Jeremy Piven Says “Goodbye” to Mr. Selfridge

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Related to: Mr. Selfridge, Season 4

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Mr. Selfridge is going out in style. From spectacle to stunts, this season has it all. But how will the party end for the larger-than-life retail magnate?

Actor Jeremy Piven looks back on his four-year journey as Mr. Selfridge and to get us ready to watch the series finale.

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Transcript

Jace Lacob (Jace): MASTERPIECE Studio is brought to you by Audible. For a free trial, go to Audible.com/Masterpiece.

CLIP:
Harry: Where are we with the performers?
Freddy: Oh we’ve got acrobats, jugglers, dancers, magicians. We’ll even have floats!

Jace: I’m Jace Lacob and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.

Mr. Selfridge is going out in style.

While spectacle has always been at the heart of the show, in the final season we’ve been treated to lavish parties, over-the-top stunts, and surprises both good…

CLIP:
Mae: Hello, Harry.
Harry: Mae?

Jace: …and bad.

CLIP:
Harry: No we have to fight back hard, Jimmy. If we don’t…
Jimmy: I did kill Victor.
Harry: No. No.

Jace: How will the party end for the larger-than-life retail mogul, Harry Selfridge?

CLIP:
Jeremy Piven: I really wanted to end as strongly and finish the job that we set out to do and I really felt like we did it.

Jace: With only one episode to go, actor Jeremy Piven — who played Harry Selfridge for the past four seasons — talks with our guest host and — for fans of the podcast — a familiar name in our weekly credits, Barrett Brountas.

Barrett Brountas (Barrett): Thank you very much.

Jeremy Piven (Jeremy): Thank you for having me.

Barrett: It’s a great season. It opens in 1928. How has London changed? How has the store changed but most importantly how has Harry changed?

Jeremy: Well, I think he’s been pretty hardened by his journey with love and without it now.

I think what he’s trying to do now is he’s trying to be a moving target so he doesn’t have to feel too much, but he’s also really enjoying the fruits of his labors, as the 20s will do and they’re a time that was really made for Harry. So he’s gambling and that’s where we pick up with him.

CLIP:
Harry: You play ladies. I have some things to take care of.
Jenny: My credit’s up. William’s taken the bank and has licked us clean.
Harry: Add a 1,000 francs to my bill.
Jenny: Thank you, Harry.

Barrett: What is it that sort of drives him into the arms of the Dolly sisters and drives him to the gambling table do you think?

Jeremy: Well, the real Harry Selfridge always…He wasn’t a drinker. He loved to gamble. I think that was his shadow and he was kind of a risk junkie. He ended up losing a couple hundred million pounds and it was kind of the beginning of the end with him so they kind of played with the duality of kind of infusing fun and a bit of hope within his downward spiral.

Barrett: Absolute and the Dolly twins, they’re a train wreck but they’re such fun to watch.

CLIP:
Rosie: Forgive our interruption – but we had to do something for our sweet Harry.
Jenny: We know he can’t resist us!
Rosie: We hope he’ll forgive us for being so naughty.
Mae: Dear God…

Barrett: And another thing that made the season so, so delightful and that added a really lot of a light to it was the return of Lady Mae. Did you always know she was coming back?

Jeremy: No, that was…That’s part of the show that’s fictional that they navigate so beautifully is Katherine Kelly plays Lady Mae. And they’re old friends at a time when he, you know, doesn’t have a lot of people to turn to. And we’re so happy to have her back and she’s such a beautiful actress to play off of, Kate Kelly she’s… When you’re playing with someone that’s working on such a high level…I mean growing up in the Piven Theater, my mom had this great call, “Every beat counts,” and that’s really never more true with Katherine Kelly. Like, you know, every breath, every sound that comes out of her, every gesture, it, you know…She sets the tone and it’s just so gratifying to work with her and with the entire cast.

Barrett: Now, speaking of Harry and Mae, can you take us into this extremely powerful scene, which I feel almost is his turning point is their moment together on the beach in Biarritz where…

Jeremy: Yeah.

Barrett: …he shows, he exposes his vulnerability in a way he never has.

CLIP:
Harry: I keep moving because that’s all I can do.

Barrett: Can you take us to filming that, what that was like for you, how you connected with it?

Jeremy: Well, once again I’m working with the great Katherine Kelly so you know I’m just playing off of her. Harry is…He’s running. He’s a moving target because he doesn’t want to be stationary because he doesn’t want to go internally and feel too much, and she finally stops him, and he has to confront himself with her.

CLIP:
Mae: Noise, and color, and sex and laughter, it drowns out an awful lot. But in the end it all goes and what will you be left with?

Jeremy: And we’re on the beach in Biarritz. We actually made it happen and leave it to the Brits to figure out a way to do a road trip. And go to Biarritz and still save money. They did it.

I mean, Mr. Selfridge cost to make about a fifth of the cost of something like Entourage, and yet it’s an hour show so it’s twice as long.

Barrett: Right, right.

Jeremy: And it’s this big, lush show with all the production values…

Barrett: Yes.

Jeremy: …that make it look like this incredibly expensive show and they just…you know. They’re so incredibly creative over there.

It was an interesting journey for me because I really wanted to play Harry with all the dimension that he deserved and British men don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves and I…There was a moment where I really let Harry be kind of raw and emotional.

And you know I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but I speak the truth as I know it and my mom tells me not to because it gets me into trouble but, you know, there was a little bit of a difference in opinion in terms of how to end the show, and in the moment I got emotional when things happened to Harry at the end. And, you know, the director really felt like, “Let’s hold that back and let’s let it…”

And I felt that we deserved that moment, and I think it’s a better show because of it.

Barrett: This season was so powerful. When I saw Harry and Mae’s relationship changing a part of me was like, “Yeah,” and then I was also thinking, “No, this is going to end in tears.”

What was your reaction when you learned, when you read in your scripts, that they were going to finally get together?

Jeremy: Well at, you know, at first it’s a little awkward just because I’m very good friends with Katherine Kelly, you know, and her husband’s a good friend of mine and they have a beautiful baby and all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, I have to kiss my buddy. This is interesting.”

And I think it’s very satisfying for the audience because even when it was showing in the UK they kept saying, you know, reaching out on Twitter or whatever and say, “I hope these two get together,” so they were hoping for it themselves.

Barrett: I wanted to ask you about this season’s big wild card, Jimmy Dillon.

Jeremy: Yes.

Barrett: Although it’s tenuous at first, Harry and Jimmy have a real connection.

CLIP:
Harry: Sometimes I think it’s only the pain of the lows that lets me actually feel something.
Gordon: I don’t understand. I don’t think I ever have.
Harry: I know. Jimmy does.

Barrett: Is Jimmy sort of the son Harry wished he’d had or is it Jimmy’s outsider status that Harry relates to?

Jeremy: I think it’s all of those things, but I think at its core it’s the fact that Jimmy is a guy who trusts himself, and is incredibly inventive, and gutsy, and is a trailblazer. And he sees a lot of himself in Jimmy, maybe a younger version of him or a son he never had. All those things that Gordon isn’t. And that’s another beautiful aspect of the show the writers tapped into. And Sacha just crushes the role.

He’s just such a brilliant actor and all these people I have no doubt will be stars, all of them, you know, if they haven’t already, you know? I mean sometimes people will come and do a cameo on our show and then they’re suddenly, literally doing the lead in a new Star Wars movie. I mean that’s just the way it happens. It was an incredible experience. It was almost like going to graduate school — 4 years of graduate school — and hopefully I’m a better person because of it.

Barrett: So, after an experience like that in working with these people, some of whom you’ve worked with for 4 years, become close to, what was it like for you when this series ended?

Jeremy: Well, being away from home for 4 years is a really, really long time and…It’s one of the rare shows — and this sounds terrible because I’m talking about my own show — but it’s one of those rare shows that really gets better every year, and Season 4 is the best without a doubt. And I was looking forward to that day, when we would finish, because I wanted to go back home. I missed home. And I wanted to end as strongly and finish the job that we set out to do and I really felt like we did it. So there was a real feeling of accomplishment.

I will miss London, and I’ll be there again in a different circumstance whether it’s TV, film, on stage, visiting, you know, doing a puppet show, whatever, you know? Whatever happens I’m open. I will welcome that with open arms.

Barrett: So, one of Harry’s hallmarks is these sort of fabulous, over the top promotional stunts and this season certainly did not disappoint.

CLIP:
Harry: Thank you all for coming. In 1909, Selfridges opened its doors for the first time. And since then we have gone from strength to strength. It is with great pride that I give to you the Queen of Time.

Barrett: If you could tell us about that a little bit.

Jeremy: Well, I mean here’s a guy who, very few people know this, I just was kind of geeked out about just researching him but…

His original plan for Selfridges, it was identical to the White House. I mean he wanted that dome and the pillars and everything. It’s like…Talk about ostentatious. I mean, recreating the White House in London, like when nothing existed on Oxford Street. It’s like, “Who is this American?” I mean, “What is he thinking?” And they literally said, “No, we can’t approve these. No, this architecture won’t do,” so he kind of toned it down. But the reality is, it’s still just this, you know, really beautiful structure that they have there.

So there he was at the unveiling and he is on top of the world, and then, you know, one false move…I think he was so…It’s a great metaphor for where he was at. He was so sidetracked and enamored with the store and the unveiling that he literally didn’t even look where he was going, and just falls off the side there and takes…you know. And life will do that to you. You know, if you don’t stop yourself, it’ll stop you for yourself.

Barrett: Right.

Now if you could take yourself on a shopping spree in 1928 Selfridges, what would you come home with?

Jeremy: Well, as you can see Harry has a whole department for technology and people didn’t even know what that meant. So he knew that this was all coming, and the radio was there to stay, and then moving into television and everything else. He was way ahead of his time. If I was in Selfridges I would like to be a part of the future and get a television from Harry.

Barrett: I love it. During the filming of Mr. Selfridge, you lived there for 7 months out of a year?

Jeremy: Yeah.

Barrett: Did you ever catch yourself adopting a British accent like Madonna or was there anything you picked up from living in England?

Jeremy: No, no, I didn’t.

Well, I mean you just start using certain words, you know? “I’m going back to my flat.” I would just say it without even thinking twice. You know, “Are we going to get that sorted out?” You know, just all of these things, “That has to be done in the proper way.” Like all of the euphemisms you just kind of take on subconsciously. I didn’t start speaking with a cockney accent. I think that would be fairly pretentious.

Barrett: But did your… Like if you wanted to do a British accent now, probably you could do one a lot better than before?

Jeremy: Oh, definitely a lot better.

And understanding the regionalities too because it’s just…Everyone’s accent is so specific. It’s really great.

Barrett: What do you think Harry Gordon Selfridge, himself a showman, an uncompromising promoter of quality, what do you think that he would have made of the series?

Jeremy: Well, I hope we did him proud. You know, I think no matter what he would appreciate our efforts. I think he would have loved it in the way that he did fancy himself an artist and this would have been so fun for him to see and take in, and he would have been honored, I think.

You know, we could have portrayed him in even a darker light. I mean, there are those that say that like he brought women into his store, and bought them anything for free, and was their sugar daddy, and all these things. And I felt very protective of him, almost like a relative, and I said, you know, “You don’t know him. You don’t know his story.”

I think we did everything we could to honor him and his journey, and so I’m hoping that he would approve.

Barrett: And Harry was a tough businessman but he led with his heart. How do you think that he might fare in the contemporary business world?

Jeremy: Well, he was always ahead of his time and I think he would do brilliantly today. I think he would be one step ahead of the game. I think he would have his own app. It would be like a combination of Uber and Snapchat or something, you know, where people would be videotaping themselves like, in rides on the way to Selfridges. He would’ve just been killing the game.

I can just see him snapchatting with the Dolly sisters.

Jace: On Sunday May 22nd at 10:30 pm, Mr. Selfridge draws to a close following Wallander’s final farewell at 9.

Then on May 23rd, Kenneth Branagh returns to the podcast and relives his last day playing the brooding Swedish detective.

CLIP:
Kenneth Branagh: And then I walked back through the dark, down to the waterside, and up to my house, and said a quiet “thank you” for all those years of being Kurt Wallander.

MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob. Special thanks to this week’s guest host, Barrett Brountas. Kathy Tu is our editor. Rachel Aronoff is our production coordinator. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.

You can find this podcast at pbs.org/masterpiece, on Stitcher, and on iTunes.

MASTERPIECE Studio is brought to you by Audible.

Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking River Cruises, Audible, and The MASTERPIECE Trust.

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