The 58-year-old actress steps back into Selina Meyer’s shoes for the HBO comedy’s upcoming seventh and final season, which will debut in March, nearly two years after season six aired. At HBO’s Television Critics Association winter press tour on Friday, showrunner Dave Mandel opened up about how shutting down production for Louis-Dreyfus’ cancer diagnosis actually shaped the show’s final storylines.
“When we shut down for Julia’s cancer… the odd benefit… was last year, I became very aware of how the storm and drag of politics was so changing, and it did give us a chance to sit back and [discuss], ‘What are politics about?'” Mandel revealed. “We did actually make some changes to [the show]… and some of the journey and some of the details at the end, which I’m so happy we did.”
Louis-Dreyfus revealed in September 2017 that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and two months later, executive producer Frank Rich confirmed that Veep had halted production while the actress received treatment.
Though the Emmy winner’s battle with cancer allowed Mandel and the show’s writers to make changes to the storyline, it didn’t affect the series’ shortened final season, which sits at seven episodes instead of Veep‘s usual 10.
“I knew where the show was going to end. Then it was a matter of how long it would take to get to the end,” Mandel explained. “We reached a very natural point, storytelling-wise, that we looked at each other and went, ‘I think that’s the end. That’s right.’ So I can only tell you they’re crazy jam-packed episodes. I think you’ll find there’s more than 10 episodes of material packed into them.”
Louis-Dreyfus, who joined the press tour via satellite from Austria, where she’s filming her new movie, Downhill, agreed that a lot happens for Selina in Veep‘s final season; she also said that it didn’t make saying goodbye to the character any easier.
“I was so overcome in joy and grief, a joy and grief mashup, as this show ended, and it was really surprising to me. It really caught me by surprise, and I think that’s because this show, frankly, has been my baby for now eight years that I’ve felt fiercely protective of and proud of [it],” she said.
“We’ve been through a lot as a group, with illness and losing people, and it’s been an enormous, huge journey but ultimately one that has been extremely powerful for us, just personally, to be a part of something this gratifying on a creative level,” Louis-Dreyfus added. “It’s not lost on me that it’s not something that comes along with frequency.”
“It was a very sad thing,” she said. “I don’t know how else to say it.”
The Emmy winner documented her chemotherapy treatments on Instagram, often with the support of her Veep co-stars, and revealed in August 2018 that she was officially back to work on the comedy. During Friday’s panel, she said that the show’s final season will leave Selina “as true to herself as she could possibly be.”
“I’m not sure that evolution is necessarily her game,” she joked. “I would also add that I think where our show ends up, ultimately, is a place I’m very happy about. And I think it will surprise viewers.”
Louis-Dreyfus told ET last October that Veep was part of the reason she decided to make her battle with cancer public. “Originally, I’ll be honest with you, something like this journey I’d been on, I normally wouldn’t share such a private thing publicly,” she shared. “[However], I knew it would get out there because I knew we had to shut down production [on Veep] for a number of months in order to accommodate my situation.”
“So then I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to embrace this and attack it and try to do it with a sense of humor,” Louis-Dreyfus added. “I was really pleased with the reaction.”
The final season of Veep premieres March 31 on HBO.