Interview: Susie Essman Explains Why 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Still Feels So Relevant
Jeff Schaffer, Jeff Garlin, Larry David, Richard Plepler, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman and J. B. Smoove at season premiere (Getty)
Susie Essman has spent nine seasons terrorizing Larry and Jeff on Curb Your Enthusiasm with her hilariously profane rants (and even weirder outfits). Between her new "Soap's On" business and dealing with Larry's foisted former assistant, she had plenty to be annoyed about in the season nine premiere.
We spoke to Essman about returning to the show after six long years, and what keeps Curb so relevant, what she respects about Susie Green, her favorite Curb moment, and what was different about filming the new season.
What is it about Curb that it still feels so fresh nine seasons in? It still feels relevant. It does, doesn't it?
What is it that keeps it from getting stale or feeling formulaic? Well, first of all, it's really funny. It's still just really funny, because I think that it's very honest and true. It's out there saying things that people want to say, but just feel like they can't. It's a voice for people, whether it's Larry being totally politically incorrect, or whether it's Susie's comfort with her anger, which seems to be so freeing for so many women. There's a universality to it. In a certain way, it feels like a very New York, Jewish sensibility, but anecdotally, I've traveled all over the world, and I've had people of every ethnicity tell me, "You're exactly like my mother! You're exactly like my friend's wife!" So I think that we've all tapped into some kind of collective unconscious, if I may be Jungian for a moment, something that Curb has tapped into that.
You play a character on the show with the same first name, but from everything I know about you, you don't really share a lot in common with her in terms of attitude. Is it weird that people confuse you with her? Does it bother you? Yeah, but you know, I guess we all do that with whoever we see on TV. Even rock stars, or whoever it is. You confuse them with the characters that they play. We're a little more confusing because Larry David's name is really Larry David, and Ted Danson is supposedly really playing Ted Danson, but what I could say about that is we're all acting. People get confused, and I think it has to do with things like, are the Kardashians playing the Kardashians? It's the reality TV thing that's confusing people.
Playing a character like this, is there a point at which you did pick up something from her? Well, there are things I greatly admire about her. I admire her strength, and she's very loyal and she's a solid person. I mean, if you say, "Can you do something for me?" and she says she'll do it, she'll do it. And she'll protect you and your children, and she'll even protect Larry. She's even loyal to Larry. So she's a very solid person. She has a tremendous sense of social mores and social cues in a way that I don't. She doesn't have any neuroses. She's very sure of herself, which I enjoy playing, because it's the opposite of me. I'm totally, like, neurotic and insecure, because I'm a comic. So, I didn't want to play myself. I wanted to create this character who seemed to never question, just be reactive.
And she's very honest. Very honest. Very, very honest. So is Larry. And it's one of the reasons why I think that they clash, and it's one of the reasons why I think they always make up.
They really respect each other at the end of the day. I think they do. I think they do.
I think you see that even in the premiere. It was very fun to see her pop up in the office and a couple of different places you don't normally see her. Though she seemed a moment away from exploding at Jeff. Well, she does live with Jeff, he's her husband. There's a higher expectation for Jeff than for Larry, just his idiot friend. Jeff is her means of support, and her livelihood and everything, so the expectation's way higher for Jeff than Larry. Larry just comes in and out.
Before filming, do you do anything to prepare for the improv? What I do is I put on the outfits and I become her. I work from the outside in—some actors work from the inside out. I could do that too, but with Susie I work from the outside in. I put on the outfits, I become her. When I have scenes where I'm angry, I do have to get into a certain headspace. I do have to focus a little bit and just get to that place, which is not that difficult because I've been doing it for so long I know where to go, but it does take a little focus.
Susie launches a soap business in the premiere. How many businesses has she had at this point? Well, she had the sweatshirts. She had another business too, what was that one? Do you remember? I don't remember...But it's not really about making money. It's more, what's she gonna do with her life? Sammi's grown, she's getting married, she needs her raison d'etre.
In terms of Susie's style, do you have much influence over that at all? Oh yes, yes.
Do you go out to like vintage shops and pick out the weirdest things? We had a different wardrobe designer this season because Christina Mongini, who designed for many seasons, was on Silicon Valley, and she couldn't get away. So we had Leslie Schilling, and Leslie had a different style than Christina. Leslie was not as out there wacky, so Susie's a little more subdued. But I'll find Susie Greene things, always when I'm in like Florida. And if I know that we're shooting, I might pick something up. But generally the wardrobe designer will go out shopping, buy a ton of stuff, and then we'll have a fitting, and I'll be like, "yes, no, put this together with that," so yeah, it's a collaborative effort.
I will say this: with Christina, I don't think I ever laughed so hard as when we were doing fittings, putting Susie Greene outfits together. We would just get so hysterical laughing over the outfits we put together. And some of them were too much. There were a couple outfits in those days where I'd walk on set, and Larry would just be, "It's too much! You look insane! You look like an insane person!" And so then we'd tone it down.
That was a character choice. I just wanted her to just be flamboyant and just be completely okay with it. She believes she has the greatest taste in the world, and that Cheryl is just boring taste. They're close, especially when it's them against Larry, but Susie Greene just thinks Cheryl dresses so conservatively—like she's got a great figure and she's dressing like this? Susie doesn't understand it.
Do you find yourself having Curb moments in real life? With petty etiquette arguments or... Well, I'll have Susie Greene moments. It's usually like, bad customer service or something, where I've just reached the end of the line. With these fucking robo-callers, I have Susie Greene moments all the time, where I've just reached the end of it, and I'll just go Susie Greene on somebody. And for each one of my children, I have at least once gone Susie Greene on them. Really not more than once, but at least once I've gone Susie Greene on all of them. For things like having parties in our house, egregious things that they've done. And I'll just lose it and go Susie Greene. But, I do it maybe once a year.
Do you have any particular favorite Curb storylines or plots? Oh God, you know, I was just thinking about that. There are so many. I was just thinking about "Mister Softee" last season. I love that episode because in my wildest dreams, I never thought that I was gonna be driving through Harlem in a car with Larry having an orgasm. Never in a million years did I think that was gonna happen. But you know, I read those outlines, and I'm like, "Oh God, he gives me the funniest stuff to do." He just gives me such funny stuff to do.
Everyone I've talked to about the new season has been like, "Coming back to the show was so easy, we all fit together again so well." But is there anything that feels different about this season? Especially since there was such a long break since season eight? Well, the thing that felt different this season, which hopefully doesn't show on air—it actually doesn't, I've seen the first eight episodes—is that with Jeff doing The Goldbergs and a lot of major guest stars, there was a lot of scheduling difficulty. So we shot things out of sequence, and I didn't like that. I don't like shooting out of sequence. It doesn't have to be exactly in order, but we're shooting a scene from episode one and then a scene from episode four, and I didn't like that. That didn't sit well with me acting-wise. I understand it has to be done, and I don't think it shows on camera, but that was different. We've had that before, but this was extreme this season.
That reminds me a bit of Arrested Development, where they had so many problems in the fourth season just getting everyone in the same room at the same time because everyone was so busy. And it showed, unfortunately. I've seen two episodes of the new Curb season, and I had no idea. Yeah, I've seen the first eight, and it doesn't show. But just personally, from my point of view, that's the only thing that I could think is different. There's nothing else different. All the relationships are the same. Cheryl's in it a lot, which I really like, you know, I like having Cheryl there. Everybody's back, Funkhouser, Louis, Ted, Mary, Leon, Jeff, me.
Do you get any scenes this season with anyone you haven't worked with previously? Richard Lewis and I talk about this all the time, we've never had a scene together. We've had scenes at dinner tables, dinner parties, but never just the two of us. And JB and I, we've had a few interactions, but we've never had a real scene between us. Cheryl and I have, Larry and I have, Jeff and I have, so I would love to have a scene with JB. I'd love it.
Oh yeah. The few times you guys have been together, there's a real spark. There's electricity between us. Oh yeah, he likes a nasty-mouthed woman. He likes any woman.