Actress Iris Bahr was born in the U.S., lived a lot of her life in Israel, and then returned to the U.S. Actress Iris Bahr was born in the U.S., lived a lot of her life in Israel, and then returned to the U.S. Actress Iris Bahr was born in the U.S., lived a lot of her life in Israel, and then returned to the U.S. (Photo: Courtesy of Iris Bahr)

Meet the character actress returning to 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'

Comedian Iris Bahr has appeared on 'Friends,' 'The Drew Carey Show' and 'The King of Queens.'

Much to its fans' surprise, "Curb Your Enthusiasm' is returning after a six-year hiatus. And a whole host of familiar characters are coming back with it, including Rachel Heinemann, the woman who would rather jump off a ski lift than sit next to Larry.

It's a pretty hilarious role, and the woman who plays her, Israeli-American character actress Iris Bahr, has plenty more up her sleeve. She's a character actress, so she plays a lot of eccentric characters, from a Russian prostitute to Larry the Cable Guy's uptight coworker.

I sat down with Bahr to find out what being a character actress is like, both on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and other projects. Specifically, we sat down in a Manhattan coffeeshop, discovering that we'd both worn eerily similar fedoras.

I'd heard that "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was improvised, and I assumed that just meant a lot of the lines were ad libbed. But according to Bahr, actors often have no idea what's happening in the episode, or even in the scene. In the show's famous ski lift scene, Larry and Rachel get stuck on a ski lift that stops moving. Larry gets so hungry, he pulls out some edible underwear from earlier in the episode and starts eating it. Rachel casually tells him to "get that thing away from me," but Bahr herself had no idea that was going to happen.

"I didn’t know what the edible underwear was," Bahr told me.

Bahr's characters are often larger than life, which makes it so surprising when people believe they're real. Bahr has tried out Svetlana, a snobby Russian prostitute, on the street, and people believed her.

"I was roaming around Beverly Hills as a Russian whore," she remembered. Svetlana is "very politically incorrect, but in a non-offensive way," she said. "The humor comes from my cluelessness."

Inspiration for characters can come from anywhere. While Bahr was pregnant, she found a wig that launched an entirely new character.

"I was living in Israel, and I looked like a truck," Bahr remembered. "I had a mullet wig at home, don't ask me why." That's how she came up with Rae Lynn, a hick who gives out pregnancy tips.

"People believed she was real," said Bahr, amazed.

Bahr grew up in both the U.S. and Israel, giving her an interesting perspective on humor across cultures.

"Israelis have a really good sense of humor," she said. "Arguing in Israel is OK." (Americans may not like arguing, but lots of cultures are into it. Bats apparently feel the same way.)

According to Bahr, Israel gets a lot of British television, giving it a certain European edge.

"You might miss the joke if you don’t pay attention," she said. "I think now American television is following that trend."

In addition to working on shows like "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Bahr works on a lot of her own projects, which can be tough.

"I love the freedom of creating my own work, but it can get lonely," she said. "It’s just you and your beverage at a bar in Traverse City, Michigan."

Of course, being a female actress in Hollywood is tough, period. There aren't so many great roles for women, and even the women who get them worry about getting too old to be cast.

"I keep telling myself, 'I'm not gonna age out; I'm a character actor," she said.

Despite this, she doesn't feel at odds with other actresses. For instance, she described Israeli actress Gal Gadot as "the sweetest woman [she'd] ever met."

"I'm not a competitive person," said Bahr.

It takes a lot to become successful, especially in Hollywood. She says that people going into show biz are better off enjoying the journey, rather than stressing over the destination.

"I would say 'Don't take it personally,' but that's kind of impossible," she said.

Rather, she recommends young people take time to focus on being grateful for what they have in addition to striving for more.

"I’m making myself sound like an angel, but it's true," Bahr said. "I really am an angel."

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