…on the Nature of the Beast,
and what needs to exist more…
by Moonah Ellison and Sophia Fox-Sowell
photography by Jason O’Dell
Jeremy Piven is no stranger to brutal honesty. Born in New York, and raised near Chicago, his city street smarts have groomed him to the be fully in tune with what he calls, “the nature of the beast.” Honest awareness is a life skill, one which he believes has become a major shortcoming in American society. Speaking fondly of Real Time with Bill Maher, an HBO television show whose content he greatly admires, “I think that forum to speak honestly with each other about issues that pertain to all of us, is important.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Forums, debates, and meetings where members of each political party can come together and unlock the doors for open communication need to exist more; if for anything, to help reduce American culture’s obsession with the superficial. “I believe our society has created a need for other things.” With so many tabloids and reality television series depicting the scripted reality of a selected few, average Americans have lost sight of their actual reality.
Living in Malibu, California, he bears witness to this craving for celebrity buzz. “People believe they need to know about gossip, but that doesn’t feed you in any way.” Also that the key to breaking these patterns of shallow obsessions lies in Americans’ ability to get out of their comfort zone.
But how? It seems the state of the environment, current political policies, and even the economic crisis have slipped their minds.
The major turning point for change in this country he believes will arrive the moment when Americans make an active decision to not only become more informed, but to be more honest with themselves about their reality. The reality of politics, economics, and the environment. “If you’re ignorant to something, it’s very easy to wave it off as being invalid and go about your day. It takes a little bit of effort to figure out what something is and to take precautions.”
He acknowledges that there are people all over the country that are incredibly curious and engage in these types of open discussions. “We just need to keep these conversations going.”
When he’s not working, Piven splits his time between Chicago and California. Both locations suit the polarity in his masculine identity perfectly: laid back in California and city-savvy in Chicago. Although, he only owns a home in Malibu, Jeremy is well aware that his heart beats differently when he’s in Chicago. How could it not in those ghastly wind tunnels!
He trained as a stage actor in the Windy City so it makes sense that he would want to give back to the place that cultivated his talent and sparked his acting career. Piven Theater is a non-profit organization where a majority of the kids are on an academic or extracurricular scholarship. Inner city kids of all ages can come and study improvisation. With the economy constantly slashing art programs, it’s more important than ever to preserve this cultural aspect of society. “Sure, you can donate money. But if you donate your time, giving them a reference to other avenues that they’ve only dreamt about, it really opens up their world.”
He recognizes the importance of playing an active role in shaping the minds of future generations. “I’m always honored if the younger generation asks me for advice. My parents are both teachers. Teachers first and foremost love to mentor. I learn and watch from them.” Organizations like Piven Theater help promote and encourage artistic expression to kids in desperate need for cultural education. They need to exist more.
He is a firm believer in the nature of the beast. That seems to be one of his signature phrases, which can certainly pertain to societal activism, cultural awareness, and of course, acting.
As he’s proven time and time again, he’s not afraid to dive deep into character. When you’re lucky enough to work, he admits, you do everything you can to inhabit a role. “It’s your job, to play an entrepreneur, and a salesman, and get mistaken for a salesman. “
Maybe that’s why he’s so often mistaken for his iconic character from HBO’s hit series Entourage, Ari Gold, a role he’ll reprise for its upcoming transcendence into a feature film. “The cool thing about doing a TV series is that you get a chance to keep getting shots at it, to evolve your character.”
But now, Piven seeks to be recognized for a very different role, Mr. Selfridge, the title character on the British period drama on PBS. Like Ari Gold, Selfridge has an insatiable ambition. He seeks to create a commercial enterprise designed for the ultimate consumer experience; basically, playing the man who paved the way for what we now know as retail therapy. Many thanks, indeed.
In his first television role since Entourage, Piven is genuinely honored to be a part of such a historic undertaking. “We film in London. There’s so much beautiful history there. We can use a corner, a block, that has remained the same for over one hundred years.”
But for all his cynicism, he humbly counts himself lucky to be able to pursue his passion. “I think anyone who gets to do what they love is lucky. I’m incredibly lucky.”
Well, I guess that’s just the nature of the beast.