Ari Gold and the Unlikely Choice
Last week was the first episode of the final season of “Entourage.” For anyone who hasn’t watched the show, it’s about four life-long buddies from New Jersey who have moved to Hollywood. One quickly becomes a major movie star and the others are “livin’ the dream” as his entourage.
One of the show’s greatest pleasures is Jeremy Piven’s portrayal of Ari Gold, the cutthroat super-agent. For the run of the series Ari has wielded his cell phone like a samurai sword, screaming orders and manipulating situations, doing anything to WIN! And yet, predictable as the character is, the performance is consistently fascinating to watch. Why? Because Jeremy Piven is a master of the “unlikely choice.”
For improvisers, going for the unlikely choice is a skill to be mastered. With full commitment AND a sense of play, you wear your character lightly so that who YOU are can show through the character. There is no “motivation” other than to serve the moment and the scene. The flexibility of that improvisational point of view works in all situations.
It’s fun and exciting to watch actors who have the skill and “playfulness” to set up a character with a strong consistent personality, and then veer away from the expected. With the “unlikely choice” they make, they evoke moments that are not at all familiar or imitative and that are truly authentic and relatable.
Case in point, Jeremy Piven’s performance in last week’s season opener. “Mrs. Ari” finally has had enough of her husband’s insensitivity and has kicked him out of their mansion. Ari comes home to try to “negotiate” her taking another shot at making their marriage work. But standing in the marble entryway, Mrs. Ari hits him with the news: she’s seeing someone else. Ari’s jaw tightens and his eyes well up with tears. For just an instant, you watch him respond in a surprising way to the possibility that this is an important deal he might not be able to close.
Then Ari “mans up”, marches resolutely to the ornate front doors, opens them, marches out, and as he leaves… he ever so gently closes the doors behind him. As an audience member, I am expecting the super agent who is always the steamroller and never the road, to slam those doors. But the bombastic, hardened character Piven has built for seven seasons shows vulnerability and sensitivity instead. When he does, I find myself caring for Ari. And, not coincidently, planning to tune in again this week to follow the surprising emotional journey of a “scum-bag-on-the-surface” character made human and sympathetic by a consummate actor making an unlikely choice.