There’s plenty of close-talking and whispering on the set in the gargantuan, warehouse-style space that is West Hollywood’s Quixote Studios. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, really—just a room full of scheming visual types: art directors, videographers, photographers, etc. But of all of the side chatter, there’s only one conversation everyone wishes was hot mic’ed: the one between Jeremy Piven and Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi happening between shots.
Although they first met at Barney’s a few years ago, there was little connection between the actor and the musician until last February, when Cudi was cast as Ari Gold’s assistant in the film adaptation of HBO’s bro fantasy-fulfillment epic Entourage. The story goes that the show’s creator Doug Ellin pushed Piven to consider Cudi for the part, and Piven—remembering the musician’s impressive performance on How To Make It In America—immediately saw his vision.
The two are from different generations—a twenty-something Piven got his big break on HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show when Cudi was in elementary school—but their natural rapport is plainly evident. Cudi plays Piven’s assistant on the big screen, but their dynamic is one of mutual respect between peers. After each take, it seems as if they’re talking about something personal. The conversation could be totally trivial, or earth-shattering industry gossip, but whatever it is, it’s a secret they’re only sharing with each other.
What isn’t a secret, however, is that neither Piven nor Cudi is about to show any signs of slowing down. While best known for his role as obsessive alpha-dog super agent Ari Gold, Piven has found a new career benchmark in a leading role on—yes—a British period drama: Mr. Selfridge.
It’s the kind of gig Ari Gold would make fun of, and then plead with his client not to take. But it’s also the kind of job that Jeremy Piven, the craftsman, the Chicago-born thespian, takes no small amount of pride in (it also doesn’t hurt that the show is immensely popular overseas, and is already filming its fourth season).
As for Cudi, it’s business as usual. Last year, he was in a rom-com (Two Night Stand), an action flick (Need For Speed), an indie drama (The Ever After), and an episode of a hit TV show (CBS’ Scorpion). In 2015, he’s already got three projects lined up, not including Entourage. And of course, a few days after the shoot, Cudi took to Twitter to announce a new album called Speedin’ Bullet to Heaven.
Needless to say, both men—despite orbiting in very different galaxies—have one thing in common: a very busy schedule. As they approach midpoints in their careers, where lesser talents have fallen off and rested on their laurels, Cudi and Piven are both still intent on one thing: making all the right moves.
The Entourage movie seems like a real growth for all of the characters, and the show—it’s much more emotional than what we’re used to seeing.
Jeremy Piven: At the core, that’s what it should be about. It’s not a celebration or glorification of bad behavior. For me that’s the one of the downsides of playing a Hollywood agent.
JP: A Hollywood shark is the antithesis of a guy from the Midwest, who’s an actor— [At this point, Kid Cudi bursts into the room.]
Kid Cudi: Whose house is this? Whose crib is this? Whose gramama’s house is this? [Sees interview happening.] Oh, OK. [To Piven.] You talkin’ ’bout the Oscars we’re going to win? For our Entourage performances?
JP: [Laughs.] Yeah. I was just talking about never judging your characters even though your ideology is the antithesis of anything that is an abrasive, reactive, attention-deficit-disorder, wrecking-ball freak. Which, to me, is so fun to play. There’s nothing more fun to play than characters who are deeply flawed. At the same time, I don’t want to glorify that behavior, because the reality is, if you are that way, and if you’re a douchebag, it’s the short game. It’s not going to help you in the long run. It’s going to come back to you. When someone comes up to me and says, “Bro, I’m a douchebag because of you,” it makes me want to sit them down and tell them that this isn’t the way to go. If someone mistakes your kindness for weakness, that’s their fault—not yours. And it’s OK to be a decent human being in this life.
The two of you make for an odd couple. What was your dynamic like working together?
KC: The first day, he roused me up. He was fucking with me, but in a good way. I was scared shitless, too.
JP: It’s actually perfect for his character.
KC: That’s what I’m saying. I used it. I wanted to shit myself. My character is [in a scene] interrupting a big meeting. Jeremy’s like: “How DARE YOU fucking WALK IN this meeting?!” He could bite your head off no matter what the fuck he’s telling you, on the first day. [Laughs.]
JP: In the movie, I’m in a meeting with the entire PR department of the studio, and Cudi interrupts it, and the last thing my character wants is to be interrupted. So I kept fucking with Cudi, and screaming at him, just to throw him off. That’s the nature of the relationship of the two characters. Cudi was totally present, and smart enough to allow himself to be scared.
KC: And it was scary. [Laughs.]
Ari Gold is known for bullying his assistants, but the dynamic now is Cudi’s character wanting to be perfect, and self-punishing, rather than the badgering coming from Ari.
KC: There’s a nurturing that my character’s looking for. A mentor figure. It goes back to what you were asking about before: Some people do look at Ari Gold like he’s the fucking man. Some people look up to that. I chose to make my character that kid. He’s the guy looking at Ari Gold like, “Yo man, I’m a douche because of you.” My character gets mad at himself for messing up even before Ari does, whereas Lloyd may not have seen his faults at first.
JP: Cudi doesn’t have endless amounts of screen time, but he makes it all count. You can see a dimensional character. You see him taking the punishment, and punishing himself. Most actors wouldn’t have taken it there; I thought it was cool.
In reality, Cudi, you’re known to have a problem with authority.
KC: Yes. I am definitely that guy.
Was playing a role so deferential to authority a challenge then?
KC: It was exciting. I would never be an assistant, let alone for someone as powerful as Ari Gold. But being someone else for a little bit, exploring someone else’s world? I might not have done it in my own life, but I thought it was interesting for the character to develop something. Even though he may not have had a lot on the page. And thank God for Jeremy, who matched me on that. He could’ve improv’d some shit. Most people see Kid Cudi the all-powerful on stage, the mighty “I Answer To No One” Cudi. It’s just cool to play this little, timid character.
JP: That’s what acting’s about: taking on roles that have different status. In this country, people fall prey to profiling you. You even felt it from those—who shall remain nameless—who said: “Cudi’s too cool. He can’t play that role.”
Right. In the music world, Cudi doesn’t take orders, but he played someone reacting to higher status in the movie. Do you prefer playing characters in positions of power, Jeremy?
JP: I actually play better reacting off lower status than higher status. The irony with Entourage is that Ari Gold was the smallest character on the pilot. I was in one scene. At the time, I was being offered leads, but this show came along, and I was fascinated by it.
JP: Because the backstage life of Hollywood is Shakespearean. It’s such a great, fertile premise. I needed to do it. I knew who Ari Emanuel was, so I knew that there was a great prototype for this character. I thought, HBO is the place to be. You get street cred from the jump. If you could get in there, put your ego aside, and forget about where you think you should be and play this small role, there’s a lot there. My first 40 movies, I was playing small roles, and seeing a way to make them bigger. I was always the underdog. And by the way: once the underdog, always the underdog.
KC: I agree.
JP: If you’re hungry, you’re going to stay hungry. Not everyone is like that.
KC: I’m like that for sure. [Pauses.] When’s your birthday?
JP: July 26.
KC: Hmm. I’m in January, but was wondering...
JP: This is like Match.com. [Laughs.] You know who else’s birthday was July 26? Mick Jagger, Kevin Spacey...
KC: —Christian Bale. Ten years apart, exact same day, he’s 1974 and I’m 1984. But he’s intense. He’s fucking Batman, bro.
You represent two different generations in Hollywood. Cudi’s getting in now and, Jeremy, you’ve already experienced so much. What do you think the biggest difference is between your Hollywood and his?
JP: We’ve definitely come up in different times. I’ve never experienced a weirder time to be famous. I think it’s never been less cool to be famous than right now, because you’ve got a group of people, and you don’t know what they contribute. Yet they’re taking victory laps; they may be acting out on reality shows. Throwing breast milk at each other, making a great deal of money. So that’s awkward, and strange. There’s a lot of attention being paid to that, and people getting shots for reasons other than...
JP: I came up in a time where you could do a lot of things under the radar. Now, everything is documented. Cudi’s different froms the rest of the people in this generation, because he really can be humble. He’s willing to learn, and grow, and get better. A lot of people of this generation don’t have that patience. They want to blow up now.
KC: Like, right now. I hate that.
JP: They want a shortcut. The reality is there are rites of passage.
JP: I won the “Fresh Face of the Year” award at 37. My face was not fucking fresh. They were like, “He’s an overnight sensation!” It took me a long time for my career to come to fruition. I don’t know if there’s a lot of patience anymore. I think that could serve a lot of people.
KC: There’s a truth in that.
KC: If I wanted to get my music in anybody’s hands, I had to run into a motherfucker. Face-to-face. And I’d better have had a CD—a big-ass, bulky CD—on me to hand to them, so they could hear my music.
Which is so different from how the music industry works today.
KC: Nowadays, anyone can make some shit in their room. It’s easy to make shit. You don’t even need a keyboard now. People make beats, become an artist overnight, and it’s like, “Where’s the hard work?” I remember me and Dot Da Genius sitting for hours, me being on him about the mix for “Day ’n’ Nite,” being like, “It’s not right. We want people to take us seriously.” We listened to Dr. Dre’s beats. We listened to Timbaland’s kicks and drums. Kanye shit—we needed to sound as professional as that. We didn’t have shit, but we approached it with professionalism. I approached it like, “We have to be over-the-top good.” I don’t think kids have that nowadays. They just throw some shit out there, throw some auto-tune on it, like, “I don’t need anybody to tell me if I’m in key. I don’t need anybody with me that has any musical ear at all.”
JP: But the music industry, isn’t it breeding that?
KC: Yeah. But for me, it works. Like, yes, keep doing all the shit you guys are doing, because all I’m going to do is the right thing, and I’m going to end up looking like the genius. Just doing what I’m supposed to do. Fucking making music. Playing the drums or playing the bass. And I hate playing the bass, bro. I’ve been playing the bass because it’s there and I don’t want anyone else to play it. I also feel like I’m at the tail end of an era. I’m the oldest. Me and J. Cole.
JP: How many years have you been making music?
KC: Six or seven years now. “Day ’n’ Nite” came out in 2007. 808s and Heartbreak was 2008. Those were my first credits.
JP: But before that, how long were you making music?
KC: Since I was 15.
JP: OK, so, for 15 years.
KC: Five years before I moved to New York, I was making music, so that’s what I’m saying. For 10 years, I had time to suck. Nobody got a chance to critique me. Pitchfork didn’t have a chance to hear 19-year-old Scott and rip him to shreds, and shit on his heart. They do that now to the grown Scott, but I’m confident in my art, so it doesn’t really matter.
JP: People need to know you have to walk through that rejection, and it’s only going to fuel you. If you can somehow look at it like it’s a gift, you’re just going to regroup, and work harder, and go deeper. So just embrace it.
KC: If you have that in you to win, it’s just learning. It’s just growing pains.
“A lot of people of this generation don’t have that patience. They want to blow up now.” — jeremy piven
Jeremy, I remember seeing you once at a Jay Z/Eminem concert. Are you into hip-hop?
JP: I am. I went to what I believe was one of Biggie’s last shows, at the House of Blues in L.A. I remember looking next to me and seeing Prince with “SLAVE” cut into his beard, because he was having some trouble with his label at the time. I couldn’t get anyone to go to the show with me. I fuckin’ went alone to see Biggie. I’ve been a fan of hip-hop for a really long time, and I still am.
Who’s more intense: Kid Cudi, the artist, or Ari Gold, the character?
KC: At my most reactive? Well, I’ve never broken anything in an office.
JP: What about in a studio?
KC: Nah. [Laughs.] I have to tap out, I can’t compete with Ari. I’ve done things, but it was always for the right reasons. I don’t like to power trip, but when you’re a boss you have to fight for certain things. When you’re an artist who gives a fuck—truly gives a fuck—that’s first. Then there’s a bunch of other things that come second, like the kids, and helping people. The last thing I’m thinking about is the money. Of course I’m going to argue if people aren’t working to push my album, and people aren’t doing their jobs, and I’m in the studio busting my ass.
Jeremy, you said you were lucky to be in Entourage for eight seasons. If Ari Gold is ultimately your most lasting legacy, is that a good thing?
JP: You can’t be mad at what got you to a certain place. I’m very lucky. I want people to see Mr. Selfridge, because it’s a show I’m really proud of, and I also think it’s my best work. So if people just know me as Ari Gold, that’s cool, but the reality is it doesn’t necessarily make any sense to me. I was speaking to a woman who’s a journalist, and she said to me that she didn’t like me because she thought there’s no way that I couldn’t be Ari Gold, and I asked her why. She said, “I didn’t think there was a way you could be that good.”
But is that the worst problem to have?
JP: If indeed you see me—Jeremy Piven—as Ari Gold, I’m an easy target. And I’m an easy target to take shots at, to be cruel in the press [to] because “he’s just some reactive rich white guy. Fuck him.” There are no ramifications [to taking those shots]. It’s easy, right? But if you see Jeremy Piven as a guy from the Midwest who’s grown up on the stage his whole life, comes from a good family, [and is] a decent guy who’s not Ari Gold, it’s harder to take shots at him. Do I want to break away from that? And would I want people to know who I am and that I’m not Ari Gold? And that I have a big range? I’ve been getting after it. If I just hid like Scarface in a house, waiting for the movie to come out, and making appearances as Ari Gold, and taking a victory lap? Then I’ll take my punishment.
One of the core themes of Entourage is the way celebrity can be such a double-edged sword. Do you guys see fame as having serious downsides that affect you regularly?
JP: They’re everywhere. I’m still single. When you meet someone, they’re going to profile you. They’re skeptical of who you are, they paint a picture, they count your money. So there are a lot of misconceptions about you.
KC: I agree. We’re using the word “celebrity,” but it’s not something I like to throw myself in. I’m famous, and when I say I’m famous, I mean I’m well known because I do music at a professional level, and a certain magnitude. To be considered a celebrity, there’s a certain lifestyle that comes with that. But everything for me comes back to the work and back to the art. I’ve never really looked at it like that. I’m usually always thinking about the cons. Like, what I fucking hate. But these are internal things, and to project them feels selfish. I’ve never really liked to look at the downside of it. It’s all blessings and it comes with the territory.
As you both approach these respective midpoints in your careers, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
JP: Funny, we were just talking about this earlier. It sounds clichéd, but I think the greatest lesson is to not take things personally. People are going to offend you, and you’re going to want to put them in their place, and let them know that you need to be respected. But it’s not about that. Sometimes—this is a tough one—not everyone can handle the truth. Sometimes you have to take a beat. But if you can take that beat, and take the high road, it’ll serve you in the long run.
Cudi, what about you?
KC: I think that’s it. It’s tough. I’m an emotional creature. I make music to express that. It’s definitely the biggest lesson—not to take things personally. But it’s also the hardest one.
Do you have a hard time not taking things personally?
KC: Yeah. I have a very tough time not taking it personally. I had a conversation with Plain Pat once about this. Pat’s big on, like, “Cudi don’t take it that way.” We were in London talking about some things and I’m like, “Pat, isn’t someone supposed to care? Somebody has to give a fuck, and it might just be me. If everybody don’t give a fuck, then where are we going here?” So I’ll say: It’s really hard. I choose who I can do that with. Some people, I want them to be human, I don’t want them to be a fucking cyborg. Show me some life in you, and show me some integrity.
JP: You can’t make people who you want them to be. That was a hard lesson for me.
KC: In music, you collaborate with people. It’s supposed to be a mutually beneficial thing. You’re helping each other out, you’re working with friends, and you’re creating with friends but it’s not really that. Everybody is kind of doing records with each other to promote each other. It’s not rooted in artistry, it’s rooted in personal gain—financial gain. The art of making money is the only art that motherfuckers are finessing. Not the art of creating, the art of pushing genres, expanding sounds. There are things we haven’t heard yet. People don’t want to invent. They want to make blueprints, because the blueprints make money. That’s why I talk to Pat, like, “Somebody has to care.” Imagine if I didn’t care after “Day ’n’ Nite.” I would be nothing. If I said, “Fuck Man on the Moon III, stop asking me about that shit.” I have to care. I choose the battles.
JP: I think we’re talking about two different things. I was talking about someone that you could be dealing with on a personal level, that you can’t be offended by, because if you let that get to you, you’re going to be going down to their level. You’re going to make more trouble for yourself.
KC: That’s true, for sure.
JP: But in terms of fighting your creative battles? That’s what it’s all about. All we want is our day in court. For me, with a take, [a director] might see it a different way. Let me just offer that director one way to do it differently—I just have to get that out. Sometimes I’m a problem on a set, because it takes me another minute, and I need to get another take on it, but the reality is: No one ever in the history of making anything can be mad at someone for giving them an option in the cut, and editing. At the end of the day, you want options, to at least attempt to find some sort of magic. You’re just going to keep chasing it.