Jeremy Piven: ‘The new Mr Selfridge is my favourite of any show I’ve done’

Jeremy Piven chats to TV & Satellite Week about opening up the shop doors once more for a second series of Mr Selfridge, beginning on Sunday, January 19 at 9pm…

The new series is set five years on in 1914 and World War One is about to begin; how does that affect the store?
“Harry feels patriotic because Britain welcomed him with open arms so he wants to help the war effort in any way possible. There is fear among the workers when war starts that he may go back to the States, but Harry takes pride in caring for his own and it means a lot to him to say that he will secure their jobs for them when they come back.”

His wife Rose has been living back in America, as they are estranged because of his infidelity, so how does he feel when she returns in the first episode?
“He is thrilled, she is the light of his life. He is celebrating five years of the store being open, but it is a hollow victory because she means more to him even than the success of the store and you see the heaviness weigh on him as he tries to get her back and prove himself to her and the urgency of the war puts a perspective on things. He is still a slave to his urges though, which makes him compelling.”

Agnes returns to the store from Paris and is now head of display; how has she changed?
“She has been transformed and she comes back a young woman and there is still a spark with Henri, but his dark past comes back to haunt him so in each of the relationships there are these great hurdles. I just think everything has been deepened this series, it is funnier and more tragic and it is my favourite series of any show I have ever done.”

What can you tell us about the new characters?
“Well Delphine, played by Polly Walker, is Rose’s new friend and she is this very self-empowered, edgy woman who she is ahead of her time. She loves to write about her affairs with men and has her own club, but she has met her match with Harry. Then Cal Macaninch is the new head of fashion Mr Thackeray. Cal is a genius, he is very male when you meet him, but he is playing this snickety, androgynous, aggressive, plotting character. We also have Aidan McCardle as Lady Mae’s husband Lord Loxley. They are both baddies, but in their own way and they are totally original. It is like an embarrassment of riches now with this cast.”

What response have you had to the show back home in America?
“Oh the demographic is all over the place. My young nieces usually think Uncle Jeremy is uncool, but suddenly they are watching every week and I’ve finally got respect from them. My mother has never been so happy either and she and her friends love it and I didn’t hear that once in eight years doing Entourage and my friend Mark, a real guy’s guy and a drummer for Pink, devoured it in one sitting.”

Would you be up for doing another series?
“I really hope we do more Mr Selfridge, but if this was the States they would be milking it for 100 episodes. Here it is really all about just getting it right and making the best show that we can and not trying to jam in as many episodes as possible and I love that approach.”

What reaction have you had when you shop in the real Selfridges?
“When I walk in there I almost look like someone who knows Jeremy Piven because I don’t go in Edwardian costume and start giving orders, so I just get a lot of double takes. But as each season comes out, it may be harder to go in there. I just love shopping there though because everything that Harry started is there to this day. It is laid out beautifully, it is just such a grand store.”

Do you enjoy filming in London?
“Absolutely, I try to figure out all the different ways to see the city. I am just amazed because when you drive around, you don’t get a perspective on where things are in relation to each other so one of best ways to do that is get on a bike.”

How do you find British food?
“Well, I did a scene where I had to eat jellied eels and I took one for the team and really ate them. Harry is supposed to choke on them because he is eating them for the first time and I thought I should really eat it every take. It’s basically the equivalent of eating eel sashimi in some gelatinous mess.”

For the full interview, buy TV & Satellite Week, which is out now.