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Friday, June 5, 2009

An Extremely Awkward Encounter with Larry David

Over a bowl of soup with another older Jewish man, David discusses the Seinfeld curse ("so annoying"), acting for Woody Allen ("very daunting"), and hitting his peak ("no one wants to see this old man on TV").

By Scott Raab

larry david illustration

Andy Friedman

Seinfeld cocreator and Curb Your Enthusiasm auteur Larry David stars in Whatever Works, Woody Allen's new romantic comedy, playing Boris Yellnikoff, a character filled with scorn and obsessed with death. He also has a bad limp. Esquire writer at large Scott Raab profiled David in 2002.

LARRY DAVID: Go. Whaddya got?

SCOTT RAAB: I got a tiny window of time here.

LD: You call this a tiny window? Are you kidding? This is interminable. A tiny window is 20 minutes, a half an hour. Why don't you sit on that chair? Is that easier?

SR: Why not this chair?

LD: You know why? It's a turn of my neck in a bad way.

SR: I was going to ask about the neck. I have a note about the neck.

LD: This is easier, yeah. It's a bad position for the neck.

SR: When I went through my old transcript from 2002, the neck played a huge part.

LD: It's better. It's better. It used to be all day long I was like that, but it's better. Yeah.

SR: You still get regular treatment?

LD: Yeah. Yeah, I do.

SR: So it's like psychotherapy in a way.

LD: How so?

SR: You've got pain, stiffness, all this distress with the neck. So you get treatment and you get treatment, and it ameliorates it a little bit, but still, all these years later...

LD: It does make it better. It makes it more livable.

SR: You see the analogy?

LD: No. I don't. No.

[The publicist asks if David wants a bite to eat. He scans the hotel lounge's menu.]

LD: Here's what I'll have: split-pea soup and white-bean hummus. Is that okay?

PUBLICIST: Whatever you want.

LD: And I don't need the cheesy croutons. And if there's cream in the soup, don't get it.

PUBLICIST: I'll check.

LD: Yeah. No cream or butter in the soup or the hummus.

SR: Is that a lactose thing or a general-health thing?

LD: General health.

SR: So you tolerate lactose.

LD: I tolerate lactose like I tolerate people.

SR: I heard you didn't want to do the new movie at first. You said no?

LD: I didn't say no. I said, I have to talk to him. I have to let him know that he's potentially destroying his movie, that he could be making a terrible, terrible error. I needed to let him know that I didn't know or think that I was capable of doing this.

SR: Why?

LD: First of all, there were some very daunting things in the script — huge monologues, some dramatic stuff.

SR: How long did you work on the limp?

LD: When I got on the set.

SR: It wasn't hard, limping that way?

LD: No. Anybody could do it. It required no skill whatsoever.

SR: Did you call on your own reserve of experience to play such a bastard?

LD: I wasn't really calling on a reserve. It wasn't a reserve like I'm some kind of Method actor. Let's not get the wrong impression here. It's not that complicated, really.

SR: Did Woody have to give you a lot of direction?

LD: Not a lot of direction, but he directed me when something wasn't to his liking. He would come up and go, "No, you're being too nice to her. Don't be so nice." He didn't want me to be too nice.

SR: You did good. And you were quite touching in the scene in which Evan Rachel Wood's character breaks up with Boris.

LD: I've had some experience in this arena. So it wasn't foreign to me to have a woman say she doesn't want to see me anymore.

SR: You're a single guy now?

LD: I'm a single guy, yeah.

SR: Is that going okay?

LD: Yeah. More than okay. Better than okay.

SR: You've got a few things going for you.

LD: I would think.

SR: Still driving the Prius?

LD: I'm still driving a Prius, yeah. I was thinking about this Tesla.

SR: I just saw one at an auto show.

LD: The sedan — did you see the sedan? The sedan is, you know, four doors.

SR: Awesome. And electric.

LD: I know. I'm thinking about that.

SR: They're pricey.

LD: Yeah, I know. I know they're pricey. Yes. Well, rich prick, you know. Rich prick that I am.

[The room-service waiter and the publicist arrive.]

Waiter: The plate is very hot. Please don't touch the plate.

PUBLICIST: Larry, they don't make pea soup anymore. I got you the tomato.

LD: Is there cream in it?


LD: No butter?

PUBLICIST: It's all vegetable-based.

LD: Really?

SR: Go ahead, eat.

LD: This is not a break. Don't take a break. Keep this interview going.

SR: You don't want a break?

LD: No. If you don't mind the crunch sounds.

SR: They'll add texture. So you think you'll get other movie offers?

LD: I don't know.

SR: Have people sent your agent scripts?

LD: No. Not that I'm aware of.

SR: You're 62 now?

LD: One. Sixty-one.

SR: So you haven't really peaked yet.

LD: You know, the show's in high-definition now. So I'm looking at the dailies now and I said to the producer, "Listen, this is crazy. I look like I'm 75 years old. Nobody wants to watch an old man being funny. That's just a fact. No one wants to see this old man on TV."

SR: Can they do some kind of gauzy late-career Joan Crawford thing for you?

LD: No. But that's what I need.

SR: What are you seeing that I'm not seeing? You're tanned, you're fit. You're not wrinkled in a ghastly fashion.

LD: It's different on TV. I'm just making observations. It's just a comment. It's not a big deal. What else you got?

SR: The Seinfeld Curse.

LD: Whaddya mean? Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] has a hit show. She's won an Emmy. It was the most absurd, silliest, stupidest thing to say that there was a curse.

SR: You don't think there was a curse?

LD: Are you crazy? It's so annoying to hear something like that. There was no curse. It's crazy. So there were two TV shows attempted that didn't work? Big deal. How many TV shows work?

SR: I seem to remember Costanza doing Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials.

LD: Well, he's entitled to make a living. But a curse? It's so absurd.

SR: Michael Richards?

LD: Well, he had a show that was taken off, canceled.

SR: Not that. He committed career seppuku.

LD: Well, we don't know that. We're a forgiving people. Don't forget: America forgives. Right?

SR: So no curse.

LD: No. No. That's the most idiotic notion. This is quite a good snack. I'm very happy with it.

SR: What's the garlic content like on the hummus?

LD: Oh, do they put a lot of garlic in the hummus?

SR: It depends on the hummus. Some hummus is very garlicky.

LD: I can't tell. I better stop eating it.

SR: I shouldn't have said anything about garlic.

LD: You ruined the whole thing for me.

SR: What is that?

LD: Breath tonic.

SR: It's called Breath Tonic?

LD: Yeah. That's what it's called — Breath Tonic.

SR: You get it at Ralphs?

LD: It's from a health-food store. Most people are completely unaware of their breath. They violate your space, they have no idea that they have halitosis.

SR: Is this something I need to think about?

LD: No. No. But I'm surprised how few people actually think about it.

SR: I do think about it.

LD: Do you? I'm a little obsessed with it, I have to say.

SR: It's dragging a little here, no?

LD: It's draggin' a little bit, yeah.

SR: I can wrap it up.

LD: No.

SR: I want you to be fresh for whatever you're doing next.

LD: I'll be fresh. I'll be fresh.

SR: So Curb's seventh season is coming up. You're starring in a Woody Allen movie. You're here in New York City. You walked the red carpet last night at the Tribeca Film Festival. How does it feel to be Larry David?

LD: A lot better than it used to, I can tell you that. Better than having to walk from First Avenue to the West Side because I couldn't afford to get home at night. Having to eat Chef Boyardee, emptying the pennies in a grocery at three o'clock in the morning to buy Chef Boyardee — it's better than that. I feel good.

SR: The movie's good.

LD: I'm glad you liked it. People think it's gonna be a big thing. I tell 'em, "Eh, it's a movie."

SR: I think it'll do great.

LD: You do? Really?