For Larry David, 'Whatever' Works Well Enough

Larry David and Woody Allen i i

hide captionLarry David (right) with Woody Allen. David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a genius professor, in Allen's new movie Whatever Works.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
Larry David and Woody Allen

Larry David (right) with Woody Allen. David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a genius professor, in Allen's new movie Whatever Works.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
Larry David and Willa Cuthrell Tuttleman (left) i i

hide captionYellnikoff challenges Chess Girl (Willa Cuthrell Tuttleman) in the park. He finds her, like most of his opponents — like most humans, in fact — unworthy.

Jessica Miglio © Gravier Productions/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Larry David and Willa Cuthrell Tuttleman (left)

Yellnikoff challenges Chess Girl (Willa Cuthrell Tuttleman) in the park. He finds her, like most of his opponents — like most humans, in fact — unworthy.

Jessica Miglio © Gravier Productions/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

World-class kvetcher Larry David stars in Woody Allen's quirky, charming new movie, Whatever Works.

David — co-creator of Seinfeld and the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm — plays Boris Yellnikoff, a physics professor who was once almost nominated for a Nobel Prize.

Somehow, the professor earns the devotion of a beautiful young woman (Evan Rachel Wood) who has relocated to New York from Mississippi.

Yellnikoff is a disappointed-eccentric sort, more or less thoroughly disgusted with mankind — especially children, though he condescends far enough to teach kids how to play chess, in order to earn a modest living.

"Come on, seriously," he grouses, deriding the species in general. "They've had to install automatic toilets in public restrooms because people can't be entrusted to flush — they can't even flush a toilet!"

It's not an unfamiliar outlook on life for David, but it is a different kind of role. The actor has appeared in bit parts over the years (as New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner on Seinfeld, for example) and plays himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

But he has never had quite such a big part. He tells NPR's Scott Simon that when he saw the script for the first time, he realized he wasn't just in a Woody Allen movie, he was starring in a Woody Allen movie.

"I called him and said, 'Are ya nuts?' " David remembers. " 'I don't think I can do this.' "

But David pursued the part — a role originally scripted back in the '70s for the legendary Zero Mostel.

"It was a big challenge for me," David says. "I don't like challenges. They're not my cup of tea. ... This was the first character that I've really played, outside of myself."

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