When Curb Your Enthusiasm returned for its eighth season in 2011, it was a strange experience for Cheryl Hines, who is best known for her role as Cheryl, Larry David’s onscreen wife who left David on the show several seasons prior.
“It was kind of sad,” Hines tells ET of being largely absent from the show’s eighth season. “It was a little different because before, I would watch the new episodes with my friends. We had a little Sunday night thing. When I was working on Curb I could stay up, because we had already shot it,” she says. “But when Curb came back and I wasn’t in it, it wasn't quite the same because I was working at the time. I had to get up at four in the morning for an early call time on Mondays, so I couldn’t really stay up to watch it.”
It had been almost a decade since Hines was a regular cast member when she returned for the ninth season of the show, which premiered this past Sunday evening. But she says that returning to Curb and reacquainting herself with the show’s distinct improvisational on-set methods was a reassuringly easy transition.
“It really felt like old times; the improv comes back really easily,” says Hines, who began her career in part by taking classes at Los Angeles’ Groundlings improv theatre and school, where she was taught by Lisa Kudrow.
“When I'm improvising for Curb, I know these characters, I know these people, and I know this world, so it’s easy,” she continues. “What’s really fun about this new season is that if you’ve watched all the seasons, you really know how loaded everything is when somebody says something to somebody else. If you see Larry get into some situation, or you know that one guy already hates another guy and they walk into a room together, it’s really fun and very loaded and very layered.”
It can also be a very funny experience on set, with unexpected moments leading to outbursts of laughter. Hines remembers one moment in particular, shooting season three’s “The Nanny From Hell,” in which Cheri Oteri guest-starred.
“In the scene, I told Larry [that Cheri Oteri’s character is] weird. And he said, ‘Why? What does she do that's so weird?’” Hines recalls. “And so then I had to start listing all the reasons I thought she was weird, and I just remember saying, ‘She takes a bath with her socks on!’ For some reason that really made Larry and I both laugh like we could not get back. I had just listed so many ridiculous reasons why this woman was strange, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back. There are lots of moments like that where we take it too far and then we can't get back.”
In the years since she last appeared on Curb, Hines has gone on to work on an ever-expanding series of television shows and movies, including a recurring roles on ABC’s Suburgatory and FOX's short-lived Son of Zorn, and in films like Nine Lives and Wilson.
But after years away from David’s show, the 52-year-old actress says that she particularly enjoyed returning to the low-key, decidedly non-fancy set of Curb after years of enjoying the more luxurious dressing rooms and trailers on big-budget projects. “It was fun and funny, like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is how we do it on Curb,’” she says. “We don’t need all the fancy stuff, and it adds to the flavor of the show. Curb Your Enthusiasm is not about hair and makeup.”
Immediately after filming this season of Curb, Hines moved on to another high-profile project, the upcomingA Bad Moms Christmas. But despite the quick transition, Hines says that the working method of Curb is so unique that the experience almost never rubs off creatively on her other projects.
Unlike any other project she’s ever worked on, in Curb, she says, “the line between reality and fiction is blurred.”
“I remember when I was first working with Richard Lewis, Larry and I were talking on set about what we’re going to have for lunch,” she says. “Richard comes over and he’s like, ‘Are you guys trying to fuck me over? You’re over here talking about lunch, and we’re about to do a whole scene. You’re not thinking about the scene. I don’t believe this. You guys can fuck off!’ And then the scene started, so the show really weaves in and out of reality and fiction all the time. No other project I’ve ever worked on has been like that.”
The lines between fact and fiction can get so blurred, in fact, that when she’s not working on the show Hines will occasionally find herself longing to be back living in the show’s quasi-fictional world. “That Curb Your Enthusiasm world really feels like a real world, like there’s a real world where Jeff and Susie live together and where I see Larry and he’s being petty about something that he shouldn’t be petty about, while the rest of us are trying to get stuff done and try to raise awareness for some good cause.”
Hines treated the new season of the show like it could be the last, which is the way she says it’s always been in her nearly 20- year working relationship with David. “Larry told me from season one that we’re not going to another season. There have been times when I was frustrated as an actor, like, ‘Are we going to do another season? Should I be looking for another job?’ Larry would always say, ‘Ah, don’t ask me these questions!’ So I just stopped asking.”