DALLAS — Jeremy Piven is late. Traffic on I-75, or something. It doesn’t matter. He’s Jeremy Piven. He can be late. It’s his movie. And it’s his birthday.
A few hundred fans baking in a late afternoon July sun at a Dallas strip mall movie theater don’t care. They are here to see a celebrity, the mouthy guy from “Entourage” who will walk on the little red carpet leading to the front doors of the theater.
About 30 minutes late, the car arrives. Cue adoring crowd — go wild. Out steps Ari Gold. Wait, sorry. Out steps the 5-foot-9 Piven, proving once again that most Hollywood types are larger than life on a screen than in person. Wearing black jeans, black boots, a short sleeve, button up shirt and black tie, and sporting a few days of facial hair growth, Piven waves and smiles. The crowd sings “Happy Birthday.”
He poses for photos with Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, engages the crowd for a minute or two, and then he disappears into the air-conditioned theater.
Piven was in Dallas to screen his first film as the headliner — “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.” It is the first stop on a tour to promote the movie.
“Why Dallas? It’s a mystical place and very powerful,” Piven said in a red carpet interview.
Never have the words Dallas and mystical been linked. But OK, give him P.R. points.
“This isn’t like ‘Entourage,’ which is very much manufactured,” Piven said of red carpet scenes in the hit HBO show that is now in its sixth season. “This is real.”
What is also real is that Piven is in a theatrical conundrum: he is associated with a role that has made him millions, earned him awards and given him a degree of leverage in a business where few have any. But as much success as the character Ari Gold has brought Piven, he now has the challenge of escaping Gold’s shadow.
In “The Goods,” Pivens plays Don Ready, a mouthy, raunchy, used-car selling mercenary. Ready struts like Ari Gold. He talks like Ari Gold.
He’s just a tad raunchier and more irresponsible than Ari, who despite his flaws, works hard to provide for his family.
There are indeed differences in the two roles; Ready is single and a traveling salesman who refuses to grow up. Gold is married and a father who reluctantly grew up. Ready wears jeans and cheap ties, and seldom shaves while Gold dresses better than a Burberry model.
So based on a few minor characteristics, Piven hasn’t been typecast in “The Goods.” Or has he?
“I think that when something comes up where you may need a brash and abrasive character they come to me,” Piven said. “It’s my job not to repeat myself, and to stretch myself as an actor. You can’t think in those terms. I’m looking for great roles.
“Because I kind of am so different than Ari Gold to have that character, and Don Ready for that matter, it’s pretty far from me. I whip myself into a frenzy to play those roles. It’s so fun and therapeutic.”
Piven says he is nothing like Gold in real life. He does yoga. He eats the right stuff. Nothing like Gold. He doesn’t get angry, unless “you make me angry and I’ll kick your head in,” he said.
He’s just kidding.
But he is not kidding about not being Ari Gold.
Even though the pricey, three-piece suits Piven wears as Gold in “Entourage” are tailored for his frame, he doesn’t keep them. “That is a very separate part of my life and you want to let that go when you go home,” he says. The problem is while Piven may be able to separate himself from Gold at home, Gold appears to follow him to work.
After six years it’s not unfair to suggest that “Entourage” may have run its course, although HBO recently announced it was renewing the show for a seventh season. For Piven, who has won three Emmys for his performance as hyper active, four-letter word spewing confrontational agent, it may not be the worst time to leave “Entourage” and Gold behind.
The show has given him stature, elevating him from co-starring player to potential headliner in motion pictures. It’s just a small matter of being offered the right part. “The Goods” is a start. How it does at the box office may determine whether he gets another chance anytime soon. And it will be up to a producer to see Piven as something other than Gold.
“I think it’s my job to take those roles and show them the range and not hem and haw about being pigeonholed,” he said. “You can see I have a different way about me than Ari Gold. It’s my job to show them I can handle and do different roles.” The fact is that before he became Ari Gold, Piven’s resume was filled with roles that demonstrated range. He was on TV comedies such as “Ellen” and “Will and Grace”; Piven also had smaller roles in war films “Black Hawk Down” and “The Kingdom.”
He is an actor that movie goers recognize but don’t necessarily know his name.
“I really don’t know how I’m perceived,” he said. “You just can’t put a lot of energy into that.” He gained a measure of notoriety in December of 2008 when he left his role in the Broadway production of “Speed-The-Plow” because he said he had a high mercury count, a result of eating too much sushi. He was mocked by entertainment pundits like Perez Hilton. He was called a quitter.
But that is where the otherwise approachable Piven draws the line. “No questions about fish,” his publicist asked.
So, observers are left with a perception that perhaps Piven is more like Ari Gold than he would like to admit.
Like many actors who have played the same role for an extended period — Jason Alexander as George Costanza on “Seinfeld” comes to mind — Piven runs the risk of becoming his character. Gold, like Costanza, is so memorable that it’s hard not to see Alexander as George, or Piven as Gold. There are worse options, but it can be a road block for someone looking to grow.
The only solution may be time away from the character so audiences, and casting directors, don’t view automatically equate one with the other.
Piven is trying to take a detour around the road block, angling for roles that will put some distance between himself and Ari Gold.
“I would like to play Houdini,” he said. “He was a fascinating guy. He was one of the first hard working artists and magicians. He was one of the first real icons, ever.
“And he died tragically and he just blew people away all over the world.
There is a tremendous story there and I’d love to do that one day.” It’s too bad Piven can’t ask Houdini to make Ari Gold disappear.