Born July 26, 1965, in New York, NY; son of Byrne (a drama teacher) and Joyce (a drama teacher; maiden name, Hiller) Piven. Education: Graduated from Drake University, c. 1987.
Addresses: Agent—ICM, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.
Actor in films, including: Lucas, 1986; One Crazy Summer, 1986; Say Anything, 1989; The Grifters, 1990; White Palace, 1990; The Player, 1992; Singles, 1992; Twenty Bucks, 1993; Car 54, Where Are You?, 1994; Floundering, 1994; PCU, 1994; Twogether, 1994; The Ticket, 1994; Miami Rhapsody, 1995; Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, 1995; Heat, 1995; Larger Than Life, 1996; Layin' Low, 1996; E=mc2, 1996; Just Write, 1997; Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997; Livers Ain't Cheap, 1997; Kiss the Girls, 1997; Phoenix, 1998; Very Bad Things, 1998; Music From Another Room, 1998; Red Letters, 2000; The Crew, 2000; The Family Man, 2000; Rush Hour 2, 2001; Serendipity, 2001; Black Hawk Down, 2001; Highway, 2002; Me and Daphne, 2002; Old School, 2003; Runaway Jury, 2003; Scary Movie 3, 2003; Chasing Liberty, 2004; Two for the Money, 2005; Cars (voice), 2006; Keeping Up with the Steins, 2006; Smokin' Aces, 2007; The Kingdom, 2007. Television appearances include: Carol & Company, NBC, 1990; Rugrats (voice), 1991; The Larry Sanders Show, HBO, 1992–93; Pride and Joy, NBC, 1995; Ellen, ABC, 1995–98; Cupid, ABC, 1998; Entourage, HBO, 2004–. Stage appearances include: Fat Pig, Lucille Lortel Theater, 2004.
Awards: Emmy Award for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for Entourage, 2006.
Actor Jeremy Piven spent nearly 20 years of his career in supporting roles, and though he was a familiar face to movie-goers, was never considered a box-office draw. His fortunes, however, improved immensely when he began playing Ari Gold, the caustic Hollywood agent on the hit HBO series Entourage, and won an Emmy for his second season in the role in 2006. It was the first industry honor the actor had ever won, though he had, according to Time's Joel Stein, "made a career of playing supercharged supporting characters as if he were Al Pacino on a leash. His talent is being big and real simultaneously."
Piven was born in New York City in 1965, but he and his sister, Shira, grew up in Evanston, Illinois. In this lakefront college town just across the northern city limit of Chicago, Piven's parents, Byrne and Joyce, ran a theater workshop that would train many homegrown talents who went on to Hollywood fame, including Aidan Quinn, Lili Taylor, and the Cusack siblings, John and Joan. Piven and John Cusack were close friends from an early age, and at the age of eight Piven made his stage debut alongside his pal in a Chekhov play. "People always say, 'Wasn't it weird growing up in an acting family?'" Piven recounted to Bob Strauss, writer for the Los Angeles Daily News. "I think any other experience would've been weird…. I just assumed that everyone had a theater that they could go to, where they could improvise, do short stories, Chekhov, Salinger."
Though Piven also spent some summers at a performing-arts camp in Wisconsin, as he grew older his enthusiasm for drama cooled, and he devoted his energies to football. He played for Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, but also signed up for a drama class in his first year of college, and it was there he "realized how unbelievably lucky I was to have had the kind of training I had," he told Jenelle Riley in an interview for Back Stage West. "I was a freshman, getting lead roles in plays, just from auditioning. I loved it and just wanted to keep doing it."
Piven made his film debut in a 1986 teen romance, Lucas, which starred Corey Haim and featured a few other unknowns, including Charlie Sheen and Winona Ryder. By then Cusack was beginning to land starring roles in similar projects, and Piven appeared with Cusack in One Crazy Summer, which also starred a young Demi Moore. He also had a supporting role in the cult-favorite Cusack teen romance, Say Anything, in 1989. A year later he appeared in The Grifters, and had a small role in The Player in 1992, both of which were Oscar-nominated films. After having paid his way through college with his film salaries, Piven was dismayed when a talent agent discouraged him from settling in Hollywood permanently. "She said to me, 'Look, Jeremy, you're probably not going to work until you're in your 40s.'" he recalled in the interview with Riley in Back Stage West. "My heart just sank. And I fired her fight there."
Piven's acerbic comic skills emerged when he played a television writer on the HBO series The Larry Sanders Show. His first starring role came in the college farce PCU in 1994, in which he played a perennial student and natural-born disruptor in the send-up of political correctness on college campuses. He spent the rest of the decade in supporting roles in such fare as Miami Rhapsody, Grosse Pointe Blank, and Kiss the Girls. There was also a three-year stint on Ellen DeGeneres' sitcom as her cousin, Spence, out of which Piven was offered his own hour-long series on ABC, Cupid, which debuted in the fall of 1998. He starred as Trevor Hale, the deity whose mission is to play matchmaker for a hundred couples before he can find true love himself on Earth. In his mortal guise, he recounts his own dating travails to a therapist (Paula Marshall), who harbors a secret crush on him. "Piven gives the sort of motormouth wise-guy performance that sometimes makes you want to slap his smirky little face," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, who nevertheless deemed the series a "charming" one, both "lively and funny."
Cupid, however, was relegated to one of the worst prime-time slots of the week, Saturday evening, and the network failed to renew it for a second season. Piven was still working steadily in film, however, and was part of an impressive ensemble cast in the dark comedy Very Bad Things in 1998, about a Las Vegas bachelor party that takes a criminal turn; the movie also featured Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, Daniel Stern, and Cameron Diaz. Over the next decade, Piven's career seemed to be stalled in the comic-sidekick/best-friend slot in such films as The Family Man with Nicolas Cage in 2000 and Serendipity a year later, which reteamed him with Cusack. He also appeared in several box-office hits, including Black Hawk Down and Old School, before producers at HBO's original-series division cast him as a manic, ruthless talent agent in the Hollywood-set comedy Entourage.
Entourage debuted on the cable channel in July of 2004 and immediately garnered critical accolades. The storyline was loosely based on the early years of actor Mark Wahlberg's career, one of the series' producers, and the friends who came with him to Hollywood from his Boston hometown. On the show, the hot new heartthrob actor is Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), whose posse includes his older brother, an actor whose career seems to be skidding downhill as Vincent's is taking off; the part was given to Kevin Dillon, real-life brother of actor Matt Dillon. Also eager to spend Vincent's money is a dope-smoking, X-Box-addicted layabout named Turtle (Jerry Ferrara). The foursome was rounded out by Eric (Kevin Connolly), Vincent's level-headed manager, who is often mocked for his last paid job, as manager of a Sbarro pizza outlet back in Queens. Piven's role was originally a small one as Vincent's new agent, a powerful Hollywood deal-maker named Ari Gold who was loosely based on Wahlberg's onetime agent, a notorious industry figure named Ari Emanuel.
Piven had just one scene in Entourage's pilot episode, but the character's manic energy and rapid-fire putdowns in subsequent episodes led to a decision by the show's writers to flesh out more of his role, including a home life. Though Ari is a feared presence in the industry, he appears to be dominated by his independently wealthy wife, known only as "Mrs. Ari," and dotes on his kids. On the second episode, Piven improvised a line of dialogue that quickly became a catchphrase for the show. It came at the close of a tense confrontation with Eric, the manager, when Piven's Ari uttered the line, "Let's hug it out, [b****]!" The phrase was picked up by viewers and moved into the slang lexicon and even instant-messaging and e-mail acronyms, LHIOB! It even emerged as a mobile phone ring-tone and soon even "a cliche, as beloved by sports commentators as it is weepy drunks," noted Jonathan Bernstein in London's Guardian newspaper, "testament to the irresistible rise of Ari Gold."
Entourage was a hit with critics and viewers alike. "The show that started off confident has become indomitable," asserted New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan. "The intricacies of male interdepen-dence—the infallible hierarchy, the twin fears of marriage and solitude, the generously distributed rage—all contribute to avid comedy." Heffernan singled out Piven's performance, noting that "many of Ari's showdowns take place on cell- or speaker-phones while the men are in motion, a device that allows Mr. Piven to bring the full force of Shakespearean monologue antics and scenery chewing to what might otherwise be television's monotone pseudo-naturalism." Bernstein, writing in the Guardian, also offered strong praise. "It's a rare week when these four friends don't seem like supporting players in The Ari Gold Show," he declared. "Within the confines of a character who, by the very nature of his job, spends his every waking moment scanning the room for someone more important than the person he's currently talking to while simultaneously concocting methods of stabbing the same person in the back without them knowing it, Piven and the Entourage writing staff have imbued the potentially irredeemable Ari with a surprising amount of heart."
Nominated for an Emmy Award for the first season of Entourage, Piven won a year later as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, in part thanks to a memorable episode in which Ari's attempt to stage a takeover at his own agency brings a swift downfall. "Summarily dismissed, he was stripped of his clients, company phone and company car (an S-class Mercedes), and reduced to being driven home by his assistant in what he derisively called "a prop car from The Fast and the Furious," wrote Hilary De Vries in a New York Times article about the series' "frighteningly realistic" depiction of the Hollywood power game; the episode, "Exodus," had caused enough of a stir on Internet chat rooms and fan sites to prompt De Vries' article in the first place.
Thanks to the success of Entourage, Piven began landing more leading film roles. He appeared in Keeping Up with the Steins, a 2006 bar mitzvah comedy, and was the target of murderous ill will in Smokin' Aces, a Las Vegas-set thriller that hit movie theaters in early 2007. He played Buddy 'Aces' Israel, a nightclub illusionist turned federal informant for the mob, in a cast that also included Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, and rapper Common. "Piven tears into the role," wrote Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, who noted that the actor seemed to borrow some of his inspiration from Ari Gold. "Piven nails the laughs, for sure, but he finds something more penetrating in Buddy's silences when the master magician can't fool himself. Chasing hookers, snorting coke and pushing around his bodyguard, Hugo (Joel Edgerton), is only for show…. [A] brutal face-off reveals Buddy as a cookie full of arsenic. No wonder everyone wants him dead."
Piven's rise to stardom seemed to come just as the long-ago agent predicted, with his Emmy win coming just a few weeks after he celebrated his fortieth birthday. In the interview with Riley for Back Stage West, he reflected on his long career as a sidekick and almost-star. "The Ari Golds of the world don't have the patience to nurture a career like mine, nor do they want to," he said. "One of the lines I spit out the first season was, 'I don't represent talent; I represent temperature, and you're not hot.' That was me; I never had fire…. I was never on these lists of people who could walk in the room and be allowed to audition for a movie." Instead he credited his parents with providing the best framework for his career. In the same interview, he described his father, who died in 2002, as "a real pioneer as an artist…. He started a theatre with my mom, hung the lights, put shows up on his back, directed himself in the Scottish tragedy with my mom playing the lady. I mean, who does that? He was a real artist, an actor's actor. And he never was recognized on a national level, and I've been lucky enough to be recognized. And I'm not a better actor than my father, by any means. Or my mother. They just happen to have paved the way for me."
Back Stage West, August 11, 2005, p. 8.
Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), May 12, 2006, p. U6.
Entertainment Weekly, October 16, 1998, p. 66.
Guardian (London, England) September 9, 2006, p. 4.
New York Times, December 16, 2004; July 7, 2005; September 5, 2005; December 25, 2005.
People, July 17, 2006, p. 69.
Rolling Stone, January 25, 2007.
Time, June 5, 2006, p. 70.