Actor Jeremy Piven sits up straight and smiles when asked how his Jewish upbringing influences his biggest roles — whether it be kinetic super-agent Ari Gold on HBO’s “Entourage,” or the more subdued super-agent Adam Fiedler in the new movie “Keeping Up With The Steins,” a good-hearted satire of materialistic excess in bar mitzvah celebrations.
“When I was growing up, my rabbi said that Judaism was going to be like a time bomb with me, and someday it would explode,” Piven said, laughing. “Which doesn’t sound so sexy.”
Piven may be playing another agent in his new film, but it’s the story of a more typical Jewish boy made good: a loving father, affluent with a house in Brentwood, Calif., who only wants to provide his son with the best, since it was never given to him.
“I wanted to play a leading man character who wasn’t creating the fireworks, like my characters are normally called on to do,” Piven said. “I’d never played this guy before, and I was really excited to jump into it.”
“It’s not my job to represent every Jew,” Piven continued. “But I do love being Jewish, and am very proud of being Jewish. I hope that I have the opportunity to play all sorts of Jewish characters — and other characters, too.”
With his new film, Piven was enthusiastic about being part of a warmhearted project that, in the end (not to give anything away), teaches that the substance of a bar mitzvah is more important than the spectacle.
“I think it’s important to show the world Jewish culture in a way that is respectful, but also, it’s a comedy, so we’re taking shots at materialism” — the film’s most hilarious moment is a “Titanic”-themed bar mitzvah party — “as well as the beauty in the rite of passage in a bar or bat mitzvah.”
According to Piven, without the laughs, “it would be didactic.”
Piven recalled his own bar mitzvah as a more modest affair; the party took place in his parents’ suburban Chicago basement. “It was the best bar mitzvah ever,” he remembered. “I was like any other bar mitzvah boy. I had braces, a very chubby face, and a mullet. I thought I was more John Travolta does ‘Saturday Night Fever’ than Bar Mitzvah Boy. I was Bar Mitzvah Boy, that was for sure.”
Piven recently got a chance to play himself in a new show for the Travel Channel. In “Jeremy Piven’s Journey of a Lifetime,” he is both actor and producer, as the show follows him through India. Piven said that talks are in progress to do more shows in Israel, Bali, Thailand and other exotic locales worldwide.
And, perhaps much to the thrill of many a single Jewish woman, Piven hopes for the opportunity to be himself within the context of a relationship. “I’ve put a lot of time and energy into my career, and I’m more equipped now for a relationship than I’ve ever been.
“I haven’t committed to my bachelor lifestyle — there’s nothing premeditated about it,” he said, ruminating on being 40 and single. “People ask me, ‘Why aren’t you married?’ As my 5-year-old niece, Lily Rose, likes to say to my mother, ‘All in good time, Nana.’ So apparently, she’s the smartest one in the family.”