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Live Well

Julia Louis-Dreyfus thinks youth is overrated

When Julia Louis-Dreyfus hit her 60s, she was struck by a realization: She wanted to hear from the old ladies.

The star of “Seinfeld” and “Veep,” who has nearly a dozen Emmys, was in the “second act” of her life. But she was contemplating her third. She said she craved the sort of wisdom that only comes from age. Yes, she received advice from her mother, but where was everyone else?

“We’re certainly not in the habit of listening to old women who have had life experience,” Louis-Dreyfus, now 63, remembers thinking at the time. “I mean, I would posit that our culture is much more inclined to listen to the wisdom of old men, specifically old white men.”

Her podcast, “Wiser Than Me,” premiered last April and was named Apple Podcasts’ show of the year for 2023. On it, Louis-Dreyfus and well-known women, including authors, actors, musicians and activists, discuss the joys and sorrows of aging.

The first season featured guests including Carol Burnett (age 90), Isabel Allende (81) and Darlene Love (82). The second, which began March 27, includes Julie Andrews (88), Patti Smith (77) and Ina Garten (76).

Louis-Dreyfus, who has been married for 36 years and has two adult children, is a sure-handed interviewer. Her questions are direct. She asked Allende on an episode last year: “Do you feel sexy?”

“Now?” Allende responded. “I have never asked myself that question in many years.”

“But yeah,” she added. “Yeah, I do.”

Louis-Dreyfus pressed on, asking whether Allende’s sex life had changed. “Of course it has changed,” Allende responded. “And also I have an 80-year-old husband. We are not spring chickens here.”

So does age beget candor? Louis-Dreyfus thinks so. “With these women,” she said, “it’s like, ‘Oh, who cares — here’s the truth.’”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Question: You’ve said that doing this podcast has been a game changer for you. Tell me how.

Answer: I think it was Ruth Reichl who said, you know, you have to do things that scare you. You have to do things that you don’t know how to do. And that is the case with this podcast. I’m always nervous doing it.

Q: Why?

A: Because I don’t want to blow it! I don’t want to miss the opportunity. And all of these women are people I admire.

Q: I mean, my outlook has changed because of your podcast.

A: How? I’m curious.

Q: You said that you went to therapy with your mother when you were 60. I wondered if I should do that, too.

A: Isn’t that a funny thing? My mom had said something like, “Oh, I wish we’d been able to have therapy to talk about whatever these issues were when you were younger.”

I said to my mom: “Well, wait a minute. What’s keeping us?” And so off we went.

By the way, go do that with your mom. I mean, what’s the downside? I’m very happy to have done it.

Q: Jane Fonda said she did a life audit at 60 — that’s the process of examining where you’ve been to figure out where you’re headed. Is this something that you would consider?

A: I like the idea of that kind of reflection. Although, I will be honest, there’s a certain amount of looking back that I’m not comfortable doing. I wince a little sometimes, thinking about what I said. Sometimes I get a little embarrassed.

Q: Is there something anyone said that blew your mind?

A: Well, let’s see. Jane said, “People think it’s hard to be old, but it is so hard to be young.” I think about when I was in my 20s. My God, that was hard. And people talk about it as if it’s the best time of your life: You’ve got your youth! Anything is possible! Well, there’s a flip side to that, too.

Oh, wait, you know what? Rhea Perlman was talking about Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk. She and I were talking about grief and endings — because, of course, all of these women have lived through loss — and she was talking about how his philosophy was that it’s not so much that lives end, it’s just that they shift.

So you may have a relationship with this person who used to be alive, but you still have the relationship after they’re gone. I think that can be comforting, in a loss, to consider.

Q: Other themes that come up a lot in your podcast are the importance of nurturing your friendships and keeping your body strong and flexible. You mentioned that you’ve started swimming again.

A: I do interval training and I hike, but I get a different physical feeling after I swim. The first, say, 20 laps feel endless and burdensome. And then all of a sudden something switches, and I get into a rhythm. And then when I get out of the water, it’s like I’ve taken some sort of pill. It’s like a relaxation medication. It’s just dynamite.

Q: What has been your favorite decade so far?

A: I’m really enjoying my 60s, but I would say my 50s. And by the way, you know how much I loved it? I got breast cancer in my 50s and I still loved it. I just generally felt more confident about who I was as a human being.

Q: You’ve mentioned that you were proud of the Seinfeld episode called “The Contest,” where the characters see who can go the longest without masturbating. Why was that important to you?

A: Well, it is important to me because I think it’s something that was very subtle and yet radical. I think it was a feminist message in the best sense. I have great pride about that.

Q: On the podcast, you’ve said that concepts such as ambition or feminism are still loaded terms for older women and even for women in midlife.

A: Isn’t that a shame? We need to de-stinkify those words for ourselves. Certainly, feminism. I’d like to take that word back.

Q: You ask this question on the podcast: What would you tell your 21-year-old self?

A: Three things. Trust your instincts. It’s all going to be OK. And wear sunscreen. I thought I was olive complected, so I didn’t wear any sunscreen when I was younger. I resisted it completely, like an idiot.

Q: What’s the best thing about getting older?

A: It seems like more and more is possible. I’m excited to try new things work-wise. I’m excited to travel places and read books I haven’t read.

Last year I took a huge hiking trip in the Dolomites. I’d never been there. There’s an excitement about that, and also urgency. It’s not like: Oh, let’s put it off. Well, we’ll do it in a few years. There’s this feeling like: Hey, let’s get it done. What’s keeping us? I like that.

Q: And older people will tell you to travel while you can.

A: Yeah. Move! Move your ass. Let’s go!

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