How 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Got Larry David Ready for War

Executive producer Jeff Schaffer says Sunday's Revolutionary War reenactment scene was the HBO comedy's biggest production, and action sequence, to date.
John P. Johnson/Courtesy of HBO; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Larry David on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'; Inset: Jeff Schaffer

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, "Thank You For Your Service."]

Over the weekend, Miles Teller delivered an emotional portrayal of a solider who returned home after deployment from Iraq in the film Thank You For Your Service. Over on HBO on Sunday night, Larry David delivered a different PTSD-centered story in an episode also titled "Thank You For Your Service."

"It is a weird coincidence that this episode came out at the same time as that movie," Curb executive producer Jeff Schaffer acknowledged during a chat with The Hollywood Reporter. "I haven’t seen it yet, but I am curious to check out their Revolutionary War reenactment."

What Schaffer is referring to is Curb's biggest action sequence and production to date of the Larry David-starring comedy's nine seasons. After not thanking Jeff and Susie Greene's (Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman) future son-in-law (played by Chet Hanks) for his military service, TV Larry David attempts to do right by his friends and brings the Afghanistan war veteran to a Revolutionary War reenactment. Taking advantage of the once-a-year actual reenactment that happens in California's Huntington Beach, the Curb team enlisted the most extras, guns and cannons it has ever needed in its comedic arsenal. The scene ends up serving as a trigger for the war vet, who attacks the redcoats, aka valet guys, when they return to Larry's country club.

Below, Schaffer talks about the process of getting the reenactment scene right — which included rifle training for David — if he expects any reaction to the PTSD storyline and why the episode serves as a standalone amid this season's continuing fatwa arc.

You referred to this 34-minute long episode as a "standalone," something you've also utilized in previous seasons, since it ignored Larry's fatwa. What is your process for the timing of a Curb standalone?

When we are outlining the season, certain episodes drive the season arc forward, but we always want room for standalone episodes that don’t have to shoulder any of that narrative. That’s why it was so important for Salman Rushdie to tell Larry to “live his life.” Larry living his life means telling someone their "baby looks a little Asian." Larry and the world he inhabits have a very contentious relationship. The fatwa is the epitome of this — the world actively wants to kill him. Most of the time, the world just annoys him. Both are enjoyable to watch. And even though the fatwa wasn’t mentioned, this episode still serves one of the other parallel arcs for the season, which is Sammi Greene’s (Ashly Holloway) wedding. How will this change things? We’ll have to wait and see, but hopefully Victor (Hanks) will get the help he needs and the valets won’t press charges.

How was this episode a challenge, considering the sheer amount of stories you set up that came full circle by the end?

It’s funny, it doesn’t feel like there were more stories than usual. Maybe this year we’re just doing more stories than usual because after the hiatus, Larry wanted to tell more stories than usual. This one obviously has a very big production number at the end of it. The goal was never, “Let’s put Larry in a Revolutionary War outfit and shoot a war scene.” It all started from an idea of a soldier getting PTSD from a Revolutionary War reenactment and attacking valets. The seed of it was from Dan O’Keefe, who is an old Seinfeld writer who writes on Silicon Valley and now Veep. He had that idea for a long time and we just really wanted to do it. 

How did you go about staging the reenactment?

There aren’t just Revolutionary War actors and cannons lying around. Luckily, there is an actual reenactment that happens in Huntington Beach once a year. We had them set up a day early. The guys who helped us were great but, as you can imagine, sticklers for historical accuracy. Us? Not so much. The problem, we learned, is that there aren’t as many who want to be the British, for obvious reasons, and the British tend to flake. At 6 a.m., we didn’t have enough redcoats. So we had to make a bunch of them switch sides, which they were not happy about. One of my favorite parts of the show is when a guy “dies” in the first volley fire and Larry can’t believe the guy is just going to now lay on the ground for three hours. “That’s it? You came out here and got dressed up for this?”

Was the reenactment the biggest action sequence you’ve ever done on Curb?

Yes. The most extras, explosions and stunt people. Lots of cameras. It was the biggest production we’ve done. The funniest thing is, it was really all just a setup for attacking the valets. We used bayonet charges — we’re not actually firing things at people, that’s not a TV show, that’s an actual war. (Laughs.) The charges are loud, it’s basically all the gunshot without the bullet. We had one day to do all of it. All of those cannon fire explosions, we definitely did that twice. It was a fun vacation from the minutiae to actually blow something up.

How was Larry David with the stunts and the choreography and were there any injuries?

I wish we had filmed Larry doing rifle training, because that was an amazing 15 minutes. He and Chet had to go through the rifle training with the Revolutionary War reenactors who are pretending to be in Colonial times. It was a trip. They take it so seriously, it’s impossible to not make fun of them. It was like being back in grade school and everyone was the class clown. Larry actually did get slightly injured, but not in the Revolutionary War. The very last scene, when he’s the weary solider walking home from the war and Katie Aselton (from Schaffer's The League) throws the package at him and hits him in the head? That’s where he got injured. When he fell, he threw the gun up in the air and it landed on his noggin. He bopped himself on the head with his own gun. Friendly fire. He had a little cut on his head, but he soldiered on.

How does the budget this season compare to last seasons, and did you spend a lot of it on this episode?

Our budget did not expand this year at all. We were able to fit all the extra stuff in the same amount of time. There are always a couple big ticket items you save for, big things like this and some other things that are coming down the pipe. For the most part, we’re still doing the same show we’ve been doing. You try to be a little more fiscally responsible elsewhere. It was really on par with the other season.

 
Davids Are Cowards | Curb Deleted Scene 905

Lieutenant David, reporting for avoiding duty, sir..

Posted by Curb Your Enthusiasm on Monday, October 30, 2017

Did you talk to any experts for the PTSD storyline and did Chet Hanks speak to anyone in preparation for the role of war veteran Victor?

When we wrote the role of Victor, Larry always thought that Chet would be perfect for it. And when he came in and auditioned I saw that Larry was spot on. Chet has an authenticity and vulnerability that really made the character work. And Chet definitely did research for the role and wanted to make sure his portrayal felt accurate. Well, as accurate as it could be when we were making him attack some red-coated valets. 

Are you anticipating any response, or backlash, from veterans groups? Or was it just a source for comedy?

We never set out doing a show thinking, “Ooh, what’s the response going to be?” And that goes for praise or criticism. We just try to do shows that make us laugh.

How is Susie Greene (Essman) going to react to finding out what Larry did to her future son-in-law? And will the wedding go on?

Victor is going to be okay and the wedding is still on. So Larry has more opportunities to really piss Susie off as the season continues. Here’s the thing: Larry walks around with a dark rain cloud over his head, so if you’re hanging out with him, you’re going to get a little wet. It could be worse for Victor. At least he’s not a Funkhouser (Bob Einstein). Things never work out well for them.

Larry isn't apologetic, something that seems to be happening even more this season. Is he owning his own behavior more and what is that attributed to?

I was not aware that Larry was less apologetic this season. I just see it as Larry has to be true to himself: Sure, he’s sorry for offending his friend with the Asian baby comment, but he can’t take it back. Larry is very comfortable in his own uncomfortable skin.

What will we see happen next week, when Elizabeth Perkins makes her guest-starring debut? 

Next week we will meet Funkhouser’s girlfriend, played by the amazing Elizabeth. Funkhouser is in love with her and a little afraid of her. Larry is neither.

Is there anything that didn't make it into the episode that was a close call?

When Larry was in country club owner Mr. Takahashi’s office we shot an encore performance of “shit bow” from season eight. It was super funny, but not really needed for the scene. We also shot a face-off between the waiter and chef. It was very funny but we had too many endings. And we’ll be posting on Curb's Facebook page Larry giving a brief history of the David family’s military service.

What did you think of the fifth episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm's ninth season? Tell THR in the comments below, and check back with Live Feed for weekly chats with Schaffer as the season airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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