Jeremy Piven on I Melt With You and Searching for the Anti-Ari Gold

piven300.jpgMark Pellington's bromantic thriller I Melt With You made quite the splash at Sundance, just not the kind a filmmaker necessarily wants to make: Critics walked out of the film, recoiling at the bleakness on display in the tale of four former college friends (Jeremy Piven, Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, and Christian McKay), reuniting for a weekend bender, who confront their collective middle-aged disillusionment with increasingly violent ends. Co-star Piven knew from the start it would be a polarizing project to take on.

"This movie isn't for everyone -- and, I think, in a really great way," Piven admitted to Movieline in Park City, Utah following the film's infamous festival debut (a longer version of this interview was previously published). "But... listen," he continued. "I knew this movie wouldn't be for everyone, but it's for me. And that's why I totally, emotionally, committed to this movie in every way, shape, and form."

Read on for more with Piven on the value of the darkness in I Melt With You, getting under the skin of his crooked Bernie Madoff-esque character, and how he's attempting to gain some distance from Entourage's Ari Gold.

Did this seem like material that people would find difficult when you first read the script?

Yeah. This movie isn't for everyone -- and, I think, in a really great way. If you don't want to even approach the idea of addressing who you are in this life, it's gonna be a difficult movie for you to sit and watch. It can be very polarizing; at the same time, you could recognize totally committed people and you may not love these characters but... listen, I knew this movie wouldn't be for everyone, but it's for me. And that's why I totally, emotionally, committed to this movie in every way, shape, and form. And I'm very, very proud of it. I like that it evokes very strong feelings, good or bad, in people. I think we've done our job.

One of the film's main themes is the fragility of the modern male psyche...

And there aren't a lot of movies like that. Some guys don't want to address that.

Is that something that initially spoke to you on a personal level?

I think so. There are a lot of people out there for whom it's easier to put their energies into many different things, or point fingers, as opposed to putting a mirror up to themselves. And I think it's one of our most important conversations to have. This is why we have art, and art isn't for everyone.

Your character Ron, along with his friends, is coming to terms with the fact that he isn't quite where he wanted to be when he was younger -- but unlike the others, he resists confronting his failings until the real world forces him into a corner.

I think he's one of those guys who thinks it's all mumbo jumbo, and he doesn't want to go there. He wants to have this continued loving relationship with his wife and kids, and at the same time, he's for good or ill, buying their love. He's done the wrong thing; he's lied, he's cheated, he's stolen little bits and it's progressed to the point where it's incredibly damaging to him and his family. And you see that happening in pop culture all the time -- you see the Bernie Madoffs out there, so now it's a very timely character. And he faced the repercussions. To see that storyline play out the way it did, when I read it I thought, "There's no way I can't play this role. I have to play this role. I have to go there."

The story centers around a pact the four friends made 25 years ago, an agreement borne out of a collective idealistic punk romanticism. Do you think Ron ever really bought into it to begin with?

I think he was into the energy of it, and he was a little more mainstream than the rest of the guys in terms of he was driven, and loved the feeling of being the one with a job and with a little money. He was the ambitious entrepreneur in the crew, but he had an anarchic streak back in the day that just got homogenized as he grew older.

Your character and Tom Jane's character represent that as a clear art vs. commerce divide, which is a theme that lingers beneath the surface. (I Melt With You was picked up on the day of its Sundance premiere by Magnolia Pictures.)

Yes, exactly. And that comes out in the movie. What's funny is that people gravitate toward me thinking that I can play these characters who are distracted by money. At the same time, I grew up in a family where my parents are theater artists; we grew up in essentially what was an old folks' home, because we didn't have any money. So I was surrounded with people with neck braces and in wheelchairs and whatnot, because that's what you do to save a bunch of money when your parents are hardworking artists. They're theater actors who simply don't get paid. And that's the way I grew up. I was incredibly lucky, and I wouldn't change it for the world. So those are my roots. I'm just some boring thespian from Chicago, and I've played these characters that people may associate me with.

Why do you think that is?

Because I can. Simply because I can. That's it. The next journey will be playing all different types of characters. As you can see by my energy, I'm much different from the Ari Golds of the world. So it's my job to manifest those other roles. Ron, as you can see, goes to a place that Ari Gold would never go to, ever. That was a total gift.

From this point on, are you making an effort to get away from Ari?

Oh, that's all I'm doing. I play five different characters in the new Spy Kids movie.

Working with Mark Pellington, for whom I Melt With You seems very personal, what kind of conversations did you have with him to understand where he was coming from?

Anytime you have an artist of Mark Pellington's caliber, you know you're going to be in good hands. I mean, I've seen all the stuff that he's done, and I loved the idea that he's so incredibly gifted visually as well. Then the fact that he's totally connected to this story and the music and this world, you just invest everything you have and you know you're in good hands. It's such a rare thing, and it's a beautiful thing and I feel incredibly blessed. So I'm really proud of what actually came about from all this.

Without going into spoilers, how do you view the ending of the film? Its darkness seems to take people by surprise, takes them out of their comfort zone.

Well, the movie's many different things and you can take it in on so many different levels. At the same time, any one of them is okay. It's not a documentary, and it's not based on true stories. If, at the end of the movie, you kind of check in with yourself -- where am I at with all of this kind of stuff? -- and it evokes questions, and people start questioning where they're at and what they care about and who they want to be in this life, that'll be an amazing thing. Whether you love it or hate it.

Because this question is the impetus for everything in the film: Where did you see yourself 25 years ago?

I haven't been asked that question. I was in college acting, and loving that experience. And I turned out to be a working actor. I've gotten a chance to do what I love to do, and that is not more important than any other job, it just is something that I connected with and that my family connects with. I'm just incredibly lucky to be a working actor, and that's what I was working toward at 20 years old.

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