The comedian Susie Essman spots them regularly, out in the urban wild: fashion doppelgängers.
We had barely begun our lunch at Cafe Luxembourg on the Upper West Side when she leaned in and gestured conspiratorially. “That’s a total Susie Greene outfit,” she said, spying a woman entering the restaurant in a hooded, salmon-orange jumpsuit crosshatched with mint green slashes. “And she’s got a leopard-print purse, look at that!” She sat back, delighted.
Power clashing is the life force of Susie Greene, the singular character that Essman has inhabited on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” since the HBO series, created by Larry David, began in 2000. There is no one in the entertainment universe who dares to dress like her — not just a clash but a dogfight of pattern, color and texture, with a dollop of feather — and few who communicate as she does, in an ornery gush of inspired expletives.
As Greene, the much put-upon wife of David’s manager, played by Jeff Garlin, Essman is more than just a fan favorite. She is an instigator — “a scene-driver,” as she put it — whose costumes and insults get even wilder on the 12th and final season of “Curb,” which starts Feb. 4. She is also the person who, her castmates said, makes David crack up most regularly.
Essman, 68, and David, 76, the “Seinfeld” co-creator who stars as a heightened, less scrupulous version of himself, have known each other since their stand-up days in the ’80s. He cast her, in what was then a small part, after seeing her withering set at a roast of Jerry Stiller in 1999. “She was filthy, profane and hilarious — exactly what I wanted,” David wrote in an email.
He didn’t give her much to go on — no character description or deep back story, just telling her that the show would be improvised and that he and the on-screen Susie would have, he said, “a contentious relationship.” The rest was on Essman.