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Jeremy Piven returns as ‘Mr. Selfridge’

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Published : 2014-03-25 20:26
Updated : 2014-03-25 20:26

PASADENA, California ― Jeremy Piven was 37 years old when he was anointed with “The Fresh Face of the Year” acting award. At that point he’d been performing for 29 years.

He’d co-starred in nearly 40 movies and negotiated TV series like “Ellen,” “Cupid” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” But his wasn’t a household name. “I was a late bloomer compared to other people,” he says, in the board room of a hotel here. “But for me it was the right journey.”

Piven actually grew up in the theater. His parents ran their own theater company in Chicago and Jeremy had trekked the stage since he was 8.

He thought everybody’s life included curtain calls and greasepaint. “I guess I lived in a microcosm. I thought everyone grew up on stage and everyone had an acting family ― and you would grow up and do improv games and people would enjoy it. And then you would do some Salinger or some Mamet or some Chekhov. I literally thought everyone has this,” he says leaning his left elbow on the conference table.
Jeremy Piven stars as American entrepreneur Harry Selfridge in the “Masterpiece Classic” series “Mr. Selfridge,” returning to PBS on Sunday for its second season. (MCT)

“Then I got to college and, ‘Wait a minute! Not everyone grew up in this.’ So that was a rude awakening. But being exposed, I guess ignorance is bliss. I didn’t know any better. You’re up on stage and you’re throwing yourself in, and I didn’t know enough to be afraid.”

It turns out he didn’t need to be afraid. He worked all of his adult years as an actor. And two years after he earned the dubious “Fresh Face” title he landed the part of superagent Ari Gold on HBO’s “Entourage.” It was the role that boosted him onto the A-list.

“Some people call it paying your dues and I just think it’s luck,” he says. “I got lucky in the way that it didn’t happen to me early on. I knew I was capable of doing other roles. I’d played these great roles on stage, but they weren’t necessarily coming to me (on screen). I didn’t even have the opportunity to audition for great roles.

“And Ari was a very small role, the reason I got it. It wasn’t on paper. It was one little scene in the pilot. He was supposed to be a fringe player. And I took a chance and I’m glad that I did. That was indicative of my career up till that moment, which was you take these tiny roles and you put everything you have into it, and hopefully they will grow. And they’ll see you’re contributing and maybe they will expand the role. So that was the result of a couple of decades of that type of work.”

It was more than luck, though, when Britain came calling, hoping to cast Piven as the gutsy American who established England’s famous high-end department store, Selfridges. As the bombastic, charismatic Harry Selfridge, Piven returns for his second season on Sunday in PBS’ “Mr. Selfridge.”

There’s a difference, he says, between the way the British cast a role and the way the Americans do. “I think in the states it’s almost like the casting directors are ‘Method.’ They want to find the authentic person who IS the role. And I think in the U.K., if they do something, they’re going to do it right. So they go to drama school and log the hours and put the time in so they find the actor to PLAY the role ... And it’s very flattering for people to think I might be Ari Gold, when there are people like that ... People meeting me say, ‘Who’s THIS guy? And why are you so calm? Are you stoned?’ So that’s an interesting journey.

By Luaine Lee

(McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

(MCT Information Services)

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