Here's actor Jeremy Piven, on Hollywood superagent Ari Gold:
-- "An incredibly abrasive wrecking ball."
-- "Very reactive, incredibly ambitious."
-- "Has a very advanced problem with his attention deficit disorder."
"At the same time," Piven says of the character he plays on the HBO series Entourage, "he has great love for his family; he appears to be a pig, yet he is monogamous to his wife."
The duality, Piven says, "is something that I've hung my hat on for six seasons now."
Before he landed Entourage, Piven had nearly two decades of TV work — and around 40 movies — under his belt. But his acting career started even before that, at his parents' well-regarded theater in Evanston, Ill., near Chicago.
"People say, 'God, what was it like? It must have been so weird, you were doing plays since the time you were 8 and your family does theater!'" he says. "[But] I didn't know anything else — and I really did think that every family had theater, and this is what you do."
A 'Speed'-y Exit
That long history in the theater didn't shield Piven from criticism in a recent New York flap, though. The actor made his Broadway debut in the 2008 revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, but he caused a stir when he withdrew suddenly before the end of the play's run. Mamet himself seemed irritated, telling Variety that Piven was "leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer" — a jab at Piven's explanation, which cited health concerns including elevated mercury levels in his body.
A union grievance and an arbitration followed, but the affair hasn't been entirely resolved.
"I was pulled out of it by my doctors, and this is all documented," Piven says. "I hadn't taken a break in 20 years; I had a resting heart rate of 47 with arrhythmia and levels of mercury that they'd never seen."
"I ended up doing four out of the six months and could not complete the show, and for that I am so incredibly sorry," he says. "And to have my theater roots, and to be a part of this theater family, and then to be ridiculed as someone who is not a theater actor and who abandoned this was very confusing to me," he says.
Finding Something Real Under All The Sneers
Like many an actor, Piven tries not to judge his characters, but to delve into them so they're real, understandable and three-dimensional. For Ari Gold, Piven often uses the character's cruel sense of humor as a way of finding depths. Piven says Ari's outbursts and his profane, insensitive comments are simply products of the character's personal problems.
"Here's a guy who thinks he's really funny, and he isn't, I don't think" Piven says. "A lot of the lines are brutal, but he thinks they're funny, so he laughs after them — and it's so strange," the actor says.
But then complicated characters are usually more interesting to actors — and Piven calls the stories Entourage is telling about Ari Gold in Season 6 "the best stuff I've been allowed to play so far."