Today’s Guest: Cheryl Hines, actress, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Cheryl Hines has one of the most challenging acting jobs on television: she plays Larry David’s long-suffering TV wife on the HBO comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” now in its sixth season.
For years, many people have assumed she was David’s real wife, and further complicating the premise this year is the news that David and his wife Laurie have divorced. What does this development mean for the show?
Joining us today is the lovely Cheryl Hines who, hopefully, can shed some light on where all this is going — or maybe not.
CHERYL HINES podcast excerpt: “We thought that there was going to be a terrorist attack on Los Angeles, and I wanted to stay in town and Larry wanted to leave. And so in the outline, that’s all that was written, really. Then when we actually did the scene, it turned into this very soft-spoken scene where Larry and I were talking, and we’re having this serious conversation, but I felt very funny. I was like, “Well, if something happens, don’t you think we should be together?” And he’s like, “Actually, I think that’s a little selfish. Just because one of us perishes, does that mean the other one has to?” And so we sort of went back and forth and just asking him what he wanted to do. In one take, he said he thought he’d go to a dude ranch. And I think the take that ended up on the air, he said, “I thought I’d go to Pebble Beach.” So just getting through that scene, I don’t know, it unfolded into a scene that was never written but turned out to be very funny, I think.”
BOB ANDELMAN/Mr. MEDIA: Cheryl there’s been a lot of chatter lately about whether Larry’s real-life separation from Laurie David would be incorporated in the show. If so, that would seem to threaten your livelihood in some ways. So I wondered what your thoughts about this might be.
strong>CHERYL HINES: Well, here’s the thing. We shot this season long before Larry and his wife got divorced. See, you have to just bear that in mind while you’re watching this season.
ANDELMAN: You’re asking a lot for people who can’t separate reality from TV.
HINES: That’s true. You got a good point, yeah. Yeah.
ANDELMAN: Now you’ve already shot the whole season.
HINES: We have, yes.
ANDELMAN: Right. Now I actually talked to Jeff Garlin a few weeks ago, and he said, to his mind, this is the last season. So it would seem that actually the discussions of whether or not the divorce is gonna be incorporated is kind of superfluous.
HINES: Yes, it really is superfluous. However, that being said, I would not be surprised if we shot another season.
ANDELMAN: Oh, really?
HINES: Yeah. I talked to Larry, and he — it’s not out of the question, let’s just say.
HINES: So that’s kind of exciting, but ever since the first season, Larry acts like it’s always our last.
ANDELMAN: Well, last season, I guess, was supposed to be the last.
HINES: Last season was going to be the last, but he lived.
HINES: He died, but he came back to life.
ANDELMAN: Now, whether or not Larry’s divorce makes it into the show, one of the storylines, at least in the early episodes this year, has involved some flirtatious behavior between you and Ted Danson. And I wondered if maybe that was reflecting reality at all or if that was just more good fun.
HINES: I think that’s more good fun. But, certainly, Larry’s very good at finding, at commenting on human nature so it’s in what we do and as a society what we do. So I think he just thought it was very funny that married people can’t really openly flirt that much so our contact with each other is just hitting each other on the shoulder and that’s how we flirt with each other. As he says, that’s as close as we can come to having sex with somebody else.
ANDELMAN: Now men are often portrayed as being flirtatious in these shows, but married women usually don’t get that opportunity unless it’s going all the way through.
HINES: That’s true.
ANDELMAN: I mentioned when we started talking about people having confusion issues between reality and TV, and I was reading in the Curb Your Enthusiasm book that Larry’s own parents were very upset and a little confused in the episode where Larry’s mother died.
HINES: We talked to Larry before he wrote the outline for that show, and he said I’ve got a funny idea. “What if my mother dies, and I don’t go to her funeral? I miss her funeral.” And I said, “That’s not funny,” and he said, “Oh, really, you watch, I’ll make it funny.” And then, of course, he writes it, and it is funny. But I’m sure his parents have had moments of confusion.
ANDELMAN: Have you had other moments over the years, now I know you work from the barest of outlines, where you’ve had something, and you said that just doesn’t seem funny to me?
HINES: Well, when he died. He died, and he said before we shot that scene, “No tears,” and I was like, “But you’re dying. I’m supposed to watch you die, and it’s not sad?” So he has a way of really finding the comedy in everything.
ANDELMAN: You make a great point because, watching that, I kept looking to you thinking, okay, she would be crying now, right?
HINES: Believe me, I had to fight my instincts because it was sad. It was sad. I forget what actually made it into the show, but when we were shooting the scene, the idea was right after Larry dies, I turn to our attorney, and I say, “Can we talk about the will?”
HINES: And I was like I don’t feel comfortable saying that. Don’t make me say it.
ANDELMAN: You would think you would at least be out of the room where the body is.
HINES: Yeah, but I think some of that did not make it to airtime, but it did make it to airtime that Jeff and I start talking about the cost of the car, haggling over the cost of the car right after Larry dies. So there are moments of this that are just like oh, I have to fight my natural instincts.
ANDELMAN: One of the most well-known developments in your character was originally, she was seen as probably going to be Jewish, but then over time, it was clear — I guess to Larry, clear to you — that you weren’t going to be Jewish. Were there other developments in your own character that you were particularly either proud of or found most interesting over time?
HINES: Well, certainly, my character is involved with the NRDC and the environment, which mirrored Laurie David’s involvement with the environment. So it’s been very cool for me because it’s been educational. I’ve learned a lot, and I drive a hybrid car now.
ANDELMAN: Oh, do you?
HINES: Yeah. So that’s been interesting to me. But it’s funny because I think in our first season, I’m said to have been an actor so I did “The Vagina Monologues” the first season and then we never spoke of my acting career again. So it’s interesting if you really watch the episodes like what we carry through and what we just sort of drop.
ANDELMAN: But I do remember, and I’ll get the line wrong, but as I recall, your vagina is big in Canada, right?
HINES: My vagina is huge in Canada.
ANDELMAN: That’s it. See, I knew I was gonna get it wrong.
HINES: These people enjoy asking me how my vagina is, because of the wandering bear episode. Yeah, I’m having some problems because Larry wore a long-lasting condom inside out. It made me have some problems so the Native American Indian that’s helping us get rid of poison oak comes up to me and asks me how my vagina is. Just another day at work.
ANDELMAN: The thing I thought was interesting to me the first season or two was reading that you guys shared a trailer, and I wondered if going forward from here, if you do another series or something, if you would recommend that to your castmates.
HINES: I actually loved it. We had a great time together. I loved hanging out together. You sort of have that experience when you do theater because everybody’s in the green room just hanging out because you only have one space. So I really liked it, actually. I remember when Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor did the show, and she was pumping at the time. She was still breast-feeding, and we’re all in one trailer, and she would have to go in that tiny bathroom. I was like, oh, this is probably not good for every occasion. So, yeah, it has its ups and downs.
ANDELMAN: Now you came into that situation where Jeff Garlin and Larry David and Susie Essman had known each other for some time. I imagine it was probably good for you to be in that situation of close quarters from the beginning because you probably got to know them and become part of the group a lot faster than if you were all going your separate ways after every shot.
HINES: Absolutely right. You’re so right, because sometimes you work on projects, and you really never have a chance, sometimes you don’t even see the other people in the show or in the movie. So it’s interesting that you say that because I never thought about it, but you’re right. It is a fun way to get to know each other personally, and since it’s improvised, it would probably make a good carry-over feeling that you could bring to the screen.
ANDELMAN: I would think it would be that much more valuable especially since the whole, not the whole, but one of the big aspects of the show is the improv, and so these three have dealt with each other and know each other. You’re being thrown in. I guess you can’t really overstate the importance of improv on that show.
HINES: All of the dialogue is improvised so Larry writes a story outline, and then we improvise dialogue. So, yeah, you’re right. It’s kind of a miracle to think that I was cast in this show because these guys already all knew each other. I don’t think Larry knew Susie, but Susie and Jeff had worked together and certainly Larry and Jeff, so I guess I was the odd man out. But I clicked immediately with Larry. We just got along so well from the moment I sat down next to him. So I don’t know. There was an ease to it all somehow.
ANDELMAN: Have you dealt with a character like Larry, and I mean a real-life character like Larry before? Had you ever dated someone…
HINES: No, never. Never. Most of the people I had dated or been friends with were kind of sunnyside-up people. So it was really fun to meet Larry and live in that world.
ANDELMAN: Cheryl, how different was your approach to the improv in the sixth season than it was in the first season? And, by the way, I’ll point out I do know that you have The Groundlings experience, and it was not like you hadn’t done improv before. But how did your approach and how did it all change for you over six seasons?
HINES: I would say that my approach is the same. When you’re doing an improvised show, it’s really about listening and responding to whatever someone just said so it’s still the same approach. I would say the only thing that may be different is, now that we’ve been doing the show for so many years, I feel like maybe if I said something, and I knew that there was a glitch in it somehow, like maybe I heard an airplane going over or Larry and I overlap dialogue or something, I might stop and say I’m just gonna say this again or let me just take this one more time. I feel comfortable enough to do that, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same process.
ANDELMAN: Now, do you have a particular improv moment that you’re especially proud of? I’ll give you an example while you think about that for a minute. Jeff Garlin had said that his was when he and Larry were in his daughter’s room and the shelf came down, and they just kept going.
HINES: Yeah, yeah. I remember that. Well, there was a scene with me and Larry. I don’t even remember what season it was. We thought that there was going to be a terrorist attack on Los Angeles, and I wanted to stay in town and Larry wanted to leave. And so in the outline, that’s all that was written, really. Then when we actually did the scene, it turned into this very soft-spoken scene where Larry and I were talking, and we’re having this serious conversation, but I felt very funny. I was like, “Well, if something happens, don’t you think we should be together?” And he’s like, “Actually, I think that’s a little selfish. Just because one of us perishes, does that mean the other one has to?” And so we sort of went back and forth and just asking him what he wanted to do. In one take, he said he thought he’d go to a dude ranch. And I think the take that ended up on the air, he said, “I thought I’d go to Pebble Beach.” So just getting through that scene, I don’t know, it unfolded into a scene that was never written but turned out to be very funny, I think.
ANDELMAN: Now, I’m thinking back on our conversation. And so he thought it would be selfish if you stayed together. So if you perished in the crash-something, he would go to Pebble Beach. Well, earlier, you had concerns that he died, and you immediately wanted to talk about the will. So I think it all worked out. There’s some karma there.
HINES: It’s true. None of us are that perfect, are we?
ANDELMAN: Cheryl, how has being on “Curb” affected your other job opportunities?
HINES: Well, it’s opened up a door into film and other television projects for me that I would’ve not had the opportunities otherwise. Or so it seems. I went to some event, this was pretty early on, and Ron Howard was sitting in front of me, and he turned around and said, “Hey, I love your show and you’re so great on the show,” and I thought, “Oh my God, Ron Howard knows who I am!” So it’s been sort of that experience for me. I’ve had some really great filmmakers approach or hand me opportunities because they had seen my work on the show. So it’s huge. For me, it’s changed my life.
ANDELMAN: You co-starred with Robin Williams in RV. And I wondered, again, if the improv experience on “Curb” made that, first of all, made you that much more attractive to producers on that and if it was easier for you to work with someone like Robin because you had been in that environment.
HINES: Probably. Because, certainly, Robin has a reputation for going off-script, shall we say. So when we were shooting, he would go who knows where with it, and I would just roll with it. Who knows? You’ll have to ask Barry Sonnenfeld, but Barry Sonnenfeld is another person that I hit it off with immediately, and we became friends and remain friends. I’m sure improv may’ve been an attractive component, let’s say, to that project.
ANDELMAN: I imagine there’s been actors and actresses who’ve worked with Robin Williams over the years who were not as thrilled with him going off-script.
HINES: If you’re not used to improvising, it’s a very scary place to be because when you’re studying acting, you’re taught to find all of your answers in the script because that’s what it’s all about — the words in the script. So, to some actors, that’s where the project lives and so when somebody goes off that script and starts doing something else, it can really be jarring.
ANDELMAN: Did you have an experience with Robin where he was basically doing a performance one-on-one with you going off-script?
HINES: Oh, yeah, every take, every take. He’d do probably two takes by the book and then one take he would say, “Can we do one just for me?” And we would do one, and who knows what he’d do. You just have to be ready for anything.
ANDELMAN: Interesting. That’d be an interesting experience. It’d be very different than watching him even in concert than to have him doing a performance three feet away from you.
HINES: He’s so great. I love Robin so much, and he’s really such a nice person. But he is either on, like a 100 percent on, or he’s super quiet. And when he’s on, he’ll perform for himself. He’ll be standing in the lunch line just doing bits, but who cares who listens? But when you’re sitting there eating lunch with him, you do feel like a lot of people would pay a lot of money to hear you right now going off on your French fries or whatever.
ANDELMAN: A completely different topic, though. You’ve found a new use for your celebrity, I understand, promoting the “Quaker Heart Smart Challenge.”
ANDELMAN: I wondered what brought you into that?
HINES: My dad had a heart attack two years ago, and he’s okay now. But he had to have surgery, and it was a very dramatic situation. And we found out he had heart disease, and so it really sort of snapped me into thinking about health and having a healthy heart and all that sort of thing. So it seemed like a good fit for me.
ANDELMAN: What kind of things will you be doing with Quaker to promote this?
HINES: Well, we did a thing with Larry King, actually. We had a breakfast here in New York where we kicked off the Heart Smart Challenge because we want people to go to quakeroatmeal.com to sign up for this challenge. And every person that signs up, Quaker will donate a dollar to the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. So I’m just sort of speaking out about it and letting people know about it.
ANDELMAN: That’s very nice. As someone who has a lot of heart disease in the family, I appreciate that.
HINES: Oh, well good. It’s scary.
ANDELMAN: It is.
HINES: Certainly, it’s definitely helpful to try to be preventative about it.
ANDELMAN: Well, when you see a parent be diagnosed with it or have a heart attack or just suddenly do the family history, then you certainly realize you were more involved in it than you think you are.
ANDELMAN: There is a movie listed as being in production on your Internet Movie Database listing that sounds like a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gag, Space Chimps. Can you elaborate?
HINES: Interestingly enough, Space Chimps is being directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. So I’m teaming up with Barry again. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s an animated film. So, yes, I am voicing a chimp that goes to space. Actually, I think it’s going be a really cute movie. You know what? It’ll be a family movie.
ANDELMAN: And you get that it does sound like something that Larry invented?
HINES: Oh, listen, believe me. Yes, I do know that. I can’t wait to promote that movie, by the way.