Jeremy Piven, Looking For A Bad Boy's Good Side The Entourage star got his start in Chicago, at a well-regarded theater run by his parents. He tells Madeleine Brand that his formative experiences there still inform his work today.
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Jeremy Piven, Looking For A Bad Boy's Good Side

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Jeremy Piven, Looking For A Bad Boy's Good Side

Jeremy Piven, Looking For A Bad Boy's Good Side

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. Living here in Los Angeles, it's sometimes hard to separate Hollywood from Hollywood. The HBO show "Entourage," now beginning its sixth season, plays on that blurred line between real-life Hollywood and the fake one. One of the stars of the show plays a talent agent named Ari Gold, patterned after the real agent, Ari Emanuel. Emanuel is the brother of President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm, and both are known for their tempers. Jeremy Piven is the actor who plays Ari Gold, and beware the underling who finds himself on the receiving end of one of his volcanic outbursts.

(Soundbite of television program, "Entourage")

Mr. JEREMY PIVEN (Actor): (As Ari Gold) Did you know that my father was very strict?

Mr. REX LEE (Actor): (Lloyd) No.

Mr. PIVEN: (As Ari) Yeah. He berated me, and he pushed me, and he insulted me, and it made me feel very insecure and lost. But I became a man, my own man, and now I berate, and I push.

Mr. LEE: (As Lloyd) I've noticed.

(Soundbite of telephone ringing)

Mr. PIVEN: (As Ari) Make your own man, Lloyd.

Mr. LEE: (As Lloyd) I'm trying.

Mr. PIVEN: (As Ari) You're not trying hard enough. The goddamn phone is ringing.

Mr. LEE: (As Lloyd) But Ari, we haven't even really talked.

Mr. PIVEN: (As Ari) I talked, and my hope is that you listened.

BRAND: Jeremy Piven is joining us from his home in Malibu. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Mr. PIVEN: Thank you.

BRAND: So for people who haven't seen your show, how would you describe your character, Ari Gold?

Mr. PIVEN: He is, at first glance, an incredibly abrasive wrecking ball that is very reactive, incredibly ambitious, has a very advanced problem with his attention deficit disorder. At the same time, he has great love for his family. He appears to be a pig, yet he is monogamous to his wife. That duality, I think, has been something that I've hung my hat on for six seasons now and been so, so lucky to play.

BRAND: How do you walk that line between showing your character's soft, vulnerable side, but yet still maintaining that manic, machine-gun-style energy?

Mr. PIVEN: I've been kind of a scrappy actor for many years, you know - was probably 40 movies into it before I started working on "Entourage," and I had done about almost, you know, a couple decades of TV work, as well. And I think it's your job when you do any role, never judge your characters. And I think if we were to just kind of show him in this one-note way, I don't think it would be interesting at all.

BRAND: Right, and so how did you create that?

Mr. PIVEN: I learned from my parents, at the Piven Theater, that you know, you get out of your own way, and you play the moment fully. And sometimes when we're angry, and we're yelling as people, and there are these - and certainly in this character, there's something else going on. And I think if you find little flaws or ticks or - I mean, here's a guy who, he thinks he's really funny, and he isn't, I don't think. And I think by playing it that - well, he is sometimes, I guess. Yes, indeed, he's very sharp and - you know, I shouldn't say that. There, I'm judging my character.

I think that if you - you can take the sting off of a line, for instance, and people do this in life. They can be so cruel, and yet they say it as a joke, and the Brits call it taking the piss. We call it busting your balls - and I don't know if you can say that on NPR, and I apologize.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PIVEN: But a lot of the lines are brutal, but he thinks they're funny. So he laughs after them, and it's so strange, and it's - therein lies that duality. So you get to see that ultimately. This season, season six for me -the best stuff I've been allowed to play so far. You know, there are takeovers. Ari Emanuel had done this kind of serious takeover with Endeavor and William Morris. There's so much going on behind the scenes that we can kind of take from.

BRAND: Have you ever met the real Ari - Ari Emanuel?

Mr. PIVEN: I have met the real Ari Emanuel, yes indeed.

BRAND: Does he like your portrayal of him?

Mr. PIVEN: He's never spoken on my portrayal of him by any means, but he represents Mark Wahlberg, who created the show. You know, there is a real E in drama and Turtle. These kind of people exist, and they surround Mark, and we've taken dramatic license with everything.

BRAND: You, as you said, grew up in the theater world in Chicago. Your father, Byrne Piven, ran a theater workshop there. The Cusacks, among others, learned to act there. What was it like growing up in the theater?

Mr. PIVEN: I didn't know anything else, so when people say God, you know, what was it like? It must have been so weird. You were doing plays from the time you were eight, and your family does theater. I didn't know anything else, and I really did think that kind of every family had a theater, and this is what you do because there - we were doing theater games from the time we were so young. So you're on stage, and you're playing. You're always in a state of play. You're playing freeze tag. You're doing improvs, and we did great pieces of literature. You know, we were doing, you know, Salinger and Chekov and all these things at a very early age.

BRAND: Yeah, I think all kids put on plays in their backyard, but you actually took it one step further, I guess.

Mr. PIVEN: I don't know if it's further, it's just my parents are artists, and they love it, and they dedicated their lives to it. You know, I probably am not supposed to talk about it, but that's the thing that was confusing to me, to be in New York and to work with David Mamet, who - my father was a mentor to David, and to have the opportunity to do his brilliant words, I mean, this is what I've been working for my whole life. It's really the holy grail to be on Broadway and to do "Speed the Plow." I ended up in the hospital.

BRAND: Just to explain, you were cast in David Mamet's play, "Speed the Plow," on Broadway last year.

Mr. PIVEN: Yes.

BRAND: And you pulled out, and there were lots of news stories about it.

Mr. PIVEN: Yeah, but the reality is I was pulled out of it by my doctors, and this is all documented. 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. So I took the advice of both of my doctors. They discovered this early in the rehearsal process, and they told me not to go through with it, and I did. I ended up doing four out of the six months and could not complete the show, and for that I am so incredibly sorry. And to come from - 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.

BRAND: Are you worried that perhaps you have burned a bridge with Broadway or with David Mamet?

Mr. PIVEN: First of all, I would be honored to get back on that stage and will, and this will be forgotten. You know, like Martin Luther King said: No lie can last forever. So people like, you know - you know how it is. They love a good fish story, and this was Sushigate. This was a fun story.

BRAND: Going back to the small screen, did you know that President Obama has said your show is one of his favorite shows?

Mr. PIVEN: You know, for him to say that he watches our show, to be honest with you, I didn't - I couldn't quite believe it.

BRAND: Because you couldn't picture him sitting down and watching your show, which quite frankly can be a little R-rated?

Mr. PIVEN: Indeed. You know, he's a young guy, and he has, you know, an entourage of sorts. Reggie Love played college basketball, and I mean, Reggie listens to Jay-Z, and Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, his brother is Ari Emanuel. He has his own entourage, in a way, and so I think it's fun for him, man, and it's just a shot in the arm for all of us that he is watching our show. It's great.

BRAND: Jeremy Piven plays Ari Gold in the HBO show "Entourage." He also stars in the upcoming movie, "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard." Jeremy Piven, thank you very much.

Mr. PIVEN: Thank you.

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