PASADENA, Calif. — Jeremy Piven, who played the famously mercurial agent Ari Gold on the HBO series “Entourage,” is heading across the pond and back in time to play the title character in the new PBS period drama “Mr. Selfridge.” The 10½-hour series, which kicks off Sunday at 9 p.m. on Channel 2, chronicles Selfridge’s journey to England in 1909 and both his business and personal affairs. After averaging 8.5 million viewers in the United Kingdom, the series has already been picked up for a second season. Piven chatted with reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
Q. What attracted you to this project?
A. It starts with [writer-director Andrew Davies]. I don’t know if it’s just Andrew that does it differently or all the Brits do it differently. He had mapped out the entire season and all the twists and turns, and as I was reading it, I was willing my beard to grow because I knew that there’s no way that I could say no.
Q. After “Entourage,” which was very contemporary, were you looking for something dramatically different?
A. Yeah. I mean, I also am looking to be a linebacker for the Chicago Bears and be an astronaut. I mean, there are things that I wish for in this life and that we all wish for ourselves. And this is certainly one of them.
I couldn’t have drawn it up better. The night before I had to go to the theater — my character Mr. Selfridge had to go to the theater and see [his mistress] Ellen Love perform — I turn on the television, and I see [actress Zoë Tapper] at the Old Globe playing Desdemona in “Othello.” Literally there I am, Jeremy, watching Zoë on television going, “Oh, my God,” and being enamored with her performance. And then the next morning, I have to be enamored with her performance onstage. So it was all laid out for me to screw it up.
Q. Is this an American actor’s dream to be in a Masterpiece production without having to effect a British accent?
I thought it would be amazing. That challenge would have been incredible to go over there and do the accent, but knowing that he’s from the Midwest, as am I . . . I felt connected to him and going to his store, Selfridges. To this day it was voted the best store in the world, and here we are a hundred years later. So I think he was onto something.