The Arty Semite

Jeremy Piven on Ari Gold and 'Mr. Selfridge'

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

Jeremy Piven has had a long and successful career. Now he can add “distinguished” to those adjectives.

Piven’s first break came in 1992 when he played Jerry, the head writer on “The Larry Sanders Show.” But his breakthrough role was manipulative agent Ari Gold, based on real-life agent Ari Emanuel, on “Entourage.”

Courtesy of Christian Black/ITV Studios for MASTERPIECE

Over the course of the show’s eight seasons, Piven received four Best Supporting Actor Emmy nominations, winning three. That’s long and successful. But distinguished starts at the end of this month, when he invades Helen Mirren territory.

Piven stars in “Mr. Selfridge,” an eight-part Masterpiece Classics mini-series that airs Sundays on PBS starting March 31. It’s about an American who moves to London and founds a successful department store different from anything the British have ever seen.

Piven spoke to The Arty Semite about actor’s insecurity, growing up the son of acting teachers, and the sense of community he found in the synagogue and onstage.

Curt Schleier: You spent eight years on “Entourage” and enjoyed a great deal of success. As it came to an end what went through your mind?

Jeremy Piven: I don’t think any good comes from worrying. But of course that’s easier said than done. As an actor to have a part that allows you to build an original character and to play that out over eight seasons, well that’s something to be devoutly wished for. But you have to count your blessings and live in the present. Lo and behold, I got this beautiful script and I was blown away by the story of Harry Selfridge. And I’ve been a fan of British drama for a while.

This was obviously a big commitment. Did you have any doubts?

I didn’t have any apprehension at all. I’m an actor and when an actor gets offered a great role he has to say yes. It is a big commitment. I had to fly over and live there for six months. It is kind of similar to Harry Selfridge’s journey. He helped create Marshall Field’s [in Chicago, near where Piven was raised] and moved to London.

Your parents were actors and founded the Piven Theater Workshop. Did they push you to go into the family business?

I would say yes, in the beginning. I would wonder why was I onstage while the rest of my friends are outside playing. They weren’t doing it to push me into acting. They just needed someone young. At the time they were doing Chekhov, and there weren’t a lot of other 8-year-olds around. It was just me and [John] Cusack alternating. Eventually, it really became fun. We weren’t playing outside. We were playing inside. That’s the nature of acting: always be in a state of play.

How did your folks feel about your career?

I think they thought it was a very difficult life filled with disappointment and didn’t encourage me to do it until they saw me onstage as Marc Anthony in a production of “Julius Caesar.”

You mentioned John Cusack. John and his sisters Joan and Ann were fellow students at your parents workshop. Was there competition between you?

No, none whatsoever. John was a movie star from the time we were 15 and I couldn’t have been more proud.

Your online bio says you had a Jewish upbringing. What does that mean?

It means I was part of a Reconstructionist congregation. We prayed “to whom it may concern.” I was bar mitzvahed and my father was very active in his community growing up in Scranton, Penn. We weren’t in temple every week, but we would attend for the High Holidays.

This may be a tough question to answer, but do you bring anything from that upbringing to your work today?

It’s not a tough question. It’s actually a great question. I think I learned a sense of community growing up that I brought to my work. I learned through osmosis that another man’s success will not take away from your own. I felt that in the congregation and I brought that to the workplace — that philosophy wasn’t always embraced by everyone.

Ari Gold was Jewish and often obnoxious. Did you try to protect the character?

Well, yes. Every time I read the script I said, wow, this could be the part where we lose everyone, where the audience turns against the character because he was so offensive. It was my job to give the character as much dimension as possible. The one thing I hung my hat on is that Ari loved his family, was always monogamous and when he acted out it was only because he felt the ends justified the means.

Watch a preview for ‘Mr. Selfridge:’


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mr. Selfridge, Interviews, Jeremy Piven, Entourage, Curt Schleier, Ari Gold, Television

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.