Jeff Garlin is one funny guy. Famous for his portrayal of Jeff Green, the manager, friend and confidant of Larry David on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, Jeff Garlin had already dabbled in just about every facet of TV, film and stand-up comedy in general.
Born and raised in Chicago, Garlin started his love affair with comedy during his childhood, listening to the albums of Richard Pryor and Woody Allen. He began his own foray into comedy while in college at the University of Miami, where he studied filmmaking and performed some stand-up. After moving back to the windy city, where he roomed for awhile with Conan O’Brien, he joined the Second City comedy troupe. This extensive comedy experience led to his writing three one-man shows. His first acting role in features was in the Dolly Parton film “Straight Talk” in 1992.
He followed the job with a small part in “Hero” that same year, and then in 1994 he landed parts in “Robocop 3” and then “Little Big League,” where he played the manager of the opposing Little League team. Then came a couple of made-for-television movies, “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” and “The Love Bug,” (not to be confused with Disney’s 2005 big-screen Lindsay Lohan vehicle). In 1997, Garlin first started making a name for himself when he performed in his own HBO half-hour comedy special. That led to the role of Marvin for the last three seasons of the popular Paul Reiser/Helen Hunt comedy, “Mad About You” on NBC.
In 1999, after a bit part in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” Garlin appeared in “Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the original HBO comedy special which served as a springboard for the ongoing series. He was also an executive producer on the show, which was originally conceived to be a behind-the-scenes account of David’s return to stand-up comedy after years of producing “Seinfeld.” The show morphed into a “mockumentary” of David’s life in Hollywood, a blend of the real and the fictional, with some stars playing fictional roles (like Garlin’s Greene) and others playing themselves–Garlin played to his improvisational strengths on the largely improvised series. In addition to his acting and Emmy-nominated producing chores, he directed episodes of “Curb” as well as HBO comedy specials for Denis Leary and Jonathan Stewart.
Typically cast in comedic supporting or cameo roles, Garlin returned to the big screen with Steven Soderbergh’s “Full Frontal” (2002), opposite Eddie Murphy in “Daddy Day Care” (2003) and alongside Woody Harrelson, Salma Hayek and Pierce Brosnan in “After the Sunset” (2004). Garlin also appeared in a recurring role on the cult Fox comedy, “Arrested Development” (2003-2005), where he played another showbiz insider, a studio executive mistakenly working with teenage Maeby (Alia Shawkat), beginning in 2005. His other television efforts included lending his voice to “Crank Yankers” on Comedy Central and appearing as himself on “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” The actor then made his directorial debut in 2005 with the movie “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With,” a romantic comedy he penned and starred in about a man’s unnatural relationship with women and food. The screenplay was based on his Second City-inspired one-man comedy show of the same name. Other self-created solo stage works, including “Uncomplicated” and “Concentrated,” went on to earn acclaim. The film finally opens in limited release this week.
Since completing Cheese, Garlin had a supporting role in “Fun With Dick and Jane” (2005), a remake of the 1976 film starring Jane Fonda and George Segal. He also ventured into animation, supplying his voice for an episode of the now-defunct “Tom Goes to the Mayor” (Cartoon Network, 2004-2005). Garlin next starred in his own show for TBS titled “The Jeff Garlin Program” (2006 – ), which followed the on-camera and off-camera exploits of the star in a show-within-a-show concept.
In this exclusive interview, Garlin talks cheese, stand up, and for the first time in an interview, discusses his work on Pixar’s anticipated Wall-E:
Question: How did this come about for you? I mean what was the genesis?
Garlin: I just sat down to write a movie and it became this. I didn’t intend for it to have parallels for Marty, I didn’t intend for it to be so quiet and poignant. I just wrote what I wrote and did it.
Question: When you’re doing a film like this, a multi character piece what are the pitfalls in creating characters that are …
Garlin: There are no pitfalls. It’s just creatively inspiring and exciting. There are no pitfalls whatsoever. The pitfalls come in the financing. The pitfalls come in the deliverables, when you have to deliver the movie to the studio, and all the different things they demand of you. Those are the pitfalls but the actual writing and/or shooting of the movie and/or editing of the movie are wonderfully creative and fun and there’s nothing remotely challenging about it for me. It’s what I’m meant to be doing.
Question: Romantic comedies are very difficult to …
Garlin: Well see I don’t think it’s a romantic comedy.
Question: How would you define it then?
Garlin: I would say it’s a character study.
Question: Is the character …
Garlin: …a romantic character? Definitely a romantic character. And there are elements of romance in the movie. But I wouldn’t refer to it as a romantic comedy.
Question: Do you see any parallels between yourself and the character you play in the film?
Garlin: Well yeah because most of the things the character goes through I went through something kind of similar. Everything’s based on my life.
Question: Was that cathartic when you were writing it? Was it very soul searching as you explored your own life?
Garlin: No it wasn’t soul searching. It was just fun.
Question: How many drafts did you have to go through until you finally came up with the final one?
Garlin: Well you say the phrase did I have to go through. What happened was I had so much trouble financing it and then when Curb and I starting writing this I believe in ’97, around there. So I kept on rewriting the movie only because of the financing and I wanted to feel a connection to the movie. So I kept on rewriting it and rewriting it and rewriting it.
Question: So how did you evolve as the script evolved?
Garlin: As a person?
Garlin: When I first started writing the movie I was single – no I wasn’t single, what am I talking about? When I first conceived it as a movie I was single and a lot of the ideas came from my time being single. But when I first started the movie my son, I have a young son, and I was married now, I have two sons and I’m still married to the same woman. But you evolve as a person and what’s unfortunate is when things take a long time to make, I became further and further apart from my character in terms of the personal connection.
Question: Do you get frustrated when you write something you’re so passionate about and you have difficulty getting it made because studios presumably don’t get it?
Garlin: Well I didn’t really go to the studios. I went to the studios or people who make independent films. And yes there was a great deal of frustration. And there was a great deal of frustration as to how long it took to be made. So that can be very difficult. That was the only difficult thing about the movie.
Question: Now that it’s done, is it coming out do you think at the really appropriate time in your life?
Garlin: Any time you make a movie and it come out, it’s the appropriate time in your life. Any time. Would I have liked for the movie to come out five years ago? Most certainly. But it wasn’t made five years ago, but I would have liked to have finished this and made this earlier. But you do what you do. Everything seems to take longer than you always think it’s going to. I don’t know if that’s true in terms of life but I know for sure it’s true in show business.
Question: You started out doing stand up, you know, doing Second City, which is such a training ground for so many comedians. What have you learned as a performer with that background?
Garlin: My big thing that I learned, doing Second City – stand up, which I still do, is a great confidence booster. But the one thing that I took with me from Second City is the ensemble way of ‘It’s my job to make you look good and it’s your job to make me look good’ and if we’re both doing that we really lift the scene. I can’t control the other actor. I hope they’re trying to make me look good but I know I’m always trying to make the other actor look good.
Question: And has your sense of humour changed a lot since your stand-up days?
Garlin: I would say it’s evolved as I’ve gotten older and probably gotten more sophisticated although I still enjoy silliness, you know, so I shouldn’t say it’s just sophisticated, and some things that I used to think were funny I don’t think are funny any more. But I think that just comes with growth.
Question: Now when Larry David came up with Curb Your Enthusiasm what were your initial impressions?
Garlin: Well you’re phrasing that wrong. He didn’t come up with Curb Your Enthusiasm. I approached him with my idea for Curb Your Enthusiasm and I wanted to just direct it. And it was his idea that I be a producer, that I be in it with him and then he took my idea and he evolved it and made it – I went to a genius and whenever you approach a genius you’re in pretty good hands.
Question: The series is about to finally the final season is …
Garlin: I don’t know if it’s the final season.
Question: Oh really?
Garlin: Well you know last season that aired, that was supposed to be our final season, and I knew there was a small chance that we’d do more. And now there’s a, you know, we did this season with the intent of it being the last but I don’t know. I never know. As a matter of fact, to be totally frank since season one I’ve expected it to be the last season every year.
Question: Why is that?
Garlin: Well first off when we created the show we didn’t think anyone was going to watch it. And then as the years went on and people are watching it we just, you know I don’t know if Larry’s going to want to stop doing it. I don’t know if people are going to get sick of it. So I have no assumptions. I don’t believe the hype one way or another.
Question: What can fans expect from this season? It resumes in October yeah?
Garlin: The ninth it comes back on. And they can expect more of the same yet different.
Question: Well I’m very disappointed that you didn’t turn up in the Daddy Daycare Sequel.
Garlin: Well they didn’t offer me enough money. That’s why. If they’d offered me more I would have been happy to be in a crappy movie. I don’t care.
Question: You still work as an actor in movies. What do you look for?
Garlin: I look for, really it comes down to two things. I’m not as worried as much about the part as I am worried at either how good is the movie and how much am I contributing? When I say ‘contributing’ meaning by doing this part, does this help make the movie better. Creatively will it be interesting? Could they put any actor in my role? I always think that. And that’s the creative side. On the other side, sometimes I get scripts that I think stink but they’re offering me a lot of money, a lot of money, for a short amount of time in terms of the filming, I’m more than happy to be in the movie.
Question: Tell me about Strange Wilderness….
Garlin: Strange Wilderness is a movie that I initially did for a cheque, I’d just say it was like 50/50. Because I really liked the script but it was a commercial film and I thought I could do something with the part and then when I did it, I had more fun that I could have possibly imagined and I think that it’s going to be a really, really, really funny movie. And I got to work with Steve Zahn again, my favourite actor.
Question: Do you have any scenes with Ernest Borgnine? Apparently Ernest Borgnine’s in it.
Garlin: Oh I did not get to work with him but he is in that, yes.
Question: And then you’ve also completed The Rocker right?
Garlin: The Rocker. Another movie that was, I think it’s going to be hysterically funny. I think Ray Wilson is tremendous in the movie. And that was also, you know, a lot of these – sometimes they come up and they’re sort of in the grey area in between, where it’s a really funny script and I get paid well. And that’s actually quite enjoyable. And that’s pretty rare. And that’s what happened with Strange Wilderness and The Rocker.
Question: And The Rocker is quite a big movie.
Garlin: Yeah, and then I did another movie called Trainwreck and that falls into the guise of it’s an independent movie, it’s an interesting part, how can I help this? That sort of thing.
Question: Who do you play in Trainwreck.
Garlin: Trainwreck, I couldn’t tell you. I’m the kind of guy who once I memorise my lines and do it I can’t remember anything. I can’t even tell you my character’s name. But I play a close friend of Seann William Scott who helps him get through is struggles with drugs and alcohol.
Question: Now, I’m sure audiences are particularly excited about the fact that you’re in this highly anticipated Wall-E.
Garlin: Oh how do you know that?
Question: Well because I know everything.
Garlin: You do know everything. That’s been on the QT. As a matter of fact you’re the first person who’s asked me about that. I recorded a lot of it already. I’ve got more stuff to do. But I can tell you … what can I tell you about it? It’s sort of like a – well if I could compare it to anything I’d say if Buster Keaton made an outer space cartoon … that’s what the movie is. It’s like a science fiction Buster Keaton kind of movie.
Question: How are you at doing voice work and how …
Garlin: The voice I do in this movie is my own voice.
Question: And you play the Captain ….
Garlin: How do you know this!?
Question: I tell you I …
Garlin: OK yes I play the Captain and it’s pretty much my own voice. And the character looks a lot like me. made it – in the movie I’m the only animated character that speaks.
Question: Because a lot of the film is silent right?
Garlin: Yeah a lot of the film is silent and they’re robots so they make noises and such and there’s sound but I’m one of the only characters that speak – not one of them – I am the only animated character that speaks. There’s another character but I can’t talk about it. But I’m the only animated character that speaks.
Question: What was it like working with Andrew Stanton?
Garlin: I have to say, just like working with Larry David or Eddie Murphy, I put him in that class. He’s really special, he’s pretty – I guess the term would be ‘immensely talented’.
Question: When are you going to be the leading man in a movie?
Garlin: I don’t know. This movie I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With I guess I’m the leading man. But I don’t aspire to that. I mean if it happens great. But I’m a character actor and I’m happy being a character actor, in terms of acting. But you know acting to be totally frank is the least interesting thing that I do. I like writing, I like directing, and I like doing my stand-up. The least interesting thing I do unequivocally is acting.
Question: That’s interesting.
Garlin: Yeah. And it’s the one that I would give up the quickest if I had to make a choice.
Question: Having finally got this movie made, are you writing another script?…
Garlin: There’s another script already and it’s out being seen by people and I’m developing a few other movies, I’m writing a television show for HBO that I’m not going to be in but I’m just the writer/producer of, I’m doing another one for the networks that is kind of like a Mary Tyler Moore ensemble kind of show.
Question: How’s your stand-up going?
Garlin: My stand-up’s going great. I go out on tour with Richard Lewis and Susie Essman, you know, who plays my wife. We have some shows scheduled in the fall together and I still perform – I perform here in Hollywood. Every Sunday night I perform at the UCB Theatre every Sunday night when I’m in town. I’m going to be out of town now the next couple of weeks because I’m doing like Letterman and Conan and John Stewart, that sort of thing. I’ll be in New York. But when I’m in town, which is most of the time, I try and stay in time because of my family, I’m at the UCB Theatre on Sunday nights.
Question: And are you booked on anything else as an actor>
Garlin: I’m about to shoot a movie called Peep World.
Question: That sounds interesting.
Garlin: It’s with Justin Long, Sarah Silverman, Ellen Barkin and Mia Farrow.