Abnormal Interviews: Actress Myra Turley, the “Seinfeld” Finale Jury Foreperson

We here at Abnormal Use love “Seinfeld.” We have a bit of an obsession, in fact. You’ll recall that way back in 2010, we interviewed Phil Morris, the actor who played Jackie Chiles, the flamboyant Plaintiff’s attorney who represented Kramer on several occasions. Not too long ago, we interviewed veteran character actor James Rebhorn, who played the district attorney in the “Seinfeld” series finale who prosecuted Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George for violation of a Good Samaritan statute. (You’ll recall that Chiles defended the “Seinfeld” gang in that finale.). So, being the completists that we are, we sought ought actress Myra Turley, who played the jury foreperson in the series finale who read the verdict against our “Seinfeld” heroes. Not only did she appear on “Seinfeld,” she’s also been featured on some of our other favorite shows, including “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and even “The Misfits of Science.” You can see the “Seinfeld” verdict scene, and Turley’s role therein, here. She was kind enough to agree to an interview, which we present below.

JIM DEDMAN: You played the jury foreman who reached the verdict that Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer in the “Seinfeld” finale back in 1998, how did that come to be?

MYRA TURLEY: Well, Larry David, who is the creator of “Seinfeld.” I used to lease an apartment in New York City. I knew Larry, and before the big finale, I got a call from Larry, [he] said, “Myra, you want to be in the finale? I have a small but pivotal part!” So, it was a small, but pivotal, part.  I said, “Sure,” and that’s how that happened.

JD: Well, it certainly was pivotal. How does it feel to be the one who condemned the “Seinfeld” gang to jail?

MT: Well, they shot it both ways, because there was so much hype about the finale  . . . [P]eople [were] trying to find out what happened, [so] they shot it with both endings, them getting free, and them getting guilty . . . .

They didn’t shoot the [whole] scene twice . . .  [Just f]rom the point on where I announced guilty, and their reaction, and then the what happens afterwards, and [then] our not guilty, and their reaction, and then what happens afterwards.  So they shot from that part on twice.  Not anything up to that.

AU: One of the things we always ask is what efforts are made to realistically depict the courtroom process, and obviously, in a comedy like “Seinfeld,” that’s not the chief concern. But were there folks on the set that were explaining how the procedure works and that sought of thing?

MT: Yeah, they have legal advisers and military advisers or police advisers or hospital advisers usually on a set if they’re going to do something.  I do have one funny story, if I may tell it, about being the jury foreman .

AU: Certainly.

MT: I was called a couple of years after that to do jury duty in downtown L.A.; and it was a [criminal] case, and it was right before the . . . Christmas holidays, and it went on for a week, and it should never have gone on for a week. And we broke the day before Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve was on a Saturday. At 3:00 the judge said, “You have to go get a foreman and come in with a verdict on four counts. If you don’t do it, you will have to come back the day after Christmas . . . .”  . . . [S]omebody said, “[H]as anyone ever been a foreman before?”, and I said, “I was, on ‘Seinfeld'”, and they said, “You do it, then.”  We did it, and we came in with a verdict on the four counts, and we were out by 4:00, and we didn’t have to come back after Christmas.  It should have never gone to trial, and we gave the verdict, and the judge said, “I agree, and if any of you are willing to stay and talk to a very young district attorney about why you came to that verdict we would appreciate it.”  It was not guilty.

AU: You played Judge Carla DeCosta on “Family Law.”

MT: Yes.

AU:  How did you prepare to play the role of a judge?

MT: I talked to a friend who is a family lawyer to understand the difference between family court and civil and criminal; and basically, the difference I discovered, was there was no jury.

AU: Do you remember what type of direction you received as an actor playing a judge on that show?

MT: You don’t really receive direction.  . . . In television, they work so fast that you basically get blocking direction.  You come in with the audition, having done the work, and they like what you have done, and then they tweak it one way or another, but there is not a lot of direction, just like a tweak.

AU: You have appeared on a number of other legal dramas from “L.A. Law” and “Family Law” to “Judging Amy.”  What is it about the legal system do you think makes it such a popular subject matter for television shows?

MT: There are basically only five kinds of television shows.  You have your medical shows, your cop shows, your lawyer shows, your office shows, and your family shows, and maybe you can take a tweak on any one of them, but they all fall into those categories.  An office show might be your spaceship because it could have been “Star Trek,” but that’s your office, essentially, and then the style of the show could be science fiction, or it could be really nitty gritty like a procedural one like “CSI.” “Law & Order,” that’s a combination cop and lawyer.  So, that’s basically what television has been for the hour dramas.

AU: Do you think that actors and lawyers require a similar skill set on some level?

MT: If they are trial lawyers, yes.

AU: What types of skills do you think that actors and trial lawyers might share?

MT: Well, they have to play a strong intention or really clear intention of what they want, what they are going for.  . . . I would imagine for lawyers it is quite structured. You have to set this up, and then set this up, and then set this up, before you can make that deduction.  You have to lead the audience, the jury, into thinking this way, and an actor  . . . is a story teller, and the story is told and usually, on detective shows or law shows, we may not know exactly who the guilty person is in the beginning, and we may be led down this path, it’s a mystery, you don’t want to know in the beginning because then there is no suspense.  Also, with lawyers having the ability to speak and affect a jury’s emotions.

AU: I want to switch gears.  I mentioned in the beginning I wanted to ask you about some of your work in non-legal shows, and very recently you played Katherine Olson, the mother of Peggy Olson, on “Mad Men.”

MT: I’ve done that one for about five years.

AU: What is it like to be on the set of that show?

MT: It’s great.  I loved the show the first season, just loved it.  I love the idea of the question that he is asking, “How did we meet as society from Dwight Eisenhower to Woodstock in ten years?”, and I love, love the fact that the arc of the story is not completed in one hour which is really 44 minutes . . . that he arcs it over a whole season, over a whole five seasons, so I do like that.  I love the character that I play.

AU: From what I have read, they go to extreme efforts to make the props and the set design as accurate as possible. Is it like being back in that time period?

MT: Absolutely.  I remembered the first day I walked on the set in 2008, and I ran into Matt Weiner, who was the creator, walked me around the set and showed me that this is the kitchen, this is this, and this is this, and as he was walking by – that scene was set in 1962, he was walking by, and he noticed something, and he called his prop guy.  “That picture of John Kennedy wasn’t taken until 1963, it’s wrong.” He is so detailed oriented.  So detailed oriented, and you feel like you’re in a time warp when you go back there.  They wore under garments that are of that style, certainly not the one’s you would wear today.  The dresses are fit very differently.  Women’s body shapes were very different.  Hair, makeup.

AU: Well, that is not the only great AMC show that you have been on.  You were on the recent season finale of “Breaking Bad,” playing the nurse to Hector Salamanca, who was played by Mark Margolis.  What was it like working with him and with Vince Gilligan, who directed that episode?

MT: Vince Gilligan is a genius.  I loved “The X-Files,” and he creates such suspense, and he also goes into incredible detail, and the thing I had to do for most of this was work with Vince because Hector Salamanca doesn’t speak. He only has to communicate with a bell, and he works with kind of like a plexiglass see through, he can see, and I can see with letters, and pointing to letters that spell out what he is trying to communicate.  So most directors, creators, people, producers, would give you maybe one or two letters and then cut it to get the message, but Vince took every single one and discovered . . . and shot it a different way that it was such a way of building up the suspense knowing that something was going to happen.  . . . He is an incredible genius at building up dread, suspense, something keeping the audience on their tinker hooks.

AU: Well, that bell proves to be very important to one of the final scenes, as well in the undoing of the character played by Giancarlo Esposito.  What did you think of that final scene with Mark Margolis and him?

MT: Well I had sat next to Giancarlo in makeup, and then watching the prosthetics going on.  It was a prosthetics on half of his face, and he loved the fact that only half of his face received the blast.  So it was a combination . . . a lot of it was done with prosthetics, and then they did some in post production, they did some computer graphics post production, but very little.  That was quite a shot.  The first thing was you did all the work, and then the first scene was the explosion, and there was rubble all over the hallway and in the room, and having figured out how Giancarlo was going to fall, he wanted him to fall flat on his face, fall straight down, and come out see hm with a normal face, and then shoot it so you see the explosion of the face and then have him fall straight down and having him do that with all the rubble. It took a long time to shoot that, being he’s a perfectionist, he is a genius and a perfectionist, and I think it works brilliantly.

AU:  Any other fond memories you have from being a part of the “Seinfeld” finale, 14 years ago?

MT: Wow, wow.  How come I haven’t aged?  Next door to Stage One, Bill Maher was shooting his first show with . . . it wasn’t “Real Time with Bill Maher,” it wasn’t “Politically Incorrect,” it was kind of a pre-one, a pilot leading up to that, so he was always over on the set, and people would go over and check out his rehearsals and stuff like that, so that was a small world.  Huge crowds, huge, huge, huge, crowds.  It was almost like anyone who had ever been on the show was a guest star or was in the audience watching.  . . . [P]eople who had been friends with Larry or any of the cast, they were all there.  So it was a very festive party atmosphere, and yet it was so secretive.

AU: One more question for you. You mentioned that they shot it both ways, guilty and not guilty. You obviously were there on the set. Which one do you think was the right verdict for Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer?

MT:  Guilty.

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