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Actor Susie Essman on the final season of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

For over 20 years, the hit HBO comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm" has been making its fans squirm and gasp and laugh their heads off.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUCIANO MICHELINI'S "FROLIC")

DETROW: And throughout that long run, actress and comedian Susie Essman has been the heart of what makes the show so special. Fans cannot get enough of her character, Susie Greene's, roller coaster relationship with her husband Jeff and his best friend Larry David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

SUSIE ESSMAN: (As Susie Greene) Great, Larry.

(As Susie Greene) It's sick, Jeff.

(As Susie Greene) All right, you know what, Larry? I can handle this. He's my husband. Jeffrey.

JEFF GARLIN: (As Jeff Greene) Oh.

ESSMAN: (As Susie Greene) Larry, what the hell did you do to my picture?

DETROW: And now the show is currently in its 12th and final season. So when we spoke, I asked Susie Essman what it feels like to wind down the show after so long.

ESSMAN: It feels great in a way. I mean, I'm so - oh, God, I don't want to sound so Pollyannaish. But I feel so privileged to have been a part of this show all this time...

DETROW: Yeah.

ESSMAN: ...To actually - as an actress, as a comedian, to get a job on a show that I would actually watch. You know, I would have taken any job in 2000 on any crappy sitcom that was on the air where I could make money. But that I got so lucky to be on a show that I actually would watch and love and be a part of the creative process with a brain like Larry, it's just been pure joy. And I feel more joy about it being over than kind of sorrow, really. It's just - I just feel so lucky to have been a part of it.

DETROW: I like that mindset because we don't get much Pollyannaish on "Curb."

ESSMAN: (Laughter) No, you get no Pollyannaish on "Curb."

DETROW: Like you said, this show started in 2000. At that point on HBO, it's in the shadow of "The Sopranos" and "Sex And The City."

ESSMAN: Right.

DETROW: Was there a moment in the early seasons where you knew, wait a second, this thing has legs? Maybe not 23 years legs, but this is a good show. This show can stick around as long as it wants.

ESSMAN: Well, in the beginning, we were kind of like the ugly stepchild, you know? That's what we felt like. You know, we were their little experiment, their little comedy experiment. And we had no budget. We didn't even have trailers. It was just this kind of slapdash operation. But around Season 3, anecdotally, I started noticing people stopping me in the street in New York. So that's when I started thinking, you know, oh, maybe there's something going on here with this show. But I never - I had no contract in those days. I had no idea if the show was coming back or if I was coming back or, you know, what was going to happen.

DETROW: Tell us about your relationship with this character you've inhabited and how - maybe how it's changed over the years or what sticks out to you about Susie Greene.

ESSMAN: You know, what sticks out to me about Susie Greene is what I think resonates with people - people always think it's the language, but I think it's her comfort with her anger. I think that women respond to how she completely embraces her anger. She doesn't feel bad about it. She doesn't feel like she's not being a good little girl, you know? And I think that it's given people, women especially, permission to feel their anger because, I mean, I don't know about you, Scott, but I'm in a rage all day long.

DETROW: Me, too. I never get to deal with it like Susie does or like Larry does.

ESSMAN: That's the whole thing. It's the release. Larry and I have never, in all of these years, discussed the character. It just kind of evolved in this very organic way. We've never, to this day, discussed the character or our relationship.

DETROW: Yeah. I mean, that improv is such a part of the show's lore. It's something that the people who watch it love about it. It's something I know you and Larry and the other cast members are asked a lot about. I'm wondering, over the years, did the way you approach that change? Did you become more self-aware, like, oh, this show is special because of that freedom? Did you think about it differently because of that?

ESSMAN: No, it - that hasn't changed at all. I think what's changed is my appreciation of how extraordinary of an opportunity it is because I don't know any other job I could have had that I would have been so much a part of writing what goes on to the screen. It's such a collaboration, how anybody who acts on "Curb" is a part of the process, is a part of the creative process in a way that you're not on any other show that you're given a script. So it's just completely joyous.

And there's a freedom to it that, unfortunately, I don't know that I'll ever have that opportunity again because people try to do "Curb"-like kinds of shows, and they don't have Larry's story brain. Larry's brilliance - there's so many levels of Larry's brilliance, but I think that the main thing about Larry is his story brain. He has such a sense of story, and if you take apart each episode, you see how densely woven the stories are.

DETROW: Do you have a favorite scene or a favorite moment or episode from over the years?

ESSMAN: Oh, God. I have so many. There are just so many. Probably - my favorite is probably from "The Doll," which is Season 2...

DETROW: Yes (laughter).

ESSMAN: ...The driveway scene because that was when, I think, the relationship was really established between Susie and Larry and Jeff. You see how they live in fear of her.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

ESSMAN: (As Susie Greene) The kid is home hysterical because her doll, Judy (ph), has been decapitated because you two sickos took the head for God knows what reason - some voodoo [expletive] you're doing. Where is it?

And that was the first time that spaghetti western music was played as kind of my theme song.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

ESSMAN: (As Susie Greene) Where's the head?

So that's probably my favorite.

DETROW: There were a few questions that I felt like I had to ask you. And, of course, I do have to ask about Susie's outfits. They're so off-the-wall - from flowers...

ESSMAN: Yeah.

DETROW: ...To cheetah prints to bright colors. What do you think that tells us about her personality, her character?

ESSMAN: Well, from my point of view, I kind of created that look to begin with.

DETROW: Yeah.

ESSMAN: And it was just then our wardrobe designers, Leslie Schilling, and before her, Christina Mongini - they just took it to another level. But the idea that I had for Susie's wardrobe was that I wanted - you know, you don't want to play yourself. I mean, some people do. I have no interest in playing myself. I'm with myself all day long. I wanted to play a character who I just - you know, just had this idea about her that she was incredibly confident. She never questions herself in her wardrobe, in her behavior, in her opinions. She just completely believes that she's right. And she's completely confident that she looks fabulous, and she could go out there with these crazy outfits looking just incredibly gorgeous all the time. That's her perception. The fact that she looks deranged half the time is another issue.

DETROW: (Laughter). Why do you think Susie stuck around with these guys for so long? Her husband cheats on her. Her husband's best friend - she hates the guy. Like, why do you think she didn't just say, like, get lost?

ESSMAN: I have to - well, first of all, because they kept on casting me.

DETROW: Yeah.

ESSMAN: But I have to say that that's not really true. She doesn't hate Larry.

DETROW: You don't think...

ESSMAN: She doesn't hate Larry. She and Larry have a very kind of family, brother-sister relationship where, you know, she'll scream at him, you're banned; get out of the house. And the next day she'll just say, hey, Lar, want to come to a dinner party? All is forgiven all the time. She doesn't hate him. She accepts him as just a part of her life. And why doesn't she leave Jeff? Well, you know, she makes Jeff pay. Jeff cheats on her. He's got to buy her a new house. He's got to buy her a new diamond ring. He's got to - that's her MO.

DETROW: Well, I think the audience has been glad she stuck around.

ESSMAN: Yes, I've been glad she stuck around (laughter).

DETROW: Well, Susie Essman, I have enjoyed Susie Greene so much over the years, and it was great to talk to you. That's Susie Essman, who plays Susie Greene on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which is airing its final season on HBO now. Thank you so much.

ESSMAN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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