Speaking with Jeremy Piven

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
January 17, 2003

You know Jeremy Piven. Or at least you think you do. Chances are you attended Evanston Township High School with him, or were in acting classes with him at his parents’ Piven Theatre Workshop, or knew someone who knew someone who did.

Then again, you may have seen him on the big screen in films such as “Black Hawk Down,” “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “The Family Man.” Also, there was his quirky television series, “Cupid.”

“I’ve got one of those faces,” jokes Piven, 37, phoning from Miami, where he was rushing to catch a connecting flight to Los Angeles, before returning to Chicago to star in “The Guys” at the Lakeshore Theatre. “Everyone thinks they know me but they’re not sure from where. They probably think I owe them money.”

Along with fellow Chicagoan Alicia Goranson (formerly of the TV series “Roseanne”), Piven is starring in the latest production of “The Guys.” The stark play depicts an honest exchange between a writer and a fire captain who is preparing the eulogies for the men he lost during the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York.

HERE’S WHAT ELSE PIVEN HAD TO SAY:

Why this play now?: The idea of coming home and sharing this play with Chicago is really cool and an honor. It’s my way of giving a voice to these guys who were in there cleaning up the mess.

Staging the play: When you’re doing something of this weight, you present it in a stripped-down format, and that’s more than enough. You don’t need any bells and whistles. September 11 is something we all related to in our own way.

Last good play you saw: Actually, it was “The Guys” starring Tim Robbins–who’s a good friend of mine–and Helen Hunt when it opened in L.A.

“Serendipity”–more than one of your movies: Actually, that’s true. This whole project has been serendipitous. The night I found out my mom was co-producing “The Guys” in Chicago, I told her I would help in any way I could. I went out that night and ran into Anthony LaPaglia, who stars in the movie version of this play.

Last good movie you saw: “Bowling for Columbine.” I love to go to the movies. I love making them. I love watching them.

Merits of playing the bad guy on screen: One of the great things about acting is it’s fun unleashing our inner demons … or angels!

John Cusack–friend or foe: Friend. We’ve been best friends since we were 8 and doing Chekhov together. We were awful but had a lot of fun.

Book worth recommending: The Book of Illusions (Henry Holt, $24) by Paul Auster. I love to read as much as I can.

Primary residence: Chicago! I split my time between Los Angeles and Chicago, but Chicago is always home.

Best thing about doing a play in Chicago: It’s a great way to spend an evening with a couple hundred Chicago people every night.

Favorites CDs: Let’s see what’s in my CD case … I’ve got CDs by Ben Harper, Jack Johnson and Norah Jones.

Heroes: I just finished playing opposite Dustin Hoffman in “Runaway Jury,” and he is one of my heroes. It’s really liberating to know you can meet your heroes, be respectful of them and celebrate them, and yet ultimately have no fear of them creatively. That’s what happened.

Favorite theater company: The Piven Theatre Workshop [which was founded by his parents, Byrne and Joyce Piven].

Keeping a straight face: I was a regular on “Carol & Company” with Carol Burnett and I remember making her laugh one time.

Rules: In a way, they’re made to be broken.

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