Best known as the sometimes misogynistic but work obsessed Ari Gold on TV’s award-winning “Entourage”, three-time Emmy winner Jeremy Piven has landed his first starring role in the fast paced Will Ferrell-Adam McKay-produced comedy, “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard”.
In the often-raunchy comedy, Piven plays used-car liquidator Don Ready who is hired by a flailing auto dealership to turn their Fourth of July sale into a majorly profitable event. It’s a role that the actor was born to play.
Paul Fischer caught up with Piven in this exclusive interview and chatted about comedy, “Entourage” and Twitter.
Question: When you read the script for The Goods, did you instantly fall in love with the character, or was it the overall script that appealed to you?
Piven: At first, I was kind of just shocked at how flat-out funny it was. It’s a very hard thing to achieve; that’s the way it is. You know, being funny ain’t easy. And – it just gives a great look at these very specific American characters that exist. And they’re funny and tragic, and all these different things. But more importantly, it just was entertaining. And that was what really got me. And it’s about this group of people that actually do exist. There are these people that are – that are slashers. They slash prices, and they figure out a way to sell cars. And whenever a dealer is that desperate, that they can’t literally do their job, they need to bring someone else who can do it for them. And I just thought it was really endearing, to see characters like Don Ready, who fancies himself a rock star, and he can’t sing at all. And he thinks he’s living the dream. And we’ve all had those delusional moments in our lives, where we think, ” Man, this is it. It doesn’t get any better.” And then you get a little perspective and go, ” Wait a minute. What was I doing, again?” And he has that moment. And it’s just – and above and beyond all, it’s just really genuinely funny.
Question: Could you identify with this character at all? Is it easy, or difficult, to identify with a character like this?
Piven: I think if you play him – just play it totally straight, and – well, first of all, you know, I’m single. The character’s single. I would love to go to the next level and have a family, and all these things, and so would the character. That being said, we are two different – very different people. But that’s one of the first things you do as an actor. You try to find things, very specific things that you can, like, latch onto, to make it grounded and rooted and real. And then try to make it, then, with the comedy, as twisted as possible.
Question: Could you identify with his sense of ambition because he is a very – in his own way, I guess, a very ambitious kind of character or, wants to be the best at everything.
Piven: Ambitious, and has confidence, and all that. And within that confidence, he’s also delusional. So, you try to give him as much integrity as possible, and then tear the whole thing down.
Question: How much freedom do you get doing a comedy like this? How much improv is there, how much is really structured?
Piven: Adam McKay, who’s responsible for, I think, some of the greatest comedies of our time – really loves it when you improvise, which is very ironic, because he happened to have written a brilliant script. And Neal Brennan, who is the director, really kind of helps to craft what the script is that’s there. So, they were a very, very good combination. And it’s our job to make it look like the whole thing was improvised. That – that’s really your job. And it wasn’t necessarily the case.
Question: What about your scenes with Will? And how hard was it for you to keep a straight face during those?
Piven: Well, I was lucky enough to do Old School with him a few years ago, so I was really well-versed with Will, in terms of – you know, he’s just a comedy beast. And he’s going to play it totally straight, and come at you. And he’ll never break. And so that, to me, is very inspiring. And it’s kind of like, you know, probably like the way people were with Michael Jordan. Like, you know, if I was a guard and I had to go and defend Michael Jordan, I would get up for that. I mean, everyone’s bringing their A-game when they have to match up against Michael Jordan. I think it’s the same with Will. So, there wasn’t a ton of breaking. But at the same time, he just was hysterical. And every take is usable. And he’s also a real down-to-earth, good guy.
Question: How surprised are you that Ari Gold has become larger than life, and established you the way it has? I mean who knew that this was going to be so big?
Piven: Yeah. I just knew that HBO, when we started, and to this day, has such a great pedigree of shows. And they give you so much freedom to do your thing, that I knew that I was going to be surrounded by some amazing pieces and that – the character itself was filled with so many wonderful dualities. He’s seemingly a pig, but yet he’s monogamous. He’s completely abrasive, and he’s offensive, and yet at the same time works on a very high level. So, there’s a lot of things that you can hang your hat on. And it’s just basically up to me to kind of play the character as best I can. I also think that this character exists in so many different arenas, and people could identify with him, that I think that it’s accessible to a lot of people.
Question: He’s also based on somebody. Did you go out of your way to avoid meeting your real counterpart?
Piven: I know Ari Emmanuel. He’s a great prototype. There’s much to be taken from there, and from many different energies in agents out there. So, all the muses are definitely in this town. And so we’re trying to make it as authentic as possible, basically.
Question: How much longer do you think you would like to do Entourage? I mean, is there an end date?
Piven: I think – it’s hard to say. I mean, we’re going to do Season Seven. This year feels – as you’ll see, my story line probably is the best I’ve ever had, coming up. You’re going to see – like, I planted all these seeds with Andrew Klein, played by Gary Cole brilliantly. I stuck my neck out for the guy to get him hired.
Question: Right. And now he’s screwing around.
Piven: Yeah. He’s going to ruin it, and in such an amazing way, that – it’s some of the best stuff – I get to play off of Gary. And, to have such a solid actor to play off is just a gift.
Question: What’s next?
Piven: I’m going to be doing Marmaduke.
Question: Are you familiar with the comic?
Piven: A little bit. Not too much, though.
Question: How much fun is it to do an animated film? And do you kind of do that for the child within you?
Piven: Yeah. I mean, I can’t wait to get into it. It’s – the thing about animated stuff is, you get to kind of – you act as big as you can. And you have to put everything – the entire performance into your voice, which is really, really fun. It’s kind of an actor’s dream.
Question: Creatively, what else are you interested in exploring at this point in your career, beyond acting even?
Piven: Well, I’d love to be more a part of the process. This is the most involved I’ve ever been, for instance, in the promotion of a movie, but I just think all aspects of it are pretty fun. So I think next time I’d like to be even more involved, and maybe help produce. And then – you know, I would love to be able to whisper in actors’ ears, so that I could maybe direct, and get into it in that way. And also, I have fun – I don’t get to play off of a lot of female energy. So, the idea of also doing some stuff with some strong women would be great, too.
Question: Why did you want to become an actor, Jeremy? What was it that appealed to you?
Piven: I was thrown up on stage, and was doing it, and I was taught by my parents. But it was very clear that when you’re onstage, you’re having as much fun as when you’re outside playing. So, we’re just basically playing inside. And so that was just really fun to me. And it’s empowering, and people take you seriously, and you could have fun and make people laugh. And that kind of was always my experience growing up, on the stage. And by the time I got out of college, I had been acting for – let’s see. Fifteen years, you know? Since I was eight years old. So, I maybe had something to contribute in me, because I’d been working on the stage. So it’s just been a great journey.
Question: You’re a New Yorker. You said you grew up on the stage. You were going to do a play. Do you plan to return to the theater?
Piven: Yes! Absolutely. I can’t wait to. It’s just a matter of the material.
Question: Anything else coming up for you?
Piven: I foresee, like, a sarong, a nice book, no Blackberry, white sand, and clear water.
Question: That means no more Twittering, I take it.
Piven: Oh. I think – I may put the Twatberry down for a moment.
Question: Well, it’s fun reading your Twitters – I hope you found – you didn’t find your video camera, I take it?
Piven: It had all the backstage stuff from all the shows that I’ve been doing, you know? Playing the drums with The Roots, and all that great stuff. Thank God I’m not super freaky. Otherwise, you know, it could get really ugly. Something would be surfacing with me and a goat. It could be weird.
Question: I’m going to Tweet about this right now, and I look forward to seeing you.
Piven: You go follow your Twatberry and release your information all over your Twattees.
Question: [LAUGHTER] Indeed I will.
Piven: All right, man. Take care.