Jeremy Piven has graced our screens as American entrepreneur and department store owner, Harry Selfridge since 2013 and here he talks about what continues to draw him to the character and why he loves it in the UK.
Since it’s conception, Mr Selfridge has been a hit with viewers in the UK and abroad who have delighted in watching Harry Selfridge build his Empire. Jeremy is now recognised for the role across the globe, and is proud of the series continuing success.
“I love being recognised as Harry Selfridge. It’s great that people are watching and know the character I am playing. The production team and cast are very proud of the work we have done in creating Harry’s world. We all work as hard as possible because we love the show.
“People seem to resonate and love the period in which this is set. It’s evident just by how many countries we sell it to – over 100 around the world.
“The fact that people from all walks of life are gravitating towards Mr Selfridge and are invested in the characters is great. We film most of the series from a warehouse in Neasden, so knowing that it reaches so many people is mind-blowing. When people come up to me I see their enthusiasm and passion. That is inspiring to me.”
Mr Selfridge is filmed over six months of the year in Greater London and Kent. During filming, Jeremy embraces British culture, living in central London.
“I have spent the past three years in England and feel very lucky to have been welcomed with open arms. I feel like an honorary Brit,” says Jeremy.
“London is like a second home to me. I really enjoy being here for six months of the year. The people are really friendly. I have a lot of fun.”
This series of Mr Selfridge sees the Chicago-born actor return as Harry Selfridge in 1919, just after the end of World War I. Following the death of his wife Rose, Harry is grief-stricken and trying to maintain the careful balance of being with his family and managing London’s biggest department store during a time of upheaval felt by all England.
Jeremy explains more about what’s in store…
“We’re really getting to it this series more than ever,” says Jeremy. “I believe it’s the best series we have done. It’s really challenging as an actor, but that’s what you look for in a role. It’s great to be constantly challenged.
“The series is full of drama and based on true events. I feel like nothing is crazier than the truth, especially when it comes to Harry’s life. This time around it’s a turbulent ride!
“It begins on a very sad note as Rose has died. She was the love of Harry’s life no matter what. Her passing is devastating to him. Harry does anything he can to not be still and have to go inward and feel his grief.
“After Rose’s funeral we see the family preparing for a wedding; Harry’s daughter Rosalie is to marry a Russian Prince called Serge De Bolotoff. So there is a celebration following a tragic event.
“Harry is proud of his daughter. However, because of the turmoil over losing Rose, he has been distracted and hasn’t taken the time to get to know Serge or his mother, Princess Marie. When the wedding happens Harry gets his first real experience of them. From what he can see, they are a brash Russian family, much like bulls in a China shop. He can’t quite work out what their agenda is.
“Serge seems to be incredibly ambitious and Harry doesn’t know if he’s the right one for her. Not long after the wedding they come to blows when Harry’s old nemesis Lord Loxley makes an appearance and starts stirring trouble for Harry and his business. Serge gets involved and makes some fatal errors that have devastating consequences for Harry and the store.”
Harry has his hands full thanks to the arrival of his daughters
Harry also has his hands full with his second daughter, Violette.
“Violette is in certain ways the most like Harry. She is very restless and wants to make her mark. But in this age after the war and since losing her mother she’s a bit lost. Harry won’t let her work in the store even though she shows merit, and as a result she rebels.
“Violette is a loose cannon. She starts going to Colleano’s club and falls for Victor Colleano. He is the wrong guy for her and Harry does everything he can to get her away from him. But there’s no stopping her!”
Harry’s daughters are played by sibling actresses, Kara and Hannah Tointon, who are new to the cast this year.
“Kara and Hannah both have this incredible energy and are so easy to get along with. They’re really professional and great at what they do. They are a great addition to the cast.
“I think we have been really lucky as the new cast that have come in are fantastic. Leon, who plays Serge, and Zoë, who plays Princess Marie, are hugely talented.
“I’m very lucky with the entire Selfridge family. Off screen we have so much fun and laughter, which is the exact opposite to what viewers will see on screen because there is so much tension and drama in the household.”
In the second series Harry’s son Gordon gave up his education to work with his father in Selfridge’s in order to learn the family business. Gordon has since worked his way around the departments, and Harry hopes he’ll soon be ready to step up to be his right hand man – but is he ready?
“Harry’s always made his son Gordon work for everything he has,” explains Jeremy. “He makes him go through his paces and start from the bottom and work in every department in the same way he did back in Chicago. Finally a position opens up in the store for a new deputy. Harry assumes Gordon will throw his hat into the ring but he doesn’t, which is very disappointing to him.
“Harry believes that at this point Gordon has really appreciated learning and working in the store so the next logical step would be to move up in the ranks. Gordon’s a little intimidated by the whole thing. He’s already had some teething problems when he’s tried to step up and make decisions in Harry’s absence. When Gordon says he isn’t ready to take on the position it saddens him as he believes his son isn’t grateful and he’s not willing to progress. Harry hopes Gordon will change his mind, but Gordon has other things to distract his attention because he’s secretly dating one of the other employees!”
Harry has a lot to contend with at home and at the store. But in his personal life the future seems bright when he meets striking businesswoman, Nancy Webb. Harry instantly falls under her spell, and headlong into a relationship.
“This series shows the beginning of Harry Selfridge’s demise, but his journey isn’t completely dark. He finds love,” says Jeremy.
“When Nancy first approaches Harry, the last thing he’s looking for is love. In her he sees incredible spirit. She is an entrepreneur and wants to build houses for the fallen heroes of the war, which is really admirable. She’s very reminiscent of his late wife and so he starts a business with her and believes it is a sign to continue Rose’s legacy.
“He feels like all the pieces have come back together and that she’s given him back his life. He is excited about the project they are working on, and about the future they can build as a couple. It’s really great to see him so happy. He will stop at nothing to make it work, even if it means taking a risk financially.”
Nancy’s ambition to build homes for servicemen who have returned from war is one of many storylines in Mr Selfridge that reflects the impact of the end of World War I and how England had to change and rebuild as a nation. Jeremy reveals he is pleased to have the opportunity to portray this important time in British history through the series.
“Britain remembered the centenary of the start of The Great War this year so it feels poignant to show the after affects in the series through our much-loved characters. I’m glad we can do storylines that show many different angles such as how difficult it was to come back from war, post traumatic stress syndrome, homelessness, and struggle for getting back to work.
“We need to honour all the people that gave their lives during The Great War, and honour the servicemen who continue to do so to this day. It’s very important.”
Jeremy plans to take part in the 100 Year Challenge to mark the centenary of the World War I and raise money for the National Memorial Arboretum, part of The Royal British Legion family of charities.
“I’m proud to be a part of it and hopefully when I come back to the UK next year I’ll be able to do it.
“I feel really lucky to be able to work with charities doing important work. I hope to be a part of some more in the future too.”
Jeremy’s passion for charity is reminiscent of the real Harry Selfridge.
“Harry Selfridge openly supported charities and worked tirelessly for Britain. He had dual citizenship and he cared a lot about the country and wanted to help in any way he could. At first it was hard for people to take because he was an outsider, but then they saw his evident dedication and passion toward the country. We’re trying to do as much justice to that as possible.”
Jeremy, who won an Emmy Award for his role as Ari Gold in Entourage, reveals he has high hopes to return to London in 2015 to film another series of Mr Selfridge.
“Everything that was established in the first two series is being shaken up this year. Every cast member is getting their shot and they deserve it. All the characters have the breadth to fight to see another day. I’m looking forward to what might happen in the next series.
“I’ve always been a fan of period drama and have gravitated towards it. To find myself in Mr Selfridge, having just completed the third series is great, especially coming from such a contemporary show like Entourage. I can’t wait to do more.”