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There was only one man on the planet who could help Larry David with his fatwa situation — and it’s a good thing he was available when Curb Your Enthusiasm gave him a call.
Salman Rushdie — who was name-dropped in the ninth season premiere by Larry David — made a surprise cameo on Sunday’s episode of the HBO comedy. In 1988, the author’s novel The Satanic Verses became so controversial in the Muslim community that a fatwa death sentence was issued against Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah. The premiere set up a season-long theme when TV Larry David, who had written a Broadway play based on Rushdie’s life, had his own fatwa issued against him after an impression of the Ayatollah during a Jimmy Kimmel Live! appearance went very wrong. Now three episodes into living as a man in hiding, Larry paid a visit to Rushdie for help, and the storyline was written into the show before David and executive producer Jeff Schaffer even knew if Rushdie was available, or if he would be up for playing himself.
“We didn’t have a plan B,” Schaffer tells The Hollywood Reporter of Rushdie’s role as TV Larry’s “fatwa fairy godmother.” He adds, “Salman had a small cameo as himself in the second Bridget Jones movie. That’s all I was able to find, because when we wrote this for him I had similar questions. Can he act? Will he want to do this? We wrote this episode and then said, ‘Oh, we have to actually see if Salman is available.’ There are not a lot of famous, prize-winning novelists with fatwas. So we were just like, ‘I hope he does this!’ “
Rushdie had spoken about his true story serving as the inspiration for the season during a recent visit to Late Night with Seth Meyers. Though he said he gave the Curb team permission to use his story, he did not let anything slip about the upcoming appearance.
The visit with Larry proved to be pivotal, as his pep talk on using the “allure” of the fatwa to his advantage, particularly sexually, spurs Larry to kick the disguise he had been wearing to the curb and ask out Elizabeth Banks, providing for several moments of more cameo hilarity. Below, in a chat with THR, Schaffer goes inside the third episode of the season to discuss how Rushdie’s influence will open doors for Larry moving forward.
You had previously said there were a few cameos you wrote into the season before even checking if the person was available. Was Salman Rushdie one of those surprise guests?
Yes. We wrote it purely on a level about what we needed. We needed a way to have Larry feel good, or at least a little more relaxed, about the fatwa. By the end of the show, the fatwa is still there and it’s going to continue to permeate his life through the season, but at least now he’s a little more excited about the benefits and cares less about the consequences. Salman tells him to start living his life, and he’s going to now. We needed Larry to get out of the disguise, for one thing, and also live his life a little more, because when he lives his life, that’s when the show happens. The amount of time that Larry was going to spend in that disguise was always limited. (Laughs) When writing it, we had that same thought Larry had on the show: “Well, there’s only one person on the planet that could really help him, and that’s Salman Rushdie.”
Then, you had to approach him. What would you have done if he had passed on the cameo?
We knew he was a fan of the show, so Larry called him up and pitched him this idea and we flew him out. I really don’t know what we would have done if he said no. We are way too naive. We were just writing to write, we weren’t thinking that someone had to actually call and pitch him. Then the next question was, how game was he going to be with all the things we wanted him to do? A lot of times people playing themselves have trouble doing that. But he’s a brilliant writer and so silvery tongued, and all that came out. He was totally into everything we were talking about, including how fun a fatwa can be with its benefits. Watching the actual Salman Rushdie talk about fatwa sex was a personal season highlight for me.
When guest stars come onto the show, they are thrown into the Curb way of improv. What was it like for someone with little to no acting background to find his footing with Larry David?
The first scene we were doing was when Larry finds him in his study and gets this pep talk. Salman is basically Larry’s fatwa fairy godmother. We knew we wanted him to talk about fatwa sex. How it “wraps around her like sexy pixie dust” — that’s 100 percent Salman Rushdie. He can now officially do it all. He can write, he can act; he’s the real triple threat. We were like, “He speaks so much better than we do.”
Did he have any hesitations about the possible real-life consequences of resurfacing his own fatwa in the pop culture news cycle?
That was the question for us on the day: How much is he going to be willing to talk about his experience and make fun of it? His scenes, because he was so fearless and comfortable playing himself, came out a million times better than we could have ever expected. That’s why we had him and Larry do so much together. He is like the version of himself that he was playing: He’s not going to live in fear. Sure, there are people still after him, but he’s still going to appear in TV shows, he’s still going to tear Larry’s wig off. The fatwa is always there, it’s like a bad credit rating where it just sort of follows you. But he is, as he said, out there living his life.
Were you surprised the cameo didn’t get out? Looking back, Rushdie played it well during his TV visit with Seth Meyers.
He was good! We were amazed that none of it got out. Larry was telling Salman when we were shooting, “Look, you can’t say anything about this, we want to keep it a secret so no one knows until the show airs.” I said, “Larry, I think he’s probably pretty good at keeping secrets.” I didn’t even know he was going on Seth Meyers. But we tried very hard because we wanted the audience to enjoy that surprise, when Larry says, “There’s only one man who can help me,” and then there’s the big gate, the butler and the parlor doors slide open and there he is. The audience will enjoy it so much more if you don’t know where it’s going. That’s why we try so hard to keep things a secret. There are still big surprises to come that we’re keeping mum about.
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