Larry Thomas made an appearance as “The Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld in 1995. He’s still remembered as such and he doesn’t mind a bit.
“What were the chances of doing something for 6 minutes on a TV show and it completely changing my life and becoming my life?” says Thomas, whose signature line was “No soup for you!”
“Most of the work I get is because of it.”
His gigs include Dinner at Five, a production coming to the Tempe Center for the Arts on Saturday, November 3. Written and directed by Lloyd J. Schwartz (The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, Harper Valley PTA), Dinner at Five also stars Kathy Garver (Cissy from Family Affair), Caryn Richman (Gidget from The New Gidget) and Christopher Knight (Peter Brady from The Brady Bunch).
“It’s a comedy about four middle-aged couples,” Thomas says. “It’s an innocent foray into the idea of switching couples, but done humorously and innocently. Lloyd is such a good writer, and it’s a fun cast for me to work with.”
He met Garver through his former manager, the sister of Johnny Whitaker, who played Jody Davis on Family Affair. Richman and Thomas previously performed together. Eight years ago in Chicago, Thomas became acquainted with Knight on the autograph circuit.
“I remember someone told me Chris Knight wanted to be sure to meet me before the weekend was over,” he recalls. “I laughed and I said, ‘A Brady kid wants to meet me?’ That’s so funny because I got a nomination for an Emmy for The Soup Nazi and the award for that category, best guest actor, was given away at the technical awards night.
“Oddly enough, the person running around for E! or something was Florence Henderson. She was so wonderful. She kept pinching my cheek and telling me I was cute. She was just so sweet and so nice. When someone told me Chris Knight wanted to meet me, I was up for that.”
The camaraderie between the actors off stage is apparent during the production.
“We have a lot of fun together,” he says. “We mesh on stage and just have a good time. It’s two acts, so there are two dinners. Each act is us having dinner. It’s real food. There’s this old joke about actors: ‘Watch your food around actors. They’ll eat it.’ I get to indulge in really good food on stage. I’m good for the night.”
Thomas was thrilled when he was called to do Dinner at Five, initially, in California. He hadn’t stepped on a stage in about 14 years.
“My last theater experience was on the national tour of the female version of The Odd Couple with Barbara Eden,” Thomas says. “One of the theaters we played was the Orpheum in Phoenix. We loved the theater. It was beautiful.”
Phoenix is close to Thomas’ heart. Earlier this year he married Ahwatukee makeup artist Angela Thomas-Friis, who ran Indie AZ Film Festival.
“She a jack-of-all-trades in the industry,” he says. “She’s a great makeup artist. She does my makeup. She makes me look younger.”
Thomas recalls Seinfeld was a fun experience, with Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander being “so nice as actors to work with.”
“As an added bonus, one of the guest characters was Ali Wentworth, who played ‘Schmoopie,’ who’s married to George Stephanopolous. I like her.”
In the season seven episode, Jerry must choose between his girlfriend (Wentworth) and a bowl of soup when The Soup Nazi refuses to serve her.
Working with Larry David, who created the show with Jerry Seinfeld, proved to be educational.
“Larry David, when you work with him, is a joy. He portrays himself as being this person you wouldn’t want to know. But while working, he’s incredible. I call him the ‘mathematician of comedy.’ He breaks everything down to the details.
“He’d say things like, ‘Don’t wipe your head on that line. It messes up the joke.’ He’s always right. I knew I was in good hands. I couldn’t have had a better four days.”
He and Thom Barry, who played Elaine’s building superintendent, watched rehearsals from the bleachers. They were in awe of what they saw.
“He turns to me and says, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do this every day?’ I said, ‘Paradise, man, like paradise,’” Thomas says.
“It’s such a relaxed set. The four lead actors are so comfortable with each other. Larry David had, probably through his own neurosis, the only set where network executives were not allowed to come to on rehearsal days. Nobody bothered you.”
Thomas is reminded of his biggest role daily.
“My life is that character,” he says. “I was an actor for 18 years before that. I was unknown and anonymous. Before Seinfeld, I think I had done one TV show about 15 years prior. I did nothing but beg, borrow and steal theater for the next 15 years.
“When I had this audition for the hottest show on TV, my favorite show, I never expected to book the role. But I was delighted to go to a callback. It changed everything.”
Dinner at Five, Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, 480.350.2822, tempecenterforthearts.com, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 3, $35 and $45.