrived” in the business?
Jason: I was in a play that Neil Simon wrote. I knew Neil Simon and he was very nice to me, but we weren’t friends. In the third or fourth year of Seinfeld I got invited to Neil Simon’s 65th birthday. And I thought, “Wow, I haven’t seen him in God knows how many years, I guess he’s inviting everyone he’s ever met.” The truth was, he was holding a relatively smaller party of about 50 people at his mansion in Bel-Air and I was the only person at the party who I didn’t know. Everyone else was mega-famous and he spent almost the entire time with me, and there were all these actors that I would be like, “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, Do you know who that is?!” And they would come up to me and were telling me how much they love the show. I got back in the car with my wife and I said “What the hell just happened? How—What? Are those now my peeps? Am I in this world now?” I’ve never really felt a part of that world, but that was the moment I thought that something was really different. Oz has changed.
Sean: What’s your relationship with staff of UVU?
Jason: Traci Haimsworth [Events Manager of the school of the Arts] was our first contact. She was part of an organization that I taught at once before and she thought I was okay, so she brought up my name here. And Kyle Tresner [Director of Development], not having any sons, adopted me as his one and only son, which I am very proud of. I am an honorary Mormon Jew now.