After starring as Hollywood agent Ari Gold on eight seasons of Entourage, Jeremy Piven didn’t expect that his next major role would be in another television series. Yet Piven stars as real-life turn-of-the-twentieth-century department store tycoon Harry Selfridge in Mr. Selfridge on PBS’ Masterpiece Classic. In a conversation with Collider, Piven speaks about how he ended up back on television so soon after his last lengthy run.
Piven is honest about the fact that after Entourage ended he had no plans to return to the small screen. He says, “I wasn’t even thinking about TV, to be honest with you. They say it’s the Golden Age of television, and I don’t know if they’re saying it tongue-in-cheek, but the stuff they’re doing on TV right now with the premises that are so completely original and the writing that is so great, you’d be lucky to find it in TV, film, stage or anywhere.”
After taking on the role, Piven confesses that he has become very defensive of the real-life figure he is portraying. He explains, “I definitely became protective of who he is, without a doubt. When people come up to me and are like, ‘Oh, you’re playing that Selfridge guy. I heard that he was quite a womanizer and would bring women into the store and let them buy anything that they wanted.’ I’ll say, ‘You don’t know him. You can’t judge him.’ I protect him, as if he were my father, and try to talk about the other things that he did.”
Ultimately, Piven admits that working on the series has fulfilled his long-time goal of working in England. He explains, “Your job is to take the material and try to make it as believable and present and as seemingly improvisational as possible, and yet it’s just a character. So, to be given the opportunity to play Harry is amazing. When they cast me as Ari, they knew me as an actor. I sat with them and worked out the character. I come from a theater family and a theater background, and I come from a philosophy that you respect the space you occupy when you work and you put everything that you have into something. I don’t know any other way than to put everything that I have into something. That’s just the way it is. It’s a very similar take on it, over there. I studied Shakespeare at the National Theatre, and the classes are seven days a week. You’re either rehearsing or you’re seeing plays, when you’re not in class. I talked to the casting director at the National Theatre, when I was a junior or senior in college, and I said, ‘How would an American be able to perform on the stage here?’ She said, ‘Oh, my dear boy, that’s impossible! You have to be a star, otherwise you won’t be able to perform here.’ I thought, ‘I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen, but I just want to perform here, so I’ll keep working until maybe I just get the opportunity to work here because I love it here.’ And here we are, all these years later, and somehow it’s happened. This is one of those full-circle moments.”