Asked if he's excited to have Jason Alexander guest starring in two episodes of his show -- and directing a third -- "Everybody Hates Chris" creator Ali LeRoi deadpans, "It's regularly exciting. It's not terribly exciting."
This gets him a quizzical glance from series star Tyler James Williams, who plays a teenage version of edgy comedian Chris Rock (the autobiographical show's executive producer and narrator). The young actor is sitting in the desk in front of LeRoi in a classroom set at the show's fictional Corleone Junior High.
LeRoi catches the look and laughs. "OK, it's extremely exciting. Is terribly exciting an oxymoron?"
"Actually," Williams says, "you can be excited at the same time that you're terrified."
"Being terrified and being excited are similar states," LeRoi says.
"Touche," Williams replies.
"Touchy," says LeRoi, who then admits, "We're very excited to have Jason Alexander here."
On this day, the former "Seinfeld" star is shooting the first of his three episodes, which aired last year. His second one, "Everybody Hates Snow Days" -- which features a lip-synch and air-guitar dancing duet between him and Williams -- airs Monday, Feb. 5. The third episode, directed by Alexander, has yet to be scheduled.
He plays Principal Edwards, who has just taken over at Corleone. It's his first job after a self-imposed sabbatical to deal with anger issues that caused him to attack a superior at a previous school. As part of this, Edwards has adopted many trappings of Eastern philosophy, as did a well-known NBA coach nicknamed "The Zen Master."
"This guy's kind of loosely based on Phil Jackson," LeRoi says. "Where we draw our influences from comes from all across the board. That's what I told him before we got started."
During a break after filming a scene in which Edwards brandishes a samurai sword while holding forth on how to reconcile bullied Chris with his Corleone nemesis, Caruso (Travis T. Flory), Alexander takes a break at the foot of the school stairs.
"The script said he was trying to control an out-of-control temper," he says. "In the back of my head, I was thinking, maybe he's reading some of the Zen philosophy stuff, but I wasn't sure that was going to fly. Then when I walked on the set and saw that they had samurai swords and Chinese characters and the meditation balls, I'm like, 'Oh, my God, they're thinking what I'm thinking.'"
As to the Phil Jackson reference, Alexander first says, "That's exactly right," then laughs. "I have no idea. What can I say? I think he's a big chair thrower."
This meeting of the minds is just why LeRoi wanted to hire Alexander.
"We had an idea (of what we wanted him to play)," LeRoi says. "That's why you get a good actor. We have an idea of who this guy is, but we certainly expect him to bring something. That's why you get the good guy. A recipe is not a chef. We got recipes."
And Alexander's the chef? "Yes."
This is also having an impact on Williams. "I'm learning a lot," he says. "I'm learning that you can come up with ideas, and with those ideas, just transform the scene into your own."
Not all actors enjoy working with children -- especially a young actor who is the title character in his own show. Apparently that's not a problem for Alexander.
"Tyler's a sweetheart," he says. "I mean every phrase of this. He's a wonderful natural actor. He doesn't flip a switch when they go, 'Action.' He's an extension of himself, so that's great. He's got a great natural sense of timing and that wonderful face. He uses his face so well. He seems like a really lovely guy. When you don't have a nice kid, it's hard for them to play a nice kid.
"He happens to be a sweet, together kid. My heart always goes out for the kid actors, because so often you know that they're on a path to a dark place. Every now and then, I meet some and work with some, and I go, 'They're going to be OK.' I would imagine the same would be true for Tyler.
"If not, what can I say? Mug me in an elevator."
Williams had noticed a lot of the bits of comedy business that Alexander does between the lines, to which Alexander says, "Isn't he studious? It's the noises. It's a lot of the noises."
Since the end of "Seinfeld," Alexander has starred in two other series. The short-lived "Bob Patterson," in which he played a self-involved motivational speaker, only lasted five episodes on ABC in the fall of 2001. "Listen Up," in which he played a sports talk show host, had a one-season run on CBS.
"I've always felt," he says, "like I was a little ahead of the curve of where television was. I'd go to the grave swearing 'Bob Patterson' was a terrific show, but needed a full season to really find itself. The thing that really killed us is that we were a smart-aleck show, and we came on the air two weeks after 9/11, and nobody wanted that kind of comedy."
As to whether he'd like to make a guest appearance on CBS' sophomore hit "The New Adventures of Old Christine," which stars his "Seinfeld" cohort, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander says, "I would do it in a second. There are equally good reasons to do it as not to do it, for her. There's no downside for me.
"But there's no imperative for her to use me or for her to do it. We've done our stuff together, and neither one of us is hurting, so we're OK. But if it makes sense, I would do it in a moment."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times