Contrary to popular belief, Susie Essman is nothing like her Curb Your Enthusiasm character (who, not-so-coincidentally, is also named Susie). Equal parts brash and outspoken, with a penchant for bad-mouthing Larry David, Susie Greene has graduated from supporting character to fan favorite over the show’s 21 years in existence, not least because of her garish outfits, which have been called everything from “ridiculous” to “deranged”—particularly in the most recent season. Here, Essman talks to ELLE.com about Susie’s wild sense of style, designer closet, and making Larry laugh.
Larry never had input into my clothing. Only when he says, “No. It’s too much.” Sure, he’ll comment on my outfits, but in all 11 seasons, I only remember one time that he made me change. I don’t remember what [the outfit] was—I just remember he looked at me and said, “You look insane. You went too far.” I think at this point he accepts it. [The clothes are] part of the character and who she is. It’s comedy!
As a female stand-up comic, how I dressed on stage was always very important to me ‘cause the male comics would look filthy, dirty, and disgusting. I always felt like I was presenting myself; I would never do a routine without having some makeup on. The challenge was striking a balance between looking good and not too sexually provocative, because it’s way too confusing for men in the audience—they don’t know if they want to laugh or if they want to fuck you. So I try to look pretty and sexy, but not too sexy, whenever I perform. I would never wear anything too short or with a lot of cleavage.
Susie’s style has definitely evolved over the course of the show. In the first season, the Greene’s house was very stark and modern with black leather furniture. Susie was screaming and yelling and cursing in her first scene. I remember thinking, This woman takes chances. She thinks she has the greatest taste in the entire world and listens to no one—no decorator, no stylist, no one. She doesn’t see any demarcations—it’s all part of her personality: big, take-no-prisoners, no second thoughts. She’s completely secure about every opinion and every choice, especially when it comes to fashion.
Fashion is Susie’s creative outlet. That’s how she expresses herself. She’s extremely over-coordinated—everything is matchy-matchy. But at the same time, she contrasts. She’s got her own sense of what works. What comes to mind is that cowboy outfit in episode five where she’s got the fringed denim with the cowboy boots. She loves a theme. She thinks Cheryl [Hines] is the dullest dresser ever—no personality, no pizazz.
And by the way, Susie’s clothes are all very expensive. I remember giving [costume designer] Wendy [Range Rao] an idea of how I wanted her to dress, and she asked, “Where am I gonna find that stuff?” I said, “Well, you’ve gotta go to the back room of Loehmann’s.” So we took a little field trip and I showed her the kind of stuff that she would wear and [Wendy] was like, “This place is a goldmine.” Then [costume designer] Christina Mongini came in, and she really got it. And [costume designer] Leslie [Schilling] really gets it. She puts it all out there and lets it fly.
Usually, how it works is Leslie and I start with one piece and create the outfit from there. She’ll bring a whole bunch of stuff to a fitting and we’ll play dress-up. My fittings can last for hours and hours and hours. We laugh the whole time. Then, we send pictures to our EP Jeff Schaffer and he either approves or disapproves—but I’ve never known him to disapprove. And then all the outfits are waiting for me in my trailer the day I show up to work. It’s always a thing when I walk on set. It’s always a presentation.
I don’t know if there’s anything Susie would never wear. She would not wear fur, because she’s very political. She’d wear faux fur. She tries to always buy things that are sustainable, blah blah blah. She gives her clothes away, mostly to her housekeepers. Over the years, certain things have evolved out of necessity. For example, about six years ago I broke my ankle, so I can’t wear heels anymore. Now I have slide-on bedazzled sneakers.
I think Susie got more and more confident in her look as she’s become a more important part of the fabric of the Curb family. There’s an unconscious safety net there, so she’s gotten more outrageous with her choices. The other thing to consider is that Jeff is serially cheating on Susie, so part of her deal with that is, she doesn’t give a shit: give her the jewelry, give her the house, give her the bags, give her whatever she wants. That’s her thing. She will spend absurd amounts of money on her clothing.
There have been so many outfits that I loved, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I remember one season, I had these Versace pants with a gold appliqué belt. It was so awful, but it was great. Or those bedazzled sweatshirts from season three. I don’t keep any of my wardrobe, but I frequently keep one piece as a memento. An expression Leslie and I have is “just around the house,” but it’s still Susie Greene. It’s not something I would ever wear.
I don’t dress like Susie at all in real life. As a matter of fact, I have to be extra careful, because sometimes I’ll see something, like a cute leopard-print sweater, and I’m just like, “No, I can’t. It’s too Susie Greene.” I’ve gone the other way completely. I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl. I keep it simple. The issue with Susie is that very often one piece is fine, but it’s the combo. It’s layering one on top of the other on top of the other and just going and going. I’m careful not to dress like her, because as it is, people already think I am her, and I’m nothing like her. I’m acting. I don’t need to put that out into the world.
We never know season to season if we’re coming back—that’s all Larry. If I was a gambling person, I would say we are. The reason I think so is because we really have fun. It’s all about making Larry laugh. He has such a joyous laugh; his whole face lights up. And I make Larry laugh, which is very lucky because that’s why I’ve been working for the past 21 years. If I didn’t make him laugh, I don’t know if I would’ve ever had this part.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io