How 'Force of Nature' Julia Louis-Dreyfus Led 'Veep' Through Final Season After Cancer Battle (Exclusive)

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of a kind. 

The actress returns for one last hurrah as Selina Meyer on HBO's Veep, which will premiere its seventh and final season on Sunday. Though Selina's life and career experienced ups and downs, there was seemingly nothing more consistent than Louis-Dreyfus' hilarious portrayal of the politician, which earned her back-to-back Emmy wins every year from 2012 to 2017. 

Just one day after winning her Emmy on Sept. 17, 2017, the decorated performer was diagnosed with breast cancer. She shared the news with fans on Twitter less than two weeks later, using the opportunity to advocate for universal healthcare. 

"You remember what it is to just be a human being," Anna Chlumsky told ET at Veep's season seven premiere on Tuesday of the cast's reaction to the news. "It just effing matters. Just life matters."

In November 2017, two months after Louis-Dreyfus revealed her diagnosis, Veep executive producer Frank Rich confirmed that the show had halted production so the actress could undergo treatment.

"When she told us her diagnosis, all we wanted was for our big sister to get well," her co-star, Reid Scott, told ET.

And with the support of her co-stars, Louis-Dreyfus completed chemotherapy. 

By August 2018, she was officially back on set to film Veep's final seven episodes. According to showrunner Dave Mandel, the extended hiatus provided an opportunity for the writers to take in how the nature of politics had evolved in the years since President Donald Trump's election. It changed a few details, but not much of where Selina's journey would conclude. 

"The writers and Julia, they pitched all the ideas for this season, and they realized there's a natural closure to the storyline," said Matt Walsh. "You want to get out at the right time to preserve the legacy and good work you've done. You don't want to overstay your welcome and comedy says, 'Keep 'em wanting more.'"

The cast reunited about a week before filming for a private lunch with Louis-Dreyfus. "Honestly, if we never came back to work, as long as she was OK, that's all we cared about," Scott shared. However, as he put it, "We knew we got our girl back." 

The 58-year-old actress was full steam ahead. "What I've seen her do this last season, she's just proving again how [much of a] wonderful force of nature she is," Walsh expressed. "[She's] a comedic genius in a way that you don't know a genius is around. She legit can do it all." 

"Every time we got a script I was like, 'You're kidding me! You're kidding me!' Every table read was just that kind of joy," Tony Hale recalled. "And you think it couldn't get darker, but it got darker and more dysfunctional." 

Season six of Veep aired from April to June 2017, showing Selina thrashing about post-presidency in her attempts to find the meaning of life in the form of funding for a presidential library. Towards the end of the season, it appeared as if Selina had replaced her love of politics for real-life love with Qatari ambassador Mohammed Al Jaffar (Usman Ally) -- however, a chance at running for president derails her relationship seemingly just as quickly as it began. 

There is no greater magnetism than the one that exists between Selina and the Oval Office, with season seven picking up with her on the campaign trail, surrounded by the motley crew we've come to know and love. Among the season's preciously wacky storylines is a revelation about Jonah's (Timothy Simons) marriage. "It is so disturbing," Walsh confessed with a laugh. "Just wait and watch like the rest of us." 

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Colleen Hayes/HBO

The narrative may have helped Simons himself find peace is saying goodbye to the character. "That man is a lot. There's only so much dumber he can get," the actor told ET, revealing that he has no intentions for a Jonah spinoff. "We're gonna have to let it live in a closed loop."     

Veep's final day of filming brought the entire cast -- even those who had wrapped days earlier -- back together; they wanted to be there for Louis-Dreyfus. 

"Julia's last moment was just Julia," Walsh shared. "It was a simple thing and we were all there." The 54-year-old actor admittedly tried to hide from his feelings by performing a "smooth jazz version" of Beyonce's "Single Ladies." Everyone cried and hugged. 

"A lot of us have been at peace with the end, and we're proud of it and we're proud of the creative choice to be at the end," Chlumsky said. "What was most profound at the end was honoring the relationships." 

"The thing that I say about Julia is that you can't learn to be as talented as she is... [but there are other things] you can learn from and try to move forward with," Simons added. "She brings so much joy to the process of making the show. That's a thing of hers, making sure there's joy in the process of what you're doing."

The goal for Louis-Dreyfus with Veep was always to leave people "wanting more," though now she's wanting her people. "I miss them already," she told ET. 

"The experience that I've had on this show has been sublime, and I consider myself to be very lucky," the actress shared. "[It was] really an unsurpassed creative journey. It was a huge labor of love. It took a lot of hard work, I'm not saying it was easy. But at the end of the day, it was just chock-full of joy."    

Season seven of Veep premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. 

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