Here are some of the actresses who almost played Elaine Benes on Seinfeld. Despite being one of the four main characters on the show, Elaine was ironically not a part of Seinfeld at the very beginning. The Elaine character wasn’t created for the pilot episode “The Seinfeld Chronicles.” Originally, the female lead was going to be a waitress named Claire, but this was changed when NBC executives pushed for another character who could be part of Jerry, George, and Kramer’s circle. Elaine was introduced early in Seinfeld season 1.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus landed the role, and received considerable acclaim for her work. She won two Primetime Emmys in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series category, part of a stretch where she was nominated in seven consecutive years. By now, Louis-Dreyfus is synonymous with the character, but there was a time when she was just one name in the running. Like so many other parts in the industry, finding the right Elaine was an extensive process that saw a number of actresses considered.
There are at least six other actresses known to have auditioned for Elaine. They are Rosie O’Donnell, Patricia Heaton, Mariska Hargitay, Jessica Lundy, Amy Yasbeck, and Megan Mullally. Unsurprisingly, a running theme through these candidates is a background in comedy. Mullally and Heaton became sitcom icons in their own right, receiving much acclaim for their roles on Will & Grace and Everybody Loves Raymond, respectively. Considering their talent, they would have been strong additions to the Seinfeld cast. O’Donnell hadn’t yet become a mega star at the time Seinfeld debuted, but she’s demonstrated over the course of her career she’s a gifted comedian. It would have been interesting to see what she brought to the role, before titles like A League of Their Own put her on the map.
Hargitay is fascinating, since she’s now known as Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She’s actually adept at comedy as well, illustrated by her Seinfeld guest spot as Melissa, one of the actresses auditioning for Elaine on the Jerry show-within-a-show. Mullally and Lundy were other Elaine candidates who guested on Seinfeld, appearing as love interests for Jerry and George. This shows they left an impression on the Seinfeld staff, despite missing out on Elaine. All of them were able to hold their own against the main cast and do great work with their respective material, so they likely would have made strong Elaines if things turned out differently.
Of course, it’s hard to argue against Louis-Dreyfus’ casting. She fit in seamlessly with Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards, completing Seinfeld’s core four and helping it become the classic sitcom it is today. All of the main Seinfeld actors seemed tailor-made for their characters, and Louis-Dreyfus is no exception (as the accolades proved). It’s hard to imagine Seinfeld without her, though it can be fun to think about the “what ifs” and imagine an alternate universe where Detective Benson was Elaine Benes.