It’s been nearly two years since Larry David’s eighth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” aired on HBO, but there’s good news for fans of David’s quirky, idiosyncratic comedy. The movie “Clear History,” his latest project for the cable network, has much of “Curb’s” same DNA, meaning it’s improvised, and David is still tactless, immature, lacks a filter and gets into absurd situations of his own making, then tries to fix them and inevitably makes matters worse.
In “Clear History,” he plays Nathan Flomm, a marketing maven, who, in 2003, quits his job at the start-up California car company Electron Motors and gives up his 1 percent in stock because he hates the plug-in vehicle’s name, Howard. Big mistake. When the company takes off, he becomes the butt of humiliating jokes, loses his marriage and his home, and retreats to Martha’s Vineyard, where he’s happily living incognito a decade later — until the arrival of his billionaire former boss (Jon Hamm) jeopardizes his anonymity.
David’s plot is inspired by a story he’d heard about someone who sold his Apple shares early on, before the company took off, but David himself is also no stranger to quitting: He walked away from “Seinfeld,” too, at least temporarily. At a question-and-answer session during the Television Critics Association press tour, the long-running sitcom’s head writer and executive producer confirmed that he had declared, “I quit!” several times in the course of “Seinfeld,” then reconsidered, but, he added, “Let’s just say the show might not have been as good” if he’d followed through.
Weighing his options for what to do next, “Clear History” or another season of “Curb,” “I thought perhaps its time I tried something else, so I decided to do the movie.”
In addition to “Mad Men” star Hamm, the cast includes Eva Mendes; Michael Keaton; Bill Hader; Danny McBride; J.B. Smoove from “Curb”; Kate Hudson as Hamm’s wife, Rhonda; and Liev Schreiber, unbilled and nearly unrecognizable in a beard, long hair and a thick accent as a Chechen thug named Tibor. “We had a list, and I have to say we got most of the people on the list, fortunately,” David noted, adding, “I could say great things about all of them. No buyer’s remorse.”
They worked from a 35-page outline that described all of the scenes and what would happen in them, but no dialogue. “All of the actors were game to work in the improvised format. Everybody just took to it so easily,” David said.
One throwaway line he says in reference to a sports jacket establishes his character’s Jewish identity — “I was bar mitzvahed in seersucker” — but the movie includes the Jewish sensibility David brings to everything he does. “It comes from Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, Apartment 1D, Nostrand Avenue,” he said. “Obviously, wherever you grow up impacts your entire life, and I grew up in a building with six floors, about nine apartments on each floor, and Jews in every apartment. So it rubbed off on me a little bit,” he said.
“Clear History,” however, was filmed in San Jose as well as Essex County in Massachusetts, which stands in for Martha’s Vineyard, where David, a divorced father with two daughters, has a home. “I’ve been there for 13 summers.”
As the film opens, David looks almost biblical in long, shaggy hair and a beard. “The makeup was intolerable. Sitting in that chair for an hour every morning to put that on, it felt like I had 10,000 insects on my head. I couldn’t stand it, but I thought I cut quite a figure,” he said, though he was relieved to do the rest of his scenes as his clean-shaven, balding self.
Not unexpectedly, David sidestepped the question of whether there will be a ninth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “I really don’t know,” he said, chalking up his procrastination to laziness. “Ask me in six months.”
“Clear History” premieres Aug. 10 on HBO, with other play dates throughout the month.