J.B. Smoove keeps up the ruckus
Audiences who know J.B. Smoove only as Larry David’s mischievous houseguest Leon Black on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” will get an opportunity to see a lot more of the comic in coming weeks on the big screen. Smoove has roles in Friday’s new Jonah Hill movie “The Sitter” — as a drug dealer’s overzealous wingman — and in director Cameron Crowe’s “We Bought a Zoo,” as the empathetic Realtor for a recently widowed Matt Damon and family, which opens Dec. 23. Smoove, 46, got on the phone recently to discuss expanding his range, planning the next season of “Curb” and bringing the ruckus.
“The Sitter” is about the trials of an unlikely baby-sitter. Did you ever baby-sit?
I baby-sat my little brother, but that’s different than baby-sitting someone else’s kids. Someone else’s kids are hard. You can’t yell too much. It’s harder to go to someone else’s house too. You get too many instructions. You’ve gotta get a whole list. It’s like, watch my kids but also don’t burn my damn house down. No company over. Don’t use my phone. Don’t drink out of my juice carton. Don’t eat all my food. Turn the TV off when you’re done. Don’t turn on the oven. Don’t turn on anything that’s hot. Don’t answer the damn door. Don’t drive my car. I say, always baby-sit in your own environment. Don’t baby-sit in someone else’s house. Too many damn instructions.
Your role in “We Bought a Zoo” is a little against type for you. You’re more toned down from your Leon bravado. How did that come about?
Cameron [Crowe] was a big fan of “Curb.” He’s so free and open. He allowed me to come in and have a take on the character. It’s not a slapstick comedy. There are funny moments to this movie, but this character had to come from a real place, as opposed to going over the top with him. I play a Realtor. It opens up my range as far as what I can play. It gives people a chance to see me doing something different, other than Leon, this loud character.
On “Curb,” Larry David seems barely able to suppress his laughter in scenes with you. What’s your relationship like off-screen?
Once in a while I’ll just be driving down the highway and I’ll call him up and say, “What’s going on, Larry?” and we’ll talk smack and I’ll twist his arm and see if I can get something out of him about the new season.
Well, what do you know about the new season? Is there definitely going to be one?
I tried to get it out of Larry. He’s still trying to lay it out. I think personally he should do an even 100 episodes. Right now he’s at 80. People would say, “80, what happened?” Something must have happened if you do 80. If we do 100, it looks great in a box.
Do you get a script when you work on “Curb”?
No script. It’s a like a seven-page outline. I’ve seen it maybe twice since I’ve been working there. I don’t wanna read what’s going on. I like to go to the set, get into my wardrobe and then find out in the moment what’s going on. I like to be fresh. I like to dive in there and have fun so I can have an honest reaction. A lot of things you can’t get on paper. Some things only happen one time. On “Curb,” I go for the jugular vein every time.
How did you get the name J.B. Smoove?
I used to be a dancer in this hip-hop crew back in the day. I was J. Smoove and my partner was J. Groove, so it was Groove and Smoove. When I started doing standup I added the B. I thought, I’ll be J.B. Smoove.
Where did the character of Leon Black come from?
I think everybody knows a guy like Leon, a person who lives kind of day to day. You need a guy like that to go and fight a traffic ticket. You need a guy like that when the mechanic overcharges you. Everyone needs a friend like that who can go with you and handle something, a friend who can give you good bad advice. The way he would handle it is not necessarily how you should handle it. He’s a free spirit. He has your back if you have his back.
What would Leon say to you at this stage in your career?
He would tell me to continue to bring the ruckus. In some way everyone has a level of ruckus in them that has to come out. There’s nothing wrong with being confident in your skin, and that’s what the ruckus is, it allows you to deflect the bad things. When I told Larry to bring the ruckus, it became this slogan, this anthem of how to carry yourself, for a job interview, when you’re meeting a woman, how to approach things in the right way. You’re not cowering in fear from trying to do something different.
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