Larry David Is Playing His “Beloved” Self on HBO’s Clear History

John P. Johnson/HBO

HBO’s “Clear History” with Jon Hamm and Larry David.

At first, Larry David is unrecognizable in the new HBO film Clear History, premiering Aug. 10. Looking like an aging Woodstock hippie, he’s hidden under mounds of hair and a beard. But then he speaks, and David’s brand of grumpy humor sprinkled with petty annoyance unmasks the true curmudgeon in front of us. To my surprise, that character is “beloved” by the fans of his HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, which has David effectively playing himself.

But is he really that crabby in real life? Most celebrities make an effort to be charming during interviews. Not Larry David, who created the mega-hit Seinfeld sitcom, and has the Writers Guild Paddy Chayefsky Award among his many honors.

So, with such a successful background, why is he such a difficult interview? Who knows? Responding to a few simple questions about his hobbies or favorite vacation spot, he curtly told me, “I don’t do those kinds of things.” It wasn’t personal, because during an interview session about Clear History he also gave abrupt, sarcastic, and brash answers to most questions from the press. It’s as if he’s reluctant to change anybody’s mind about his persona that has been mined for pure comedy gold during his long writing-producing-acting career.

Once again David is playing a version of himself in Clear History which follows Nathan Flomm (David), a marketing executive at a start-up electric car company, who, after a petty argument with his boss (Jon Hamm), gives up his shares of the company. The electric cars go on to make billions of dollars, leaving Flomm publicly humiliated and his life destroyed. Ten years later, he has changed his name to Rolly DaVore and lives in Martha’s Vineyard. All is well until something from his past threatens to disrupt his new life. The film, directed by Greg Mottola, is almost entirely improvised, which is a special trait of David’s projects.

There is admittedly a lot of Jewish humor in David’s work, and he reveals it all came from his Brighton Beach neighborhood in New York. “Where did you think it came from?” he asked sarcastically. “Wherever you grow up impacts your entire life.”

Asked if it was true that he threatened to quit Seinfeld early in the show’s long run, he snapped, “It wasn’t a threat, I did quit, a couple of times.” Asked about the hairy look he has in Clear History, David retorted, “It was intolerable to sit in a chair for an hour every morning to put that on. It felt like I had insects on my head. I couldn’t stand it.”

Much of Clear History takes place in Martha’s Vineyard, and David noted he’s had a home there for 13 summers. But is he a much-loved member of the community like he is in the movie? “Not like in the movie,” he revealed finally cracking a smile.

The film was inspired when David heard about a guy who owned ten percent of Apple stock and sold his shares before the company took off. “I thought that was funny,” he said. While searching for a director to helm the film, David found he had something in common with Greg Mottola. He explained, “I can’t stand interviewing people and Greg didn’t like being interviewed, so we got along great. And I loved his movies, which helped.”

Mottola immediately loved the concept of the film. “It was really clever and interesting, with a classic farcical structure,” he said. “One of the things I love about Larry is that even though the film is completely improvised, it’s also incredibly disciplined. His stories have great structure, great twists and turns, and surprises and payoffs, and you know he is going to be hoisted on his own petard by the end, which is done in a really ingenious way.”

David has nothing but praise for his ensemble cast, which includes Jon Hamm, Bill Hader, Philip Baker Hall, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton, Danny McBride, Eva Mendes, Amy Ryan, and J.B. Smoove. Mottola said the cast was thrilled to work directly with David and explore the spontaneity of each scene, while staying true to the film’s original outline.

When asked why he hems and haws about committing to a ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, David grumbled, “It’s like when I got married. It’s a big decision, I don’t take it lightly.”