Based on real-life Hollywood agent Ari Emmanuel, the character of Ari Gold became one of the biggest breakout success stories of HBO’s Entourage during the show’s eight-season run. Abrasive, loud, rude, cruel and perpetually operating on the edge of mania, Ari is also hilarious, fiercely loyal, smart and incredibly savvy to the ways of Tinsel Town. As played by Jeremy Piven in a standout performance, you may not like Ari but you would always want him in your corner.
Piven — who won three Emmys and a Golden Globe in the role — returns for the movie version of Entourage, where we find Ari taking the job offer made to him at the end of the season. Now in charge of Time Warner, and Warner Bros. Pictures, Ari is no longer Vincent Chase’s (Adrian Grenier) agent but is willing to back Vince on his directing debut — a $100 million spectacle that could break both their careers.
When not blowing his stack as Ari, Piven moves from theater to film to TV, most recently appearing in the title role of the British series Mr. Selfridge, which has just wrapped up its third season. He was still coming off his own personal high of portraying that character and getting back into Ari mode when we met up with him on the set of the Entourage movie.
Where do we find Ari as this opens?
The seeds were planted in the last episode — the conundrum of the offer that he has and whether he is going to rule the world or stay in Italy and lay low and continue to nurture the relationship with his wife. I think that we’ve kind of honored that comedic proposal and picked up not too long after that. It’s pretty true to what we know about Ari in terms of what the energy he would have would be like after sitting idle in Italy not having access to technology and to the work. So we pick him up in a very revved-up state.
Is Mrs. Ari still with him?
She’s still with him. There’s only so much I can really tell you.
What does Ari think about Vince wanting to direct?
I think one of the cool things that I hung my hat on in terms of a character like Ari Gold was that he had so much loyalty to Vince. I think that he believes in him, clearly, from the first time he saw him in a Mentos commercial back in the day. So he will back anything that he wants to do creatively. Ari will fend for his clients, as you saw.
It’s got to be somewhat cathartic to play a guy like Ari, who is not afraid to say things. Is Ari still in that place or has becoming a studio head changed him?
I think there’s no hiding who that character is, and he will continue to operate the way he has. There’s only so much I can tell you, to be honest with you. I’m one of these people who would rather show you than tell you, through the performance.
Maybe you can answer this. People you in this role and love the character. They do love seeing the excitement and the passion that he has for his friends and for the business. When you guys were getting ready to roll, were you already thinking about ways you could make the character even more fully fleshed in a movie?
You know, it happened so deep into ‘Mr. Selfridge’ that — I spent several months of the year in London. It was such a different character and a different show and a different time, a different energy, that I kind of left (Ari) behind, to be honest with you. So when I found out about (the ‘Entourage’ movie), I was deep into the Harry Selfridge world. It’s a huge hit over there and the rest of the world, and it’s picking up steam over here. I couldn’t be more proud of it. So, to be honest with you, I was so deep into ‘Mr. Selfridge’ that I couldn’t and didn’t want peek my head out to even try to wrap my mind around this completely reactive and abrasive Hollywood agent, for my own health and safety.
Has it been uncomfortable getting back into that role then?
It has been uncomfortable.
Listen, they could study me and my physical state in terms of how stress plays on your body, because the reality is — for instance, if you are an incredibly reactive person and you are working on your lowest level, and if you continuously give into your dark side and are angry and screaming and breaking things, and you do that for hours and hours on end, you are going to be incredibly exhausted. That’s just the way life is. So the character is a blessing and a curse in the way that it is so fun to play him, and he says the unsayable. It’s cathartic, but at the same time, it’s incredibly draining. But I am so grateful to be able to ride with him again in the movie.
Being where you are coming off (Mr. Selfridge) and coming back to this film, do you feel your performance affected how you play this character? Is Ari going to be different because of how Jeremy has changed?
Well, I think we are a sum of all of our experiences. Hopefully, my goal, everyone’s goal is to get better at what we do. So I don’t want to repeat what I’ve done. I only want to try to make it better. I think being over in England and acting with the best actors in the world, I hope that they’ve raised my game. Over there in England, they use the word “proper” a lot, but they use it for a reason, because they want to do things right. They go and study acting at university. They go to a conservatory. They work on the stage until they get their break. So I’m acting with the best actors in the world. Hopefully I’m able to come back and give you a more super-powered portrayal of this character. That’s my goal. That’s what I hope to do. We’ll see.
How has your theatre background helped you in playing a role like Ari?
This character is played like commedia dell’arte, if you are familiar with that form at all. It’s one of four emotional states — happiness, sadness, fear, anger at all times. And that’s basically what Ari is. He just sort of locks into those emotions. And you play heightened emotions in a truthful way. If you ask the average person, they wouldn’t know what that is or care. And that’s fine with me because I don’t need to reveal what my background is. It’s incredibly boring, to be honest with you. But yeah, the theatre background has enabled me to inhabit that character and play him as fully as possible. And also, it’s a form that allows you just to kind of jump in and not doubt yourself. That’s kind of the energy you need to play a character like this.
Fan reaction is a big thing and certainly fans are very vocal about the show. Do people expect you to be Ari when they meet you?
I think they do and they’re very disappointed. They’re like, “Who is this guy?” They usually ask me what’s wrong and why I’m so calm (laughter). It’s interesting, because I think I’ve been lucky enough to spend seven months a year in the UK and the cultures are so different. They immediately see you and address you as an actor. And I think in the States, for whatever reason, it might be an interesting study, and I don’t know what the variable for this is, but maybe being in their living room for eight years, they associate you immediately with that character. Then when they meet you and they see that you’re not that character, I think it’s a little confusing. I’ve had people literally just circle my face with their fingers and go, “What is this? Who is this?” And they think that I’m kidding. And I get the strangest looks. I grew up in the theatre and am lucky enough to have been an actor my whole life. The last character I played before ‘Entourage’ was Dean Pritchard in ‘Old School’, this sort of nerdy dean that had a chip on his shoulder. I was already lucky enough to be a working actor before we started this journey. But when you play a character with real power and energy, people lock into that and go, “Oh, this must be the guy.”
How do you unwind from being Ari? Do you do yoga?
I do yoga. I’ve been doing yoga for over 20 years and I love it. I think, oddly enough, you wouldn’t believe it, but even to do yoga before you play him is, I think, essential because, also, if you notice people when they are angry, they’re at their most calm. They’re usually not gasping for breath the way people might portray them. They’re angry, but they’re calm. So you have to kind of come from a very calm state, which is very strange considering it’s such a juxtaposition to the way you see the character.
Was there any actor you got to work with on the film, who wasn’t part of the series, that was very exciting for you to work with on this film?
I mean, the cameos are insane. You’re looking over and you are playing a scene with Liam Neeson and he’s flipping you off. You’ve got Kelsey Grammer and Ed O’Neill and every pro athlete and hip-hop star in the world, and it just goes on and on and on. And Jessica Alba is leaning into me, just crushing me. And it’s so fun. So I don’t know if there is a contest for cameos, but I would like to enter us into that contest, because there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t show up and go, “Why are you talking to me? Tell them!”
Entourage is in theaters June 3, 2015.