In his first role since his portrayal of movie agent Ari Gold on the hit series Entourage, Jeremy Piven plays Harry Gordon Selfridge in Mr Selfridge airing on PBS’ Masterpiece Classic, premiering March 31.
Harry Selfridge arrives in London after successfully transforming Marshall Fields in Chicago, ready to change the way people shop in Europe, only to discover his window displays, cosmetic counters and merchandise the customer can be a touch alarming to the public in 1909.
Jeremy spoke of his new series, and working in England at the TV Press tour.
What brings you back to TV in this project?
It starts with Andrew Davies. He wrote this piece, the likes I’d never seen before. He had mapped out the entire season and where he had hoped all of us to go, all the twists and turns.
As I was reading it, I was willing my beard to grow because I knew that there’s no way that I could say no. And being on Masterpiece is like telling a Jewish mother that you’re going to be a doctor!
Why was Harry Selfridge such an interesting subject?
He actually transformed shopping. At that time people didn’t go out and shop. If you had money, you sent for your dressmaker. He was the first person to take cosmetics and put it in the front of the store.
At that time, women weren’t wearing rouge and lipstick, it was only worn by prostitutes or women of the stage. Women were wearing skirts down to their shoes and he empowered them to come in and be whoever they wanted to.
He transformed Marshall Field’s in Chicago into what it is today. He saw it as theatre. He loved PT Barnum, and he thought of himself as a performer, and the store was his theatre.
A lot of the fun of the show is the contrast between the American and the English attitudes.
You have this pioneer with this can-do attitude, and there’s something very realistic about the British culture, and you put those two together, and I think that’s the beauty of this series, seeing that duality and how Harry navigates through that.
It’s kind of amazing what actually happened and what transpired.
Can you talk about shooting a TV series in England as opposed to something like Entourage here?
They do something that is insanely magical. They get all their work done in 12 hours. That’s not a shot at television here [in America], that’s just a celebration of them. That’s just the way they work.
Zoe Tapper (who plays Ellen Love, a showgirl who becomes the ‘face of Selfridges) and I had to do a scene together, and we had 28 minutes to rehearse it, shoot it, and finish it. It just gets done. It’s a dream for me, because everyone’s level was so high, you have to rise up to meet it.
How accurate is the department store?
They went to great pains to get it really authentic and right for 1909. And it’s breathtaking to be in there.
The people from Selfridges walked in there and they couldn’t believe that the marble was actually plastic. We were blown away by it.
Will you be on board if there’s a second season?
I certainly hope I have the job, yeah. To be replaced at this point would be very disappointing and confusing. It would be like Darrin in Bewitched.