Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Seinfeld actor's love of animals led to new job

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TORONTO -- Comic actress Estelle Harris expected to gain a younger generation of fans with her role as the voice of Mrs. Potato Head in the hit Toy Story film franchise.

But she didn't anticipate it happening with her role as George's nagging mom on Seinfeld, which ended its heralded run in 1998.

"In the last year or two, all of a sudden these youngsters recognize me as Mrs. Costanza, Estelle Costanza," Harris, who has three children and three grandkids, exclaimed in her signature high-pitched tone during a recent stop in Toronto.

"So we have a whole new age group, and I'm getting a lot of fan mail from these young people too. I think Seinfeld, because of the writing and the right cast, will go on for years and years."

Longevity is an issue that's top-of-mind for Harris these days as she focuses on her own health (she recently lost 35 pounds) and promotes the new Iams Senior Plus food for older dogs and cats, which is why she was in Toronto this week.

It's a cause she's passionate about, given her lifelong affection for animals and her love for her two dogs.

"I have a beautiful Maltese who looks just like Zsa Zsa Gabor, so we named her Zsa Zsa Harris and she's brilliant," said Harris, decked out in a zebra-print top, cow-print shoes and loads of jewelry.

"She talks to me, I understand what she wants. I talk to her, she understands everything I say, and she's so wonderful. If anything happens to her, I can't take it. And then the other dog (Valentino) is lovely. He's a Pomeranian, multicoloured, and so beautiful and so sweet and so dumb."

Zsa Zsa and Valentino weren't with Harris during her brief stop here, and she was greatly affected by their absence.

"Zsa Zsa snores. ... That's why I didn't sleep last night -- Zsa Zsa wasn't here with me snoring!" she squealed during the interview to one of her sons, who was standing nearby. "I love her snoring!"

Harris, who has homes in Palm Springs and Los Angeles, looks as if she hasn't aged a bit since her Seinfeld days, which began in 1992.

The script they gave her to read for the audition was for a controversial episode called The Contest, in which George's mom catches him in an awkward private moment in her house. The incident results in a "master of my domain" bet among him, Jerry, Kramer and Elaine.

"I looked at the script and I said to myself, 'Oh, that couldn't be,"' said Harris, recalling the moment she realized the bawdy nature of the episode during the casting call with producers and directors.

"I asked them, 'What did he do?' and they all started laughing. I said, 'Oh, no, it's impossible. On TV? It's impossible.' But it was very possible, and it was funny."

Harris said she related to the humour but not to the character, noting she wasn't able to use anyone as inspiration for Mrs. Costanza.

"Nobody had a past like that! I mean, that poor woman. She lived in that apartment that they got married in with the same furniture and the same husband and one son that was a loser," she said, putting a heavy emphasis on the words "married," "furniture" and "loser."

"I mean, she had everything bad! I thought it was funny."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 2, 2012 D4

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