The Man Behind The Soup Nazi: An Interview with Larry Thomas
July 2014, Aesthetic Magazine
“No soup for you!” The four words that shaped one of the most hilarious and popular sitcom episodes of all time, and defined the career of Larry Thomas as the Soup Nazi character, who first appeared in 1995 during Seinfeld’s seventh season. The 116th episode of the show arguably became the most prevalent episode in the series and one of the most classic episodes of any sitcom, ever. Aesthetic Magazine’s Adam Harrison sat down with Thomas at the first ever SuperFan ComiCon in Toronto to discuss how the role came about and how it has affected his life since.
Being one of the most recognizable characters from one of the hottest sitcoms of all time, Thomas is regularly approached by fans calling him ‘Soup Nazi’ or asking him to recite his famous line. You’d think this constant pestering would be enough to drive a man crazy, but not Thomas. “I embrace it. It hardly ever happens where I don’t enjoy it. Any actor who’s been a journeyman actor as long as I have really appreciates even one thing that everyone knows you did. Because
most actors have to sort of tell people what they’ve done. It’s rare that people know all your work.“ He’s so modest; he can even remember the few times when it did bother him. “Once in a great while,I’m like, not in the mood. One time in a post office and one time late at night riding in the subway in LA, someone asked if I was the Soup Nazi and I went ‘No, but I get that all the time.’”
Seinfeld had a reputation of having memorable guest stars and future Hollywood heavyweights such as Bryan Cranston, Teri Hatcher, Jeremy Piven and Courteney Cox. So how did Larry Thomas land his iconic role? “Well, I’ll back track before me. Spike Feresten, who wrote the episode, was a Letterman writer. And because Soup Kitchen International was right around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theatre, the Letterman writers were fans of his soup, but they had nicknamed him the Soup Nazi because he had three rules, I think, and his attitude is very much like that… And then Spike got hired on Seinfeld and he was talking about the Soup Nazi and Larry David said 'write that as an episode'.”
Thomas explains he was introduced to the casting director of Seinfeld through Jeffrey Tambour (George Bluth Sr. for those Arrested Development fans), with whom he took an acting class. Tambour at the time was on the Larry Sanders Show, which had the same casting director. “So I met him and we had a really good meeting because my day job was as a bail bondsman, and even though a casting director has heard it all, I was one of the first actors that he had met in a long time that gave him something he hadn’t heard before.” With Thomas in mind, he got a call the night before the audition and was only told the characters name and that he had a Middle Eastern accent. “As far as a Middle Eastern accent went, I just put Lawrence of Arabia in the VCR and imitated Omar Sharif, because he has such a beautiful accent.” He also decided he might make an impression if he went in dressed as Saddam Hussein.
"Any actor who’s been a journeyman actor as long as I have really appreciates even one thing that everyone knows you did."
Thomas describes the experience after the call back when he read in front of Seinfeld, Larry David and the whole room. “It was really weird reading for Jerry because I was a big Seinfeld fan and watched it religiously, you know, every week. And so seeing him sitting at a desk, it just sort of, I guess it relaxed me a little bit. Something about him, he just goes like ‘Hey,’ and it just made me feel like I was among friends.” Thomas says there were about six scenes written, but he was only aware of three of them. But Seinfeld was laughing so hard he just went with it.
Thomas remembers several waiting periods and the second read not going quite as well when he incorporated feedback that Seinfeld had given him. “I thought for sure, why am I even waiting? Richard Libertini was there reading, and I go, ‘he’s going to get it.'”
Despite his suspicions, Thomas was paged shortly after he left the lot to say he got the job. “Jerry came up to me as soon as he saw me and he goes, ‘you know what, man? Forget about the direction I gave you, just do what you did when you came in, that was just funnier.’ Which is one of many things that Jerry was to say to me in my relationship with him, which is few-and-far-between, that was to show me that the man has no problem with ego. He has no ego thing that says 'I’m right and you’re wrong because I make $60 million a year and you don’t'. There’s just none of that. Later on, even working the scenes, most of the time if there was some question about something, he’d go ‘just do what you do.’”
Thomas describes David as being a little pickier. “He’s so specific, so amazing. You’d never get it from watching the Larry David character, but when it comes to working and working on comedy, he just stands there and like “Ok, yeah, yeah, do that on that line, that, that, that, that, don’t wipe your head right there, it’s just a little too much.”
Thomas says he hasn’t seen his Seinfeld pals too much since the series finale. He did an Acura spot with Jerry for the SuperBowl in 2012 and he’s run into Jason Alexander at a few charity events as well as Julia Louis-Dreyfus at a function for her latest show Veep. “She came running over and she just grabbed me and gave me a big hug. And then said ‘Can we take a picture together?’ And I’m like 'of course, yeah!' I didn’t expect that reaction.” Thomas notes Alexander and Dreyfus’ hospitality and how they always made him feel at home on set.
Thomas says he hasn’t seen David again since, but that he unknowingly gave Thomas a boost of confidence during the shooting of the finale. “For the first three years after the episode I refused to say ‘No soup for you.’ I was just convinced that I would just be a stupid, bad, water cooler impression of myself. I refused to say it.” But when they shot the last episode, the first thing they shot was Thomas taking a bowl of soup away from Reni Santoni, who played Poppie, and saying the famous line. “They don’t know how nervous I was to do that… So, you know, I yell ‘No soup for you,’ and as we walked away Larry David brushed by me and he goes ‘by the way man, you say that exactly the same way as you said it three years ago… That’s amazing.’ So he in that one moment gave me permission… So everyone that’s ever heard me yell ‘No
Larry Thomas as The Soup Nazi in the 1995 episode of Seinfeld
soup for you,’ ever since then, which led to that Scrubs appearance I did, owes it to him for saying that to me, because I never would have said it.”
In summary of his Seinfeld experience, Thomas comments, “it was a really easy shoot and it went really smoothly. I have to say, it’s probably one of the easiest acting jobs I’ve ever done.” He says the hardest job he’s ever done was a Lexus Commercial that aired in 2004 where he played an enthused visionary pitching a business idea to a gangster type in the middle of the desert. “It was the hardest day of my life… We filmed it out in the desert in Victorville, where it was about 110 degrees. I was in a heavy, wool, double-breasted suit. I was sweating so much that they had to take the suit off me in-between every take, shirt and everything, and hold it over a big fan that they had to dry it out. The poor makeup guy had to stand right off camera with a towel because the sweat was just pouring out of my face in-between every take and they’d have to reapply the makeup.”
The Seinfeld audition wasn’t the only time Thomas dressed as Saddam Hussein. He played a Saddam Hussein lookalike in an episode of Arrested Development alongside his buddy Tambour, who’s character shows up in a picture with Saddam Hussein and he claims he thought it was the actor who played the Soup Nazi. “And that was actually written by the writers, Jeffrey did not ad-lib that. That was just a coincidence.” A couple episodes later, he got called up for an audition. “And I went, wait a minute…I hardly ever do this and I don’t want to be thought of as a Prima Donna or something, but they’ve already referred to Saddam Hussein as 'I thought it was the actor who played the Soup Nazi', I now have to go in and audition to show them that I look like Saddam Hussein?” Needless to say Thomas didn’t need to audition for that role in the end.
In speaking about some other projects he’s been working on, Thomas would recommend all his fans to check out a western film he appears in called Redemption for Robbing the Dead, which can be found on Netflix. “I’m most pleased, of all the indie films I’ve done, probably since Austin Powers, with the way that movie turned out. It’s very sweet. It’s just a heartfelt, intimate, dramatic western. It’s my only western I’ve ever done. I had to actually learn how to drive a horse drawn wagon to be in it. I don’t have the biggest part, but it’s just a really sweet movie and it’s from the heart and I really loved the way it came out.”
"My dream role would be to play Rick in Casablanca. And I hope they never remake it… It’s sort of like the Groucho Marx thing: 'I would never be part of a club that would have me as a member.'”
Every actor is asked what his or her dream role would be. To which Thomas has a very unique response. “My dream role is a role I hope I never get to play, if you can imagine that psychotomy, because my dream role would be to play Rick in Casablanca. And I hope they never remake it… It’s sort of like the Groucho Marx thing: 'I would never be part of a club that would have me as a member'.”
Ironically, Thomas is also a cook. Which led him to his latest project. “I have completed a book that people have been asking me to write for years, which is basically a cookbook, but what it really morphed into is the memoirs of my acting career with 50 of my own recipes. It’s going to be called Confessions of a Soup Nazi: An Adventure in Acting and Cooking.” He describes the theme of his recipes is simplicity. “All my recipes can be made by anybody with probably stuff you have.” Thomas’ book will be available within the next few months at major retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Larry Thomas loves his job, loves his fans and loves his life. He’s the kind of actor who is happy to sit and swap stories for an hour, even if he’s told them a hundred times before. He cherishes the role that put him on the map and works hard to protect the integrity of his Soup Nazi character. With his impressive work ethic, multiple endeavors and pleasant attitude, Thomas proves there’s more to the man behind the Soup Nazi… But he doesn’t mind declining you soup if you were to ask. NEXT!