Downton Abbey may be over for the season, but American fans of British dramas will have another luscious new period piece to enjoy this midseason with Mr. Selfridge, and they might be surprised (and pleasantly so) to see who is headlining it.
Mr. Selfridge, already a hit in England, airs in the States on PBS as part of Masterpiece Classic starting March 31 and marks the return to series television for Jeremy Piven, who won three Emmys for playing agent Ari Gold on Entourage. In this series from writer Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice), Piven plays the real-life American who, at the turn of the 20th century, taught the Brits how to shop with the creation of the famed department store that still bears his name. The series costars Frances O’Connor and Zoë Tapper.
While Harry Selfridge is a far cry in tone from Ari Gold, Piven told us at a recent press conference that, “To me, Harry seems closer to me than Ari. … He fancies himself a performer. He’s going over to the U.K. to prove himself. Hmmm. I don’t have to look too far for that. OK. Check, check.”
Couple that with the fact that Piven and Selfridge share similar Midwestern backgrounds and that really helped Piven get hooked on the title role in Mr. Selfridge. Selfridge makes one of his early marks at Marshall Field’s in Chicago, famed for their department store windows that Piven — who grew up in the Windy City — recalls well.
“I was always looking at these enormous windows,” he said, “and [they] would dress each one of them like a play. … I took that for granted. I thought everyone has a department store with these enormous windows. Everyone has their art, and it comes out in different ways.”
Piven’s love for England, and his history with it, also made it a natural fit for him to take this role (and to coproduce Mr. Selfridge).
“I went to school there,” he offered. “I studied at the National Theatre of Great Britain and studied Shakespeare there, so I had a real reverence for the place. I think I’ve stalked that culture since I was in, as they say, ‘university.’”
So, while Piven is grateful for his eight years spent as Ari Gold, and teases playing him again (“there’s talk of a movie,” he said, “[but] I don’t want to get ahead of myself”), he is very happy starring in and producing Mr. Selfridge, which looks like it has plenty of room to continue.
“Lucky for us,” said Piven, “it’s done so well [in England], and his journey is fascinating … we can kind of take our time. His life was full and rich and tragic and all those things, so we have a lot to play with [if there is another season].”
Mr. Selfridge airs as part of Masterpiece Classic Sundays at 9pm ET on PBS beginning March 31 (check local listings).