Whenever an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm ended, that catchy theme got stuck in our heads for the next week until the next new episode and it started all over again. Perhaps because of that sense memory, the name Robert B. Weide became familiar too, producer of Curb.
Now Weide has a new show, made with SkyTV in England but airing on KCET and Link TV in the U.S. Mr. Sloane starts Nick Frost as a newly divorced man in the ‘60s trying to get his life back together. It’s not going well, as he asks a woman if she is pregnant, and she’s not, and meets a beautiful American in a store aisle where someone has just let loose a major fart.
Mr. Sloane premieres May 7 on KCET with back to back episodes at 10 and 10:30 PM, with two more episodes the 14th and the final three on May 21. Link TV shows the entire series in a marathon on Sunday, May 17 at 8PMET and 9PM PT. I got to interview Weide by phone about his latest show.
Nuke the Fridge: Has it been gratifying to you that the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song has been tagged to the end of internet memes like the Red Wedding?
Robert B. Weide: I didn’t know that until this moment but I’m sure the Italian composer who wrote the piece is very pleased seeing those royalty checks come in.
Nuke: I don’t know if they’re paying royalties but you should Google “Game of Thrones Red Wedding Alternate Ending” if you’re curious.
Robert B. Weide: They’ll have to cast Larry David on the show next season. It’ll all come full circle.
Nuke: As we see in the premiere of Mr. Sloane, is asking a woman if she’s pregnant actually a great way to meet someone else as you bond over how embarrassing it was that you asked a woman if she was pregnant?
Robert B. Weide: That hasn’t happened to me exactly but I’ve been caught in that predicament. I’ve been smart enough to keep my mouth shut but that was actually an idea that I had for Curb. That was one of the more Curb-like ideas that was used in Sloane because that was in my file of ideas for Curb that were never used. Some of it was we could never figure out a good excuse to get Larry on any sort of public transportation.
But I remember years ago seeing a woman that I knew and she looked pregnant. You don’t want to insult somebody by not saying, “When’s it due and how are you feeling?” You can insult someone the other way. This was back before cell phones, I remember calling up a friend of mine and this happened at the Improv on Melrose in L.A. I called up a mutual friend of mine and the bloated woman and said, “Hey, is Gail pregnant?” And she said, “No, no, no, she’s bloating.” I don’t know what it was, but she knew about it. So I saved myself that embarrassment but I did always think how awful it would be. And by the way, subsequent to the airing of that episode, I’ve heard from numerous people saying they’ve been on one side of that equation or the other.
As a matter of fact, the actress who played that part e-mailed me recently and said that life has now imitated art, that somebody on public transport offered her a seat thinking she was pregnant. And I said, “Are you certain that they didn’t recognize you from the show?” And she said, “Oh, it could be.” Like Larry David and I used to say, it hardly pays to leave your house. It’s a minefield of potential social disasters out there.
Nuke: Is anything else from Mr. Sloane inspired by personal experiences?
Robert B. Weide: Oh, I can’t say virtually everything, because everything is always a stretch and a fictionalization, but I forget how autobiographical the show is until I start to watch it. If I were to do my audio commentary, I could say, “This happened to me, this happened to me, this almost happened to me. This is based on something that happened to a friend.” So yeah, I’m always jotting down little ideas of things that happen. Sometimes it’s not something that happened but it’s taking things to the worst possible case scenario. How a lot of Curb stories came about too is whatever, either Larry didn’t have money to give the valet payment to get his car out of the parking garage so I would have to give him the money, and then what would you do if I wasn’t here? Then we’d start to riff off how the idea would snowball.
So a lot of ideas are like that, but something in the show that every nice guy can relate to is the girl, usually this happens in high school or maybe college, the girl that you have the big crush on and she’s got the awful boyfriend. She uses your shoulder to cry on about how bad the boyfriend is and you’re thinking, “Hey, what about me? I’m not chopped liver.” You console them and give them your ear and give them all the sympathy, and they just wind up going back to the jerk. Almost every guy can relate to that, so there are plenty of things in there that are variations and fictionalizations of things that have happened for sure.
Nuke: Did the fart joke emerge from something that happened also?
Robert B. Weide: That was a friend of mine and again, a variation, by the way a woman. Women like to have you think that they don’t have to do it, but in fact a female friend of mine years ago was in a hardware store of all places. She was at a Home Depot and there’s nobody around. She thought, “Okay, I’ll let go a little bit here.” Then the moment she did, some guy walked up to her and said, “Can I help you find something?” She was trying to shoo him away going, “No, I’m fine, I’m fine, thank you, thank you, you can go, you can go.” He goes, “You know, we’ve got these in different sizes.” “No, no, I’m good, I’m good.” She tried to chase him away and she told me about that, and that got written down and finally used. That wasn’t me but you are allowed to steal the ideas of your friends. Once they tell it to you, I figure it’s in the public domain.
Nuke: What was the decision to make Ophelia Lovibond American?
Robert B. Weide: I was going back and forth on whether that character should be American or British. When I wrote the initial pilot, which I sold this series on spec to Sky Atlantic in the UK. In other words, I wrote the pilot on my own and then took it around to sell. Sky commissioned the entire series based on my pilot. In fact, it was the executive at Sky who was sort of our point person, who after reading the script asked what I thought about the character being American. I said, “That’s fine. In fact, I’ve sort of been going back and forth but if you have a preference for being American, that’s fine with me.”
I found what that did was it did help because she was sort of an exotic animal to Sloane. She was in a culture that was new to her, not surrounded by friends which sort of made it more likely that she would start to hang out with this guy. Just that cultural gap between them. Also the way they meet, she’s being very forward to him, not in a flirtatious way necessarily but she’s being very open and sociable with him in a way that British women at the time would be very unlikely to behave.
Then she is British, but she did a flawless American accent to the point where when we finally had a table read of the entire series, she was meeting the other actors for the first time, like Olivia Coleman and Peter Serafinowicz. She read the part in an American accent and everybody assumed she was American. Then after the table read when she started to circulate and say hello to people and she was speaking with a British accent, the other actors thought that she was putting them on with the British accent. They had no idea it was the American accent that was being faked. She was my little discovery. I was really thrilled to find her.
Nuke: Are we going to see a lot more of Mr. Sloane’s dream sequences too?
Robert B. Weide: Yeah, there’s a fair amount of little fantasy elements and he and his wife have been separated for about a year I guess, but his wife is still a little Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder, chastising him when he does something she wouldn’t approve of. He still has some unresolved issues as we say in this day and age, with his ex-wife so she appears a fair amount. And yeah, there are other sort of fantasies and flashbacks that keep her story alive. Olivia is in every episode.
Nuke: Was it hard to think of a follow-up after Curb to get you back into television, because you’d directed some feature documentaries in between?
Robert B. Weide: And the feature film, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People with Simon Pegg which introduced me to Nick. So I spent a year in England doing that film. No, I’ve always said that my resume is kind of all over the place. You can hardly look at my resume and imagine that was the same person. You’ve got the comedy documentaries but then you’ve got a feature film based on Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night. You’ve got The Giver which I wrote 18 years ago which just came out last year. Then you’ve got Mr. Sloane. It’s kind of all over the place. My only criteria is that I have to be excited about the project.
Whenever people say to me, “Would you do another documentary?” or “Would you do another TV series?” my answer is always the same which is if the material excites me or if I have an idea that I find intriguing. I never felt one way or another about going back to television or not going back to television. But when I had this idea specifically for Nick, it sort of came to me all at once and I wrote to him. I wrote him an e-mail the next day and I said, “Would you ever consider going back to television?” because he’d had a very nice career in movies at this point. His answer was, because he knew where I was going with this, he said, “I would give my right ball to work with you.” Which I took as a yes. So I just fleshed out the idea and wrote the pilot script and had a new television series under my belt.