'Seinfeld' star Jason Alexander on McDLTs, hairpieces and being the 'most hated man in America' (for a time)

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29 2012 10:27 a.m. MST

Jason Alexander, an American actor, director, producer, writer, singer and comedian best known for his role as George Costanza on "Seinfeld," teaches an actors workshop to UVU students at the Noorda Theater on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem on Monday Feb. 27, 2012.

August Miller, UVU Marketing

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OREM — Jason Alexander entertained and taught a crowd Tuesday night during the “Evening with Jason Alexander” event at Utah Valley University, which university officials estimated drew more than 1,000 people to the Sorensen Student Center’s Grande Ballroom.

Best known for his role as George Costanza on "Seinfeld," Alexander is visiting Utah Valley University from Feb. 27-29 to offer acting workshops to UVU students and faculty.

“I have no idea what I’ll say next,” Alexander said before launching into stories from his life and how he got into show business, demonstrating what he’s been working on with UVU’s art students and answering audience questions.

Outdistanced in age by his half siblings by nearly two decades, Alexander grew up primarily as an only child in New Jersey. Nobody in his family had ever been in show business.

He said he was “a very different child than what you would probably imagine. Very shy, very somber, very sober, not funny, not well-liked, not many friends. And the closest I came to any kind of performing was I was a very serious, even at 6 years old, magician. At 6 years old I dedicated myself to a life as a magician.”

He studied magic tricks as much as a child could, performed shows and read books. “I was about as big a geek as your could possibly be, and I was also 220 pounds at age 8. And you will never see a photograph of me from that phase.”

The switch into acting came for him when at age 12 he decided he would never make it as a magician. His family moved, and he was at the community pool, “standing in the shallow end, pathetically, and this absolutely stunning girl came over and said, ‘Do you do theater?’ And I went, ‘I do now,’ and I was pulled into a production of ‘The Sound of Music.’”

He threw himself into acting and took voice and dance lessons. He slimmed down; got involved in school, children’s and community theater as much as possible; and “fell into” an acting career.

“I can’t talk about going from amateur to professional acting,” he said. “How it happened to me was a miracle.”

Alexander was happy with where his career had gone in the 1980s. He had “all (he) ever wanted” as a New York theater actor doing commercials and small movie roles.

One of the commercials he took part in was for McDonald’s “McDLT” sandwich in 1985. “I have the distinction of being the spokesman for the only product in the history of the McDonald’s franchise that was an immediate and complete disaster,” he said.

Things changed after Alexander won a Tony award for his role in the musical "Jerome Robbins’ Broadway" in 1989. “You cannot build these kind of fantasies,” Alexander said. The Tony “somehow led to my being cast in 'Pretty Woman,'” he said, despite the director absolutely not wanting him. The success of the role led to his becoming “the most hated man in America” by women who couldn’t disassociate him from his character.

Then came “Seinfeld,” when Alexander got the part of George Costanza, a role he didn’t think he had a hope of getting. The show began at a limp, being aired on odd days and at odd times, until it built momentum and became a success. The rest is history.

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