Jason Alexander Said "Seinfeld" Guest Star Was "Impossible" to Work With
The actor had trouble finding a rhythm with Heidi Swedberg, who played George's fiancée Susan.
Seinfeld may have been a "show about nothing," but that doesn't mean audiences didn't have big feelings about the little that happened on the sitcom. From Kramer's (Michael Richards) first name to whether or not someone was "sponge-worthy," viewers cared about these four unlikable New Yorkers and their misadventures.
They also cared about the people the foursome hooked up with. From Jerry's (Jerry Seinfeld) endless failed relationships to Elaine's (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) self-absorbed boyfriends, these secondary characters divided viewers on whether or not they should stick around. That made the relative consensus around George's (Jason Alexander) girlfriend—and later fiancée—Susan Ross (Heidi Swedberg), all the more surprising. An NBC executive who initially worked with George and Jerry on a sitcom idea starting in Season 4, Susan was everything George and his friends were not: upper-class, self-assured, snobby, and driven. The show broke the mismatched couple up multiple times, but they got engaged at the beginning of Season 7. Of course, in one of the most memorable episodes of the series, Susan was killed off via cheap envelope glue before they could go through with the wedding.
Long after the fact, Alexander said in an interview that Susan was written off not because the audience didn't want to see George as a husband but because Swedberg was "impossible" to work with. Read on to find out what else he said and why he later apologized and walked back his comments.
Susan was Swedberg's biggest role to date.
Swedberg first started her professional acting career in 1989. In addition to supporting roles in films including In Country; Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael; and Kindergarten Cop, she also appeared in guest roles in TV shows including Matlock, Thirtysomething, Northern Exposure, and Empty Nest.
Her big breakthrough role came at the age of 26 when she landed the part of Susan Ross on Seinfeld. At first, it seemed like her character would only have a brief life on the show as one of the NBC executives to whom George and Jerry pitched their terrible sitcom idea in Season 4. However, Susan stuck around, and soon she was giving George a box of Cuban cigars and hooking up with him on the sly.
But she and Alexander struggled to find their rhythm.
However, from the beginning, there were issues behind the scenes. In a 2015 interview with Howard Stern, Alexander admitted that he and Swedberg didn't gel as actors. "I couldn't figure out how to play off of her," he told the radio host (via The Hollywood Reporter). "Her instincts for doing a scene, where the comedy was, and mine were always misfiring. And she would do something, and I would go, 'OK, I see what she's going to do—I'm going to adjust to her.' And I'd adjust, and then it would change."
Before he said this, however, Alexander made it a point to explain that he had no issues with Swedberg personally. "The preamble to this is the actress is this wonderful girl, Miss Swedberg, and I love her," he told Stern. "She is a terrific girl."
But Larry David had a plan for the onscreen couple.
It was Seinfeld co-creator Larry David who told Alexander early on that the writers were already planning for Susan and George to get engaged. Despite the actor's hesistance, there was a narrative reason to keep the couple together. According to Alexander, David told him, "We could do the most horrible things to [Susan], and the audience was still on [George's] side." Considering how unlikable a character George could be, having a straight foil for him to play off of was comedy gold.
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Alexander's co-stars reportedly agreed.
Alexander went on to tell Stern that Seinfeld and Louis-Dreyfus also had trouble connecting with Swedberg. "They go, 'You know what? It's [expletive] impossible. It's impossible,'" he said.
As Alexander recalled, one day, when the group was grumbling about Susan as a character, it was Louis-Dreyfus who made the suggestion that would eventually become canon. "Julia actually said, "Don't you want to just kill her?'" he said. "And Larry went, 'Ka-bang!'"
The next thing Alexander knew, Susan was killed off in the Season 7 finale, "The Invitations," after licking poisoned glue on the cheap wedding invitations George had bought, and Swedberg exited the show.
He later apologized and clarified his comments.
The day after his interview with Stern aired, Alexander's interview went viral, as fans who had liked Susan were up in arms. Moreover, he felt that his comments were misconstrued, especially in reiterating what Louis-Dreyfus supposedly said.
Alexander took to Twitter to clear up the confusion, posting a lengthy statement. "Ok folks, I feel officially awful," it reads, in part. "Yesterday on @Sternshow, I retold a story I had told years ago about my personal difficulties and insecurities in playing George against the Susan that Heidi Swedberg created. The impetus for telling this story was that Howard said, 'Julia Louis-Dreyfus told me you all wanted to kill her.' So I told the story to try and clarify that no one wanted to kill Heidi." The actor explained that his co-star's comment simply provided creative inspiration to David and Seinfeld, who wanted to find a creative way to get George out of the engagement.
He also clarified that he has personal and professional respect for Swedberg. "But in telling this story, it sounds like we are putting a heavy burden on Heidi," he continued. "I, personally, am not. Heidi would always ask if there was anything in the scenes she could do or if I had any thoughts. She was generous and gracious and I am so mad at myself for retelling this story in any way that would diminish her. If I had had more maturity or more security in my own work, I surely would have taken her query and possibly tried to adjust the scenes with her. She surely offered."
Alexander ended the statement with a personal apology to his former onscreen fiancée and a plea for everyone to "calm down and just enjoy the reruns and think, 'Why did he think this wasn't working? This is great.'"
Swedberg eventually moved on from acting.
After Swedberg left Seinfeld, she landed a few more roles, including small parts in movies including 1996's Up Close & Personal and 1999's Galaxy Quest. She also continued taking guest roles on TV, with appearances on ER, Gilmore Girls, and Bones, among other popular shows. However, by 2010, she had left acting behind and turned to her first love: music. The Hawaii-born musician plays ukulele and releases albums for children as Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band. She also performs with another band called The Smoking Jackets. Swedberg's last acting credit was in a 2010 episode of Hawthorne.
Though Swedberg never responded publicly to Alexander's Stern interview or his apology, even before that, she didn't seem to look back at her time as an actor very fondly. In 2013, while promoting one of her albums, she told the music website No Depression that "there's no love lost" between herself and sitcoms. She also said in an interview with the website Girl's Gone Child that same year, "The TV world is so restrictive, so conservative, and frankly, dog-eat-dog, un-supportive and not at all fun. Walking away from that is a great relief. I feel so free now.