How Larry David Stopped Being Nice And Became A Leading Man In Woody Allen's 'Whatever Works'

“You’re being too nice!” Woody Allen would tell Larry David on the New York set of their upcoming comedy, “Whatever Works” (July 19). Sure, David’s suicidal physicist Boris Yellnikoff was calling friends and foes alike “cretins” and “inch worms” and “sub-mental baton twirlers.” But the director wanted his leading man to really lay into his fellow actors, whether it was a pre-teen girl he was teaching chess to or the naive runaway—Melodie St. Ann Celestine, played by Evan Rachel Wood—who shows up at his door needing a place to crash.

“At first it was odd because I never use those words,” David told MTV News. “It felt strange when they first came out of my mouth. But then I got very used to it and now I’m calling people ‘inch worms’ all the time!”

As surly as Boris becomes—and from browbeating his young chess pupils to lambasting Melodie as a first-class nitwit, surly is putting it lightly—both David and Allen were conscious of keeping the man likeable. “Otherwise just to revile people—I don’t think the movie is going to work and you’re not going to really laugh at someone you really don’t like,” the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star said.

In Boris’ defense, Wood laughingly told MTV that her character is “just dumb.” After Melodie bunks in with Boris and their friendship blossoms into something more, Melodie's uptight mother (Patricia Clarkson) shows up on their doorstep, forcing the unlikely duo into comic fits of forced adaptation. And while both Melodie and her mom end up undergoing profound, delightful changes, Melodie remains, perhaps, just a tad bit slow. The actress behind her was nonetheless estatic to join a long line of eccentric female characters in Allen flicks, from Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” to Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

“When it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, my mother called me and reminded me what amazing roles he’s written for women and the incredible performances and said, ‘You’re always going to be a part of the group now.’ It was really crazy to think about that.”

While Wood jumped at the chance to work with Allen—“I’ve been wanting to do a comedy for so long,” she said—David’s experience was just the opposite: he wanted no part of “Whatever Works.” But it was a neurotic, classically Larry David bit of blame-shifting that finally convinced him to take on the challenge.

“I expressed my misgivings to be able to say, ‘I told you so,’ when I screwed up,” David said. “‘See, I called you up. I told you I couldn’t do it. It’s your fault!’”

How does Larry David stack up against other Woody Allen leading men like Hugh Jackman and Colin Farrell? What's your favorite Woody flick of all time?