He can’t spill the beans on the in-the-works “Entourage” movie, but fans will still be seeing plenty of Jeremy Piven in the time it takes for his character, Ari Gold, to wind his way to the big screen. The actor’s latest film, available on VOD and hitting big screens this week, is Mark Pellington’s “I Melt With You,” the story of four wildly disillusioned old college friends (including Rob Lowe, Thomas Jane and Christian McKay) who reunite for an annual summer bacchanal, and start to entertain a suicide pact from their teenage years. Piven plays Ron, a financial services hotshot facing impending ruin stemming from corruption and fraud charges. ShockYa had a chance to sit down and talk to the actor one-on-one recently, about the film, his work methods, one of the things he thinks causes cancer, and his unlikely pairing with Miley Cyrus. The conversation is excerpted below:

ShockYa: I was interested in Mark’s visual impact on the story. Many movies are chiefly a product of their director, of course, but this one especially so. You could take the same script and actors, and under a different director it feels like it would be a very different film, because you could certainly tell the story a lot less expressionistically.

Jeremy Piven: Well, I remember when I met Mark for the first time for this movie, after reading it, and I was curious about Thomas Jane’s role. That’s what I first met with him for. But it’s so apparent that Mark is an artist from the first moment you meet him. He has this interesting duality, where he’s the size of an offensive lineman but he’s incredibly sensitive. And his work is layered and visually sensitive. I don’t know how to even fully describe that. He has such an eye for how to extract emotion from the visuals of a story, and how to capture them. I think we’re in such a results-oriented society, and consumed with number one. And we can be viewed as a jingoistic society. And yet with someone like Mark you just want to take the ride with him and explore whatever that journey is regardless of the outcome. But I knew [what] my roadmap was, that I was playing a character who was a Bernie Madoff, Jr.-type who has done the wrong thing and desperately wants to be viewed in this one way that he isn’t. He wants to be the man, as he says. He thought that if he was the breadwinner and had all the currency and could live a certain lifestyle and be a certain type of provider for his family then he would be the man. And ultimately that’s part of his demise. He represents the greed among the four guys. So I knew what journey I needed to take emotionally, and then you end up in that very vulnerable place. I guess I’m kind of greedy in the way that I love to act, and I love pressure situations. If it was a sport I would love to have the ball as the clock was winding down, I would be honored to be that person.

ShockYa: As an adjunct, Mark said he sometimes thought about these characters’ lives off screen or at a family function or something of that nature, where they would be fundamentally less honest (than we see in the movie). So did Mark talk a lot about backstory, and did he talk a lot about Bernie Madoff specifically in relation to your character?

JP: He did, he did. I needed specifics about my character, and part of those specifics were that it was a bit of a homage to a Bernie Madoff situation. So then it’s your job as an actor to figure out what that journey is. I don’t know if you saw “60 Minutes” recently, but in terms of [Mark Madoff’s] journey, that was very similar to Ron’s journey. And this (movie) is a way to show the result of all that, because that particular revolution will not be televised, either in his mind or in front of our eyes.

ShockYa: Mark also mentioned that the script was originally set in Cape Cod, which wasn’t going to work for a variety of seasons, and that he had a friend who recommended Big Sur, to which he had never been. What was your impression of the location? It seemed like a pretty remarkable area that hasn’t been featured in a lot of films.

JP: I loved it. If you think about the fact that these guys have been getting together every year, they probably already ran through all the hot spots of the world (like Las Vegas or Shanghai), and now they’re starting to get creative so they retreat to Big Sur. And also selfishly, it worked so well visually. It just opened the story up and also ties in nature to the whole thing, when they’re putting all these things into their systems that have nothing to do with nature — all these man-made drugs and chemicals. You put that up against the nature that surrounds them and it’s a pretty heavy contrast that I think works really well.

ShockYa: This is perhaps something of an esoteric question, but what’s your opinion on not just your character’s unhappiness, but how much each of these characters’ unhappiness stems from a walled-off personal dissatisfaction versus a shared unhappiness, if that makes sense. You’re getting back together with these close dear friends from teenage years, and you see that things haven’t worked out for them the way that they would have liked, and so it all feeds the same machine — the feeling that no one can make you feel as good as the friends you’ve had the longest, and also no one can make you feel quite as bad.

JP: Well, in this particular case, no one can make you feel as good, and then, because the veil is lifted, ultimately they say things to each other that they’ve never said. Thomas’ character says to me, “Rat Ron, we could never fucking trust you,” and lets all that venom loose. That wasn’t in the original script but we talked about it and I said to Mark that I wanted to see that because I wanted to let the audience know a little bit more of their relationships with one another. So many times in relationships people sit on feelings and don’t let them out. That’s part of what leads to disease and cancer and all these things — sitting on these feelings and not letting them out, or whatever. That’s what happens with these guys. And Ron represents the one guy who doesn’t want to have anything to do with [the pact]. His biggest problem is trying to figure out how to right the wrongs that he’s put his family through. He represents the greed; that’s all he cares about. So as he turns back around, and you could possibly say that he sees it as somewhat of an act of bravery, because he’s trying to honor this pact that they had. And others can interpret that as just an act of cowardice. That’s one of the great things about the movie, and these relationships — nothing’s clear-cut, but that’s the way life is. In that way, I think it’s kind of cool.

ShockYa: What else is on tap for you? I know you have a film with Miley Cyrus (the Weinstein Company’s “So Undercover”), and I imagine that’s a little bit tonally different than this.

JP: You think? (laughs) I never, ever would have thought that I would be playing opposite Miley Cyrus in a movie, ever, but there we are, and we’re quite an unlikely team. And I think because of that we had such fun chemistry. I can’t even describe it, it was just weird — we made each other laugh and enjoyed each other’s presence. I’m also playing a character that I haven’t played before — a guy who’s a pretty straightlaced FBI guy, and giving her orders to go undercover. So that was a blast, and totally different than anything I’ve ever done. And I have another movie, “Angel’s Crest,” that Magnolia is releasing, [where] I play a district attorney who’s an alcoholic and has lost his family. And I’m reading stuff right now, looking at developing my own projects. I have a production company. But I’ve never really taken a break of more than a couple weeks [as an adult] and that might be a good idea for me. I come from an acting family, and I think it’s sacrilegious to turn down a great role. I’ve lived by that motto, and it can take a toll on you, because I don’t even think I know how to take a dive or phone a performance in. So when you really go and mean it (for that long), I think it might be good to take some time and regroup, to find a little balance.

Written by: Brent Simon

Jeremy Piven

By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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