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Piven’s Lament

‘Entourage’ star would like everyone to know that he’s really not like Ari Gold

Jeremy Piven

Jeremy Piven visits the Tribeca Film Festival 2011 portrait studio on April 23rd, 2011 in New York City.

Larry Busacca/Getty

No one is more misunderstood in more ways than Jeremy Piven. It all has to do with Ari Gold, the rapacious Hollywood agent he’s played for the past seven years on HBO’s Entourage. People think Piven is just like Ari, a real jerk of a guy. But he in­sists that he isn’t, and while downing a cup of coffee on a recent afternoon in midtown Manhattan, he offers various proofs. For one, he grew up in Chicago, where his parents ran the Piven The­atre Workshop, and raised him in the grand traditions of the theater. “I re­member this one guy in L.A. said to me, ‘Aww, you’re from Chicago. I get it, that’s why you look people in the eye. People from Chicago do that.’ And I was like, ‘Where am I supposed to look at you? Your crotch?'” Then there’s the time he had to fire his agent after the guy said to him, “Baby, baby, baby, it’s about the money. It’s about the money.”

After that, Piven, 46, refills his coffee and touches on his 25 years in the business (“I’ve played more best friends than actual friends that I have in this life”), before zeroing in on Entourage, which changed everything. His agent suggest­ed he pass, saying, “This isn’t that great for you.” And even Piven was thinking, “Wait a minute, I can’t be billed after a character named Turtle.” But he final­ly decided “that nothing good comes from living inside your ego. So I jumped in.” He smiles. His teeth are very white. “And here we are.”

Along the way to here, he began to de­velop this nasty Ari-esque reputation. He was said to be a rampaging woman­izer, a pompous douche. Even when he did good, no credit accrued. In 2006, for example, he was standing in line at a club bathroom when fellow actor Ste­phen Dorff attempted to cut to the front. Piven stuck out his arm and reportedly said, “You are going to wait in line like the rest of us, you privileged, spoon-fed son of a bitch.” For that alone, he should be revered and called a douche no more. And yet it did nothing for him. Further­more, Piven himself deeply regrets the Dorff incident: “You’ve got to pick your battles, and telling Stephen Dorff off isn’t one of them, so I’m a dummy.”

The biggest blow to his rep came in 2008, when a case of mercury poison­ing forced him to quit a David Mamet play, which resulted in a lot of bad press. Piven spends 20 minutes telling his ver­sion of events. It’s rich in detail and fea­tures numerous attending physicians, references to growing up in the the­ater, where nothing was more impor­tant than the show, and several words about his father, Byrne, who died in 2002, after which Piven sobs quietly for a few moments. “It was,” he says, “a very strange time in my life.”

But back to Ari Gold and the mis­ understanding. Piven leans forward. “There are people who think there’s no way after playing that character for so long that you’re not that guy. There was a time when I was angry. I had road rage. But if playing a character like Ari doesn’t allow you to get it out of your sys­tem, then there’s something wrong with you. These days, when someone cuts me off, I’m like, ‘Hey, how are you?’ Look, I’m not an evolved and enlightened per­ son. I’m tragically flawed. But I’m try­ing. My God, am I trying.” 

In This Article: Coverwall, Entourage, HBO

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