Gemma Dunn talks to Jeremy Piven about starring in the final series
Retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge may have hit rock-bottom in the last series of Mr Selfridge, but Emmy Award-winner Jeremy Piven remains “grateful” to see his troubled character through to the closing stages.
“When I first met with the producers, they said they wanted to do the show in four series; that was our goal and that’s what we’re doing,” says the 50-year-old Jewish star, who was born in New York to actors Byrne and Joyce Hiller Piven.
“If I felt like we hadn’t done all that we could, or we had been cancelled, there would be regret. But there’s no regret; I am just lucky to be working with these people. So, that’s just where I’m at.”
Reprising his lead role in the hit ITV period drama, Piven joins faces old and new, including Tom Goodman-Hill, Amanda Abbington, Samuel West – and newcomers Sacha Dhawan, Lottie Tolhurst and Mimi Ndiweni – to document the fourth and final chapter in the turbulent life of the American retail entrepreneur.
Having been left “heartbroken” after discovering his fiancée Nancy was a con-woman at the end of series three, Harry is dealing with his bad luck in the only way he knows how: by doubling his efforts with “work, and quite a bit of play”.
Skipping forward nine years to 1928, the 10-episode finale finds Harry at the pinnacle of his power and public celebrity – a retail giant at the heart of the roaring Twenties.
Showcasing a period of rapid social change and progress in fashion, music and technology, the mood in London is distinctly ‘modern’, and with his man-about-town status, it’s not long before Mr Selfridge’s attentions flit between his two main vices: gambling and women (in this case, the infamous Dolly sisters, played by Emma Hamilton and Zoe Richards).
“I feel like Harry was born for the 1920s,” declares former Entourage star Piven, who has embraced the complexities of the department store founder since the first series aired in 2013. “It was a celebration that he loved – the energy, and obviously he falls for the Dolly sisters.
“It’s interesting; the first woman he falls for in series one is Ellen Love, and she’s a performer and an artist. I think Harry fancies himself as an artist as well, with retail his theatre. There’s something about artists and performers that’s alluring to him.”
But as rumours of Harry’s latest fling light up the social circuit at Victor Colleano’s decadent new nightspot, he can’t foresee his demise.
“It’s well documented that he spent millions on the glamorous duo – showering them with diamonds and paying for their gambling habits. He was their bank and it was one of the factors that financially ruined him,” says Piven.
Despite warnings, Harry loses sight of the empire and status he worked so hard to create. “Even though you may feel Harry is doing the wrong thing, you enjoy the ride and can see why he participates. In this particular case, he’s having the time of his life, but it does all come crashing down on him. Lessons are learnt and it is the beginning of the end,” Pivensays sympathetically.
Describing his character’s need to buy affection, the actor continues: “He built this incredible palace [Selfridges & Co on Oxford Street] for people to be whoever they wanted to be, and he really loved being the host.
“He cared deeply for people, took such good care of everyone around him and mostly let his heart rule his head. It’s part of that American spirit: to overindulge, give unconditionally and, in Harry’s case, recklessly.”
An example of this loyalty is seen in his relationship with socialite Lady Mae (played by former Corrie actress Katherine Kelly) who, having returned from Paris hurt and humiliated by her second husband’s betrayal, is looking to sell her shares in Selfridges.
“Mae was the first person who helped Harry out when he arrived in London. She had his back and now he has hers,” says the actor, who resides in Malibu. “He has a great relationship with Lady Mae this year. She’s like his consigliere.
“One of the things I love the most about the show is that while it’s based on a true story, you can never really guess where the drama is heading.”
He adds: “In my opinion, what makes British drama the best is that it doesn’t burn its steps; it takes its time telling the story, plays with pace and has fun with it.
“In the fourth series, it’s as if it’s the same show, but different at the same time. It’s been an incredible ride for me and I’m still shaking my head thinking back over the last four years, because it has exceeded my expectations on every level.”
So does Piven anticipate a return to UK screens in the near future?
“You go where you’re loved, and they [Brits] welcome me with open arms, so I would love to work here in any TV, film or stage roles. I’ll do a puppet show up in Blackpool – wherever they’ll have me!
“It’s so rare that a show even gets to last four years over here, because the audiences are opinionated, and so they choose their time wisely,” Piven adds of Mr Selfridge’s success.
“You have to earn trust, so the fact that we’re still on four years later is beautiful. I’m pretty happy about that.”
• The final series of Mr Selfridge continues on Friday, 9pm, ITV
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