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Jeremy Piven interview

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With the new series of Mr Selfridge’s underway, ShortList spoke to star Jeremy Piven, who talks palling up to the president and hanging with Hunter S Thompson.

In the previous series of Mr Selfridge, your character went off the rails a little. How dark is the second series going to get?

A lot darker; every relationship has deepened because we’ve jumped five years. My character [Mr Selfridge], especially – not having his wife’s love returned weighs heavily on him.

You’ve spent a lot of time in London filming the show. How’s that been?

I spent seven months here in 2013, and I was unbelievably lucky – I was at Wimbledon when Andy Murray won, plus it was one of the hottest summers you guys have ever had. I was that dummy running around the park in 32-degree heat. I can only imagine what people thought: “Why is that sweaty American gyrating on the ground?”

What are the main differences between US and British women?

British girls understand the importance of being humble and self-deprecating, and how uncouth it is to draw attention to yourself. Plus, they seem more curious about the world, which I find very interesting and sexy.

What do you miss about home?

Restaurant etiquette. I had no idea how offended people get if you order water over here. Their facial reaction says “You hate this place”. It’s almost like spitting in their face. I also miss American sports. I just don’t understand [British ones].

Such as?

Cricket. I love the outfits but it takes those guys almost 11 years to finish a game. It feels more like a punishment than a sport.

What TV do you watch over here?

I love Luther. I’m a friend of Idris’s [Elba] and I’ve told him I’m addicted to it.

Have you seen Idris DJ?

Once or twice – the man has talent. I’m living in his old house. The neighbours were overjoyed with Idris moving out, they thought they were living in Ibiza. I’m a drummer, but I’m not stupid enough to take my drum kit around.

Have you ever played drums with anyone we might know?

Wyclef, Bonnie Raitt, Kid Rock; I asked Ron Wood if I could play with The Rolling Stones but Charlie Watts will probably play until he is 111. I saw him in Hyde Park last year and he’s indestructible. He’s in his seventies and didn’t miss a beat.

Are you still developing a Keith Moon biopic?

Yes, I have something written. Next is to pluck up the courage to approach Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. I’d probably develop a stutter around them. I won’t lie – I’d love to play Keith. I’ve been told I play like Keith Moon, which is the greatest compliment ever.

Do you have a favourite Moon anecdote?

Somebody told me that for Ringo Starr’s birthday, Keith locked a live rhino in Ringo’s home, and wrote ‘Happy Birthday’ on it.

What’s the worst acting job you’ve had?

I was cast in Black Hawk Down with Ridley Scott, my hero, but unfortunately I was the cover set, which means I wasn’t allowed to leave set for five months in case it rains. And if it does rain, then they go to my scene. Not once did it rain in five months; only in my soul.

You played the Dean in Old School. Were you part of a fraternity during your own college days?

I ended up not being in a fraternity because the campus one was anti-Semitic. It was awkward. I didn’t know people were still anti-Semitic, but apparently [this fraternity] didn’t get the memo.

John Cusack was your college room-mate. Did he have any bad habits?

Caffeine abuse. I didn’t have a coffee until I was 27, he was drinking it at 18.

John was friends with Hunter S Thompson. Did you ever meet him?

Yeah, we stayed with him for the weekend once. The first thing he did was tell us to get his guns and fire up the clay-pigeon device. It was snowing heavily, and while we were shooting, the machine revolved and smacked Hunter in the thigh. He was running around in 3ft of snow, yelping and swearing at us as if we had done it on purpose.

Let’s talk about Entourage. Is it true Obama’s a fan?

It’s true, it’s been confirmed by various sources. Also Ari Emanuel, who my character [Ari Gold] is based on, is the brother of Rahm Emanuel, who was chief of staff for Obama and Clinton. Rahm says he likes the character Ari Gold more than his own brother.

You campaigned for Obama back in 2008, right?

I did. I got a voicemail on my cell, and I’ll never forget it. “Hey Jeremy, it’s Barack [pauses] Obama.” As if there was another Barack. “You’ve busted your butt for me and I really appreciate the hard work because your time is valuable. I have a couple of numbers if you want to get hold of me,” and he left three different numbers. When I got home to write them down, the message had already been erased. CIA? Who knows? For years, I’ve been trying to get his number, but no one will give it to me.

Finally, did you know there’s a burger named ‘Ari Gold’ at London’s Patty & Bun restaurant?

Yes! Oh man, we’re going tonight. They’re OK with me ordering water, right?

Series 2 of Mr Selfridge continues on ITV, Sundays at 9pm

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