Jeremy Piven interview: The Mr Selfridge star returns as Ari Gold in the Entourage movie


Jeremy Piven is reprising his award-winning role as Entourage’s offensive and brilliant Hollywood talent agent Ari Gold. We talk to him about getting back into a power suit after a four year hiatus and hit UK TV series Mr Selfridge

If you’re ever in Hollywood, don’t cross talent agent Ariel ‘Ari’ Gold. Anger him and this man can completely unravel your chances of ever making it in the entertainment industry. Thankfully, he’s pure fiction (though he’s based on real life power agent Ari Emmanuel), which means we can enjoy his witty, acerbic, ambitious and  intensely abrasive character played by three-time Emmy winner Jeremy Piven as pure, unadulterated entertainment in the hit TV show, Entourage.

The role of Gold was Piven’s major break and catapulted him into the Hollywood A-list. And after eight seasons of Entourage, what’s most memorable about the show isn’t the story of four Hollywood misfits and their bond of friendship – it’s Gold and his lovable asshole persona combined with hilarious one-liners such as, ‘You will come back stronger than ever. Like Lance Armstrong, but with two balls’, and ‘Call me Helen Keller because I’m a fucking miracle worker’. Now we can enjoy more of Gold in his return for Entourage, the movie. We talk to Piven about what it’s like stepping back into the manic talent agent’s shoes after almost four years.
What do you think has been the allure of Entourage?

I think in every culture they have these shows now that reveal the backstage life of actors, performers, all these different folks, and I think there’s a fascination about that, and obviously about Hollywood and old Hollywood and all that. I mean, I can’t believe this show hasn’t been done before. It took someone like Mark Wahlberg to pitch a show basically about his life to HBO for this to all to come to fruition.

I think they want to know what happens to this Hollywood star and his friends, and I think possibly the allure with this particular crew is that Vincent Chase [Adrian Grenier] is incredibly lucky. He somehow always lands on his feet. They don’t even know how talented he is – that’s still up in the air – but they know that he’s incredibly loyal to his friends. And so it’s about friendship, loyalty and heart.

Ari Gold represents the professional aspect of it all, a guy who speaks the truth as he knows it. His methods are unsound and he’s incredibly abrasive, and he’s an equal opportunity offender, and he’s high energy, and reactive and all these fun things. So that’s where Ari Gold comes in and it’s been just really, really fun to play him.

Where do we find Ari when the movie kicks off?

He’s with his wife. At the end of the show Ari is so tied to his job, success, conquering the world and proving himself. But, at the same time, he does it with deep love and appreciation for his  wife and he needs to get her back, and that’s what his main focus is. And none of the success and money mean anything to him without her love. So that’s where we left him, in Italy.

But we pick up with him not too long after that, where he’s also been given this choice, the ultimate conundrum, which is: Would you like to return to Hollywood and be the king? And that’s an offer that Ari can’t refuse. So we’re picking up where we’ve left off with him, and he’s trying to connect back to Hollywood, but stuck in this small town in Italy. I said to [writer and director] Doug [Ellin], ‘Why not have him be frantically trying to make a connection? There’s no WiFi and having him have to deal with these archaic ways, that would be really funny.’ So Doug was kind enough to humour me and write the scene. So that’s how
we start.

What was it like, after doing the series for eight seasons and then taking a break, to climb back into Ari’s skin and to be with the guys again? Did it all come back?

Well, first and foremost, I’m an actor, and I’ve been away for four years now from Entourage going on the fourth season of  Mr Selfridge, and shooting a period drama in London. Working with an all-British cast of overqualified actors, and brilliant directors and writers has really helped me to fine-tune whatever it is that I do. So I was able to take that and contribute, hopefully, to Ari and make him maybe even, hopefully, better than before, which is all of our jobs to do – to heighten everything that we had been doing until now in the series.

How did the experience of making Mr Selfridge compare with the Entourage experience for you?

It couldn’t have been more different. Growing up in the theatre, being in a theatre family and studying theatre in various universities, starting a theatre company and having that in Chicago and slowly making my way out here, I felt like the people that I work with [on Mr Selfridge] have very similar backgrounds to me. I just found a lot of kindred spirits out there. So it was just really, really wonderful to be a part of all that. And I’m incredibly proud of that show.

And Harry Selfridge, even though he is an American, is the antithesis of Ari Gold, so to work on that game and to do all the subtleties of a turn-of-the-century gentleman inventing shopping in London, and then coming back, putting on the power suit, grabbing the iPhones and the Blackberries and having this incredibly explosive, reactive modern day character come to life was really fun.

And working on the other side helped inform that. That’s what’s so fun about any creative endeavor – acting is a momentum sport, so if you’re doing it, you’re just gaining more momentum. I didn’t have any rest coming into this movie, so it was just a pleasure. I felt like I’ve been warming up in the bull pen for a while, so when they called my number I felt ready.

How was it to work with the ensemble of Entourage and then also have Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osment joining the cast for the film?
Billy Bob... I remember being at an audition with Billy Bob before we were famous. We were auditioning for, you know, Bad Guy Number Three and Four, literally. I mean, the characters were so small they didn’t have names. And we just really connected. I was like, ‘This guy’s cool, man. I like him. He’s a good actor, great guy.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I wrote this film called Sling Blade and I’m trying to get it made right now and we’ll see what happens with that.’ And I said, ‘Oh, good luck with that.’ It wins Oscars and he’s off to the races.

It’s just been a pleasure to watch him grow and be brilliant, and for it all to come around like this is so perfect, because no one could have played that role better. He’s playing a Texas oil billionaire that writes a cheque for the studio and doesn’t give a damn about art. He and Haley Joel just add so much to this movie because you needed someone to trump Ari and the only one that could trump Ari is someone who truly doesn’t care about the industry, but has enough money to write the cheque and has tonnes of money. So that in itself is just a brilliant creation. And then his privileged son, who he sends to La La Land, as he says, to check up on Ari Gold, it’s just genius.

I really think that everything works in this movie and we’ve come by it because Doug doesn’t ever want to jump the shark. Everything has to be motivated because the audience is sharp. They’re incredibly smart and they know and love these characters and have lived with them for a long time. So we can’t betray them. And I don’t think we do.  

Entourage premieres Thu Jun 18.


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