The Emmy-nominated actress first appeared on Larry David’s beloved comedy in 2000, and now, two decades later, is enjoying the hilarious improvisational direction of the series alongside a revolving multitude of guest stars, such as Albert Brooks and Ted Danson.
As Larry David’s long-suffering ex-wife Cheryl David, Hines grounds the comedy series by never relenting to Larry’s endless critiques of everyday life and his constant aggravation with the world. In its eleventh season, Larry enlists Cheryl to coach a young, aspiring actress with minimal talent, Maria Sophia, and the results, once again, see Cheryl facing the repercussions of Larry’s predicaments. What starts with a missing coat ends with Cheryl fighting off an indignant Maria Sophia.
“I do think the rhythms of the improv have gotten better,” Hines shares. “The truth with improv is you have to really listen to the other actor because you can only listen and respond. There are no written lines.”
Hines spoke with Awards Focus about how the show has grown over the last two decades, her appreciation of the slew of incoming guest actors tackling the improvisational atmosphere of the show, and the challenges of filming season 11 out of episodic order.
Awards Focus: Can you talk about how you’ve seen Curb Your Enthusiasm grow from when it first began? It seems like there have been more scenes added into the show this season.
Cheryl Hines: When we first started shooting Curb two decades ago, the show was more of a mockumentary. It had the perspective of a fly on the wall watching things unfold, and as the years have gone by the production has changed. I remember the first time we had a crane shot and one of our previous directors said, “Oh, I didn’t know we were allowed to do that!” So it started out with basic coverage and now we’ll go on location, New York or somewhere in the world, and do a funny camera shot for the comedy of it. Whereas season one, we weren’t really doing that; we were just capturing dialogue.
AF: Do you find that the rhythm of the show, and the improvisation, has improved over time or was it established from the get-go?
Hines: I do think the rhythms of the improv have gotten better. The truth about improv is you have to really listen to the other actor because there are no written lines, so you can only listen to them and respond. That has been the rhythm from the beginning because that’s the only way to do it. But it’s probably a little more involved now because we have history with all these characters and the audience knows we all have history together. If you reference something about Richard Lewis from five seasons ago, everybody will know what that means.
AF: The unique pairings in the show, like with Ted Danson and other guest talent such as Vince Vaughn this season, must also open the possibilities of the comedy too.
Hines: (Laughs) Yes, that’s true. We have different guest stars on and some people have done a lot of improv and some haven’t done it at all, so it colors the process for those of us who have been doing the show for two decades. But by the time anyone is shooting an episode of Curb, it’s clear that they know what they’re doing and feel comfortable doing it.
AF: We get to see a really seemingly bad actress with Maria Sophia (Keyla Monterroso Mejia). How do you imagine the process is like when you’re looking for an actor that can play poorly, or does it even matter at that point?
Hines: She’s pretty spectacular because it’s not easy to play a bad actor. It’s nuance, you know? She is so frigging funny, and she was killing me because she’s a very talented actor but she makes it look like she’s not acting, which is of course the best kind of actor there is. She has great range and physical timing, and really brings something new to this show.
AF: We recently spoke to Curb showrunner Jeff Schaffer who mentioned that scenes had to be shot out of order depending on the size of a crowd needed. Did you find it challenging to leapfrog from one episode to another in a short timespan to shoot these larger scenes safely?
Hines: It was an interesting season because we shot during the pandemic, so they were figuring out the safest way to do it. Creatively, you would hope to shoot everything in sequence, especially something improvised, but this season was taking into consideration safety being number one. So when we first started out shooting it was really locked down, but towards the end more people could be added into the scene without complete panic.
Additional contributions to this article from Matthew Koss.