Larry David’s epic comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm returns to screens on Sunday after a six-year hiatus. Jeff Garlin, the actor who plays Jeff Greene, joined The Watch podcast ahead of the show’s return to discuss his acting process on Curb, how that differs from his role on ABC’s The Goldbergs, and what it’s like to film a scene with Larry David.
This transcript has been edited and condensed. The full podcast can be found here on Monday.
Andy Greenwald: [In the six years since Curb Your Enthusiasm last aired], has your opinion of the show changed at all? The body of work behind you—your relationship to it?
Jeff Garlin: I don’t think about it, man.
Greenwald: That’s what I thought you were going to say.
Garlin: Yeah, I don’t think about it at all. I know that the evolution of the show ... has changed as we've gone along. But the one thing that has stayed consistent is my voice—I have my voice while doing the show. I make my choices, I’m all good. So I don’t feel, like, shut out.
Greenwald: Well, it’s a very collaborative process by definition.
Garlin: It’s a collaborative process. But when we started, there was just a few of us, and then more came aboard; some left, some came, and the tone would change.
Greenwald: There’s a lightness to this whole production that I’m picking up on. Not just from what you’re saying now, but Jim Miller did this Origins podcast about the show …
My takeaway from that was the sort of lightness and presence that [you’ve talked about] seems sort of endemic to the entire enterprise of Curb. Because Jim Miller, who did this project, and fans like myself who listened to it, are searching because we want substance. We love the show, we want to be in the room, we love all of you so much, and what was actually kind of illuminating about the entire process was that everyone felt so light about it. There was not a weightiness to the memory—“We struggle to make this…” It was really people talking about ... I guess in the early seasons you have one trailer?
Garlin: We not only had one trailer, we didn’t even have our own trailer. We shared it with the makeup and hair department. And then, I don’t think it was until Season 3 or 4 that Larry and I shared what’s called a “double banger,” where it’s a trailer, which we still use today. Larry and I share a trailer, and we’re two halves of a trailer. And then one season, I remember the producers were on one side and the other side was the changing room for the actors. It always was strange. HBO used to call us, in the beginning, their “little experimental show.” I swear. That’s what they called us! How condescending. But now people don’t realize Curb Your Enthusiasm is the longest-running show in the history of HBO.
Greenwald: You’re right about that.
Garlin: There’s other more popular [shows]—Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, probably Sex and the City—but we are the longest-running show in the history of HBO.
Greenwald: Even apart from the physical accoutrement of doing the show, like the trailer or whatever, the investment in it—something about the way that you make the show [almost seems like] you can’t touch it or put meaning around it because of the way that you created it. Do you know what I’m sort of getting at?
Garlin: That used to be more the case early on. It’s not as much the case now.
Greenwald: Because [Curb creator Larry David] plots it more?
Garlin: It’s because it’s more plotted, and they’re more concerned with giving people lines and such. I don’t like that. That goes against what I like. I’ve expressed this to Larry ... I’m not big on saying things publicly that you haven't told a person. [But] I still love the show.
Greenwald: [This] is the ninth season of Curb, done in a very specific way—an improvised show with your friends.
Garlin: More improvised early on, less and less as the years go on. I’m always improvising.
Greenwald: But you’re now into year five of The Goldbergs, and I imagine it was another positive experience for you.
Garlin: Very positive. I love the people I work with, I love the scripts.
Greenwald: Very different. Scripts—you make 20 of them per year.
Garlin: I improvise sometimes. I’ll just tell them I’m going to improvise in this take. But in general I follow [the script] exactly—it’s well-written.
Greenwald: Is it just putting on a different hat on the way to the office or [using] a different part of your brain?
Garlin: No, no, I don’t think about it. I have a process. My process for Curb is [that] I read all the outlines before the seasons begin, I come to the set, and I ask them, “What is this scene about?” When I’m standing on the set, I ask that. That’s how long I wait. We don’t rehearse. I’m told what we’re doing. There have been times where they started rolling, and I said to Larry, “What is this scene about?” and he goes, “I don’t know,” and we both have to be told what the scene’s about. But that’s what keeps it really real and fresh. Now, Goldbergs … I get the script the week in advance, probably, but the night before I get the sides—the scenes we’re going to do. I read them that night, [or] I read them in the makeup chair in the morning … and then I go and I rehearse it and I read the script while I rehearse. As soon as I’m done rehearsing, I will go off with my dialogue coach and I run the lines three or four times, and then I know them. And I go back on the set when they’re [ready] and I do it. That’s a process for that. Curb, like I said, there is no process.
Greenwald: In filming Curb, what is the greatest source of joy for you?
Garlin: Being present with Larry. And being in scenes with Larry and having the scene groove and work. He and I, when we’re done with the take, are just giddy. It’s so wonderful and so happy. The more actors you add to that, the less chance of it happening, but it does happen. So when you have a big scene with like eight characters, it’s tough to have fun. And I generally, if you watch those scenes, don’t say much.
Greenwald: The joy that you’re talking about in those scenes with Larry—that’s the thing about the show that is not describable and not worth dissecting, but it is palpable. The audience can feel that.
Garlin: It’s palpable, and it’s those moments where I realize how lucky I am, and those moments [that are] extraordinary where I know they won’t happen again.
Greenwald: They’re there and they’re gone.
Garlin: If I ever have those feelings like that—that’s crazy. I’ve never had those moments on The Goldbergs. I have joyous moments on The Goldbergs—I love working on The Goldbergs. But I’ve never had those supremely enlightened moments where you go, “Wow!” Now I’ve gotten that from watching Wendi McLendon-Covey in a scene. I’ll watch her in a scene and I’m giddy, and I'm so excited I forget my lines. … So I can feel that for other people, but talking about myself, I’ve only felt that in those moments on Curb.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.