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Jeremy Piven ready to ‘mix it up’ after end of ‘Entourage’

Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold “Entourage.”

Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold on “Entourage.”

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Updated: May 1, 2013 1:27PM



Having just dropped off his visiting mother, Joyce, at his home in Los Angeles, Evanston-bred actor Jeremy Piven is motoring somewhere and, judging by telltale sounds of mastication, eating along the way.

It’s been a while since we strolled Rush Street and ran into a drunken bachelorette party, I tell him at the outset.

There’s a long pause.

“Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?”

Yep.

Of course, that hang session (for an interview) was nearly eight years ago, back when Piven’s fame was exploding on the popularity of Ari Gold, his obnoxious super-agent character from HBO’s long-running comedy “Entourage.”

Passersby, including said sauced revelers, greeted him on the street. A female fan at Argo Tea passed along a message from her friend using Ari’s oft-repeated catchphrase, “Let’s hug it out, bitch.”

Suffice it to say that Piven is no longer hugging it, or anything, out. He might when/if a big-screen version of “Entourage” gets made, but until then he’s settling into the vastly different role of passionate shopping magnate Harry Selfridge for no less than PBS’ venerable “Masterpiece.” “Mr. Selfridge,” as the Andrew Davies-penned series is called, debuts Sunday.

Q. What interested you in the role?

A. Well, I just thought it was fascinating that he [pause] … that he was a true pioneer and transformed the culture. He led by his will and his passion and they followed him when they thought he was this crazy American. And he beat all the odds. He was incredibly professional and driven and yet at night, he was out there gambling and he was a bit of a womanizer and kind of a risk junkie.

Q. Those rogue aspects must have fascinated you. It’s always fun to play a character like that.

A. [pause] Yeah, he’s not what he seems at first. And you can never judge your characters. It just doesn’t serve anyone or anything. You just embrace him. But the way Andrew’s written him, you can totally understand the guy and it’s hard to root against him.

Q.

Do you think that consciously or subconsciously you took this part in honor of your late father Byrne, who performed some serious roles in his day? Is this something he’d be proud of it?

A. Not only would he be proud of it, I think he probably would have played the hell out of it himself.

Q.

What is it that Americans find so enthralling about turn-of-the-century British society in shows like “Mr. Selfridge” and “Downton Abbey?”

A. Well, I think right now it’s very easy for all of us to hide. We can hide behind our texts and our emails and all these things. And with these period dramas, I think we’re witnessing, obviously, a simpler time where you have to go face-to-face, where you have to be brave. I think we long for that, whether we admit it or not.

Q.

It’s a necessary part of life that we’re losing little by little.

A. I think the good people of Chicago are different than the rest of the country, to be honest with you. It’s one of the few towns where people look each other in the eyes, where you can have a conversation with anyone and it doesn’t mean you want something from them.

Q. Are you recognized much in Britain?

A. I was only there for a couple of days when “Mr. Selfridge” came out [on England’s ITV], but they definitely refer to me as “Mr. Selfridge” and then, in parentheses, “Jeremy Piven.”

Q. Is that something of a relief, since you’ve been Ari Gold for all these years?

A. Well, every actor looks to mix it up. So it’s just really fun to be in a period drama and I’m just having a blast. I really love playing this guy.

Q.

Are you going to be filming the “Entourage” movie at the same time you’re doing season two of “Mr. Selfridge?”

A. That’s a great question. I have no idea. No one has showed me a script, no one’s talked back to me.

Q. Was it a challenge to slow down rhythmically for this role? The dialogue is so different from “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin’s.

A. Well, you have to understand, I had a life before Ari. I was lucky enough to say the words of Chekhov and Salinger and Shakespeare from the time I was a kid. I remember doing Methuselah, one of the best roles of my life, at 24 years old in Chicago with the New Criminals. So whether you’re conscious of it or not, a lot of your journey leads to contributing to wherever you’re at. I think Chicagoans who caught me live will see glimpses of certain characters within [‘Selfridge’]. They’re all pieces of Harry’s puzzle.



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