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.”
The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai
Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.
What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.
It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.
Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.
Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.
One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.
Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.
What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.
Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!
What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.
I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.
Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small
Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.
What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].
How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.
How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.
Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.
What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!
What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.
Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker
Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.
What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.
How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.
Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.
How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!
Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.
Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!
What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!
Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!
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