Millions of fans tune in to watch TV's committed malcontent battling with his acid tongue in Curb Your Enthusiasm. But Patricia Danaher found that misery is just an act for Larry David
Larry david wants you to know that he's no sociopath. Although his gauche alter ego on his hit TV show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, goes by the same name and is utterly devoid of an internal editor, in person the writer and actor Larry David is a little less caustic, but just as hilarious.
Tall and angular when he walks into the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills to talk about starring in the latest Woody Allen movie, Whatever Works, where he plays a misanthropic curmudgeon, he is initially a bit brusque and more like his TV persona.
"The character I play on Curb doesn't censor himself," he says. "I know I'm not a sociopath like he is, so I know when not to say things in life, even though I might want to. The character just says and does everything I want to, that's the only difference."
It's ten years since the self-described "show about nothing" that is Curb Your Enthusiasm appeared on our screens, after the co-creator of Seinfeld, decided to leave the show behind and do his own thing. Netting more than $500m for his work on Seinfeld, David was looking for a vehicle for his own acting, when he considered returning to stand-up where he had begun his career.
"When I first started doing stand-up comedy, I was completely broke," he tells me, sounding exactly like his Curb persona.
"I used to save my pennies in a milk bottle. I remember going to grocery stores after I would go on at the Improv at two in the morning with the milk bottle. I would empty it on the counter and get 55 cents out and get a can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli and cook it. That was my dinner! I lived like that for some time, hand to mouth, doing stand-up.
"I can't really say that it made a difference in terms of what I think about, what I write about.
"On some level you can say that suffering builds character. I don't know if it's true in my case. I don't know if it built any character. I'd like to think that it did but I really don't know.
"I do think, though, that it's probably better to have money after you didn't have it than to have it from the beginning."
There's very little prospect of David ever having to revert to stand-up again, with season seven of Curb on the way and now cast as the lead in Allen's latest movie, which opens in Ireland later this summer. David says he regarded it as a great honour to be asked to star in an Allen movie. (He has previously played smaller roles in two very early movies, Radio Days and New York Stories.)
"Woody and I have similar passions and obsessions, and there were times on the set when I felt very close to what the character felt and was saying.
"I feel a very strong connection to his previous movies and to this one in particular."
As the interview progresses, David relaxes visibly and begins to send himself up, talking about his previous careers as a private chauffeur, a paralegal and a bra salesman (though not all at the same time), and revealing the source of some of his hard-won self-awareness.
"When you're a private chauffeur, as I was in New York, and there's somebody in the back seat saying 'make a right', 'what are you doing?', 'hurry up', you want to go in the back and strangle them!" David admits. "I learned a disdain for authority and for having a boss tell me what to do. I just cannot concentrate on any kind of office work at all."
Describing himself today as "a happily divorced man", after 14 years of marriage to Laurie Lennard, he is also the baffled father of two teenage daughters.
"First of all, it's shocking to me that I was even allowed to be a father," he laughs. "Shocking. It's shocking that all of us are raised by people who don't know anything about it. It's all crazy that we are all allowed to breed.
"I just can't get over it because none of us, with few exceptions, really know anything about it or what the hell we're doing. Look at what the world is -- it's a result of parents who don't know anything about what they're doing. They have a test with so many other things like for a driver's licence, but not to be a parent."
So how does he get on with his 15- and 13-year-old girls?
"I have a wonderful relationship with my daughters. At least I do on my end. I don't know how they feel, but boy, it's hard. It's been hard from the beginning. I had no idea that it would be that hard. But the most painful aspect of it is, when they were very little and I had to go to these birthday parties and just stand around talking to people I didn't know, trying to pass the time and chit chat with these awful chit-chatting parents. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack."
It's probably just a mild exaggeration, and he clutches his chest as though really having a heart attack, but we are both in stitches.
Curb Your Enthusiasm starts on HBO in the autumn and all I can get David to reveal is that many of the Seinfeld cast will be making appearances.
"I say, modestly, that I think you're in for a good, funny season.
"I don't want to jinx myself and to have to go up in the corner now and knock on wood a hundred times, but I'm so confident that I'm going to knock on wood now and tell you, it's really going to be funny." HQ