Although he’s been working steadily in front of the camera since making his onscreen debut in the 1986 film– we’ll pause for a moment to allow the slow clap to build momentum – Jeremy Piven hasn’t spent nearly as much time as a leading man as you might think. If you consider his filmography for a moment, you’ll realize that many of his most memorable roles have been in a supporting capacity, and while those roles add up to a career that any actor would be proud to call his own, it’s still not the same as having the opportunity to headline a film.
As such, it’s always nice to see Piven getting a chance to be the biggest name on the movie poster, as is the case with his latest film,— currently playing in theaters, as well as video on demand — where he plays a guy who’s been trying to escape his past, only to realize just how easy it can be to get drawn back into old patterns. Decider was fortunate enough to be able to hop on the phone with Piven while he was doing publicity for the film, and in addition to chatting about what he liked about the role and why he thinks it’s good comfort food for pandemic-weary audiences, he also took a few minutes to chat about his past collaborations with John Cusack, how great it would’ve been if hadn’t been canceled, and which of his past films is ripe for a sequel in 2021. (Hint: the title consists of three initials.)
DECIDER: I had a chance to watch Last Call before hopping on the phone with you, and I really enjoyed it. How’d you find your way into the flick in the first place? Did Paulo [Pilladi, director and co-writer of the film] come to you personally?
JEREMY PIVEN: Um… [Long pause, followed by the sound of rustling paper.] Sorry, man. It’s so interesting when you do press: I finally have two seconds off when I’m not on camera, and I just need to put something in my stomach. I just need to take two bites!
No worries. I can relate.
I just didn’t want to be rude. I think sometimes they forget that we’re human and that we need to fuel up a bit. [Laughs.] Yeah, they came to me, and…it’s one of those things where it’s hard to describe how it all happened. But it did, and I’m thankful for it.
It’s a great ensemble. It’s particularly great to see both Jack McGee and Bruce Dern in there.
And you hadn’t worked with either of them before this, had you?
No, I hadn’t worked with either one of them. But it was just great to be around them. They had so many great stories. We’d all just kind of gather around Bruce Dern. [Laughs.] He’s amazing.
So how would you describe your character, Mick, in a nutshell?
I think Mick is a guy who’s incredibly ambitious and is really focused on becoming successful and getting out of the neighborhood, and he feels that it’d be a wasted life if he didn’t get out of the neighborhood. This movie is about coming to terms with who you are and what means the most in this life while also being a funny, raunchy comedy. And I think it comes around at a perfect time.
Well, in regards to the raunchy comedy aspect, I don’t advise anyone to Google the phrase “Alabama hot pocket.”
[Long silence.] I didn’t even do that.
I…shouldn’t have. That’s what I get for being a responsible journalist, I guess.
Uh-oh! [Laughs.] I had no clue!
Well, let me just say… YIKES. And beyond that, I’ll leave it up to the readers to search it out if they’re so inclined. But it is interesting that the film has such a difference in tone from scene to scene. There’s the raunchy comedy, there’s the unabashed nostalgia, and then there’s some legitimate drama as well.
Yeah, and that’s one of the things that drew me to it. It seemed like it was a very authentic depiction of this neighborhood and, you know, guys who have the Peter Pan syndrome, as everyone does to varying degrees. And Mick feels like he finally got out, so going back… It’s maybe even a little bit of It’s a Wonderful Life in there. I don’t want to give away too much, but he does come to terms with his own ambition and the love of his life from his childhood, Aly, who’s being played beautifully by Taryn Manning.
It’s particularly interesting to watch him discover that revisiting your past is a very slippery slope.
Yeah, that’s why there’s that old cliche: you can’t go home again. And since this movie is all about going home, I think it explores that beautifully.
It certainly made me feel very glad to have grown up, so to speak.
There you go. Also, people have been locked down for a year, and this is a celebration of meeting places and small businesses and neighborhoods. So I think it’ll be some good comfort food for people out there right now.
I wanted to ask you about a few things in your back catalog that I hadn’t had a chance to ask you about before. For one, how was the experience of working on?
When I was a kid… I mean, you dream of working with your idols. And on Heat, I got to work with Robert De Niro, and it was even better than I expected. For probably the first 40 movies I did, before, they were smaller roles, but I was just so incredibly lucky to learn from brilliant actors like Robert De Niro. So it’s something I’ll never forget.
One of my favorite canceled-too-soon series was. I’ve always wished that it had gotten a longer run.
Well, as I get older, I’ve really learned how to perceive things and to realize that when you get into trouble is when you start…kind of living in your expectations. It’s best not to. It’s better to just embrace things as they are. Yeah, it would’ve been great. That show was before its time, and it would’ve been incredible to continue on. That would’ve been a great character and world to explore. And I think ABC kind of got that later on when they tried to kind of reboot it with Bobby Canavale. And Rob Thomas has gone on to be incredibly prolific as a creator, and that was a beginning for him. Yeah, a lot came out of that, but… I remember I was kind of crushed at the time, but it’s all part of the game, you know? And I think if you’re looking for this life to make sense, you’re gonna get hurt.
is a film that may not have been critically adored, but it’s definitely developed a cult following over the years.
Yeah, I don’t know anything about how it was received critically. [Laughs.] I just know it was a very, very dark comedy that explored and heightened bad karma, and I think Peter Berg did a great job with it. He’s a guy who… Well, I mean, talk about prolific: he’s just been doing his thing ever since! But it’s an incredible cast, and I was part of it. I’m very proud of that movie.
I think the ensemble alone has a lot to do with why it’s maintained that cult.
Oh, yeah. It’s a great cast. Absolutely.
When you look at your back catalog, is there a favorite project that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
Um… [Long pause.] Well, to this day, people are still talking about. But I think we’re living in times where… How do I explain it? Where everything is amplified. Where everyone’s got a megaphone. So I think P.C.U. was ahead of its time. I think it explored and heightened the idea of overcorrecting. And I think we’re going through that now a bit, so I think a sequel could be in order. And people are having a hard time finding that movie. Where do they get it? It’s not on Video on Demand. It’s not even streaming! And yet when I tour, when I do stand-up, people are still saying that they connected with that movie and that they loved it, and I’m signing P.C.U. DVDs, which I find hysterical. So I think that movie still resonates with people.
I know I still have the soundtrack around here somewhere.
There you go!
Okay, so I have to ask about this one because I didn’t even know it existed until yesterday: what do you recall about Dog Cops?
Wow. Uh… Well, it was a pilot, and it didn’t get picked up, so I don’t remember much about it. It was many, many years ago. [Laughs.] I’m trying to remember anything other than the fact that it was obviously really, really fun. I never actually saw it! But there were certainly great people involved.
I know Adam Sandler was part of it.
Yes, he was!
There’s an 8-minute pilot presentation, I guess you’d call it, on YouTube, and it’s…definitely something.
[Laughs.] I may have to revisit it.
You’ve worked with John Cusack more than a few times over the course of your careers, but what was it like working with him that first time on?
I mean, it’s very rare to be good friends with someone and to also be on set with them. It’s a real gift. And because he and I are like brothers, to be in front of the camera… It’s very empowering. Because you’re very much in sync with someone. That movie, we didn’t get a lot to do together: I was auditioning to play his best friend, and Joel Murray ended up getting that role. But John and I ended up doing a lot of movies together, like Serendipity and Grosse Pointe Blank. He and I work really well together.
I still remember the two of you in particular for your scenes inThere are a lot of great moments in that movie, but they’re definitely among them.
Exactly. Some great times, for sure.
Thanks to HBO Max, I’ve been revisitingrecently, and in watching one of the early episodes, I’d forgotten that when Carol Burnett is practicing a sketch with Larry, you come sailing in on a vine.
Yeah, that was a lot of fun. Carol’s such a pro. She was probably the first kind of icon that I met and worked with, but she’s so down to earth that it was a real lesson to be around her.
I knew that you were part of her early ’90s sketch series (Carol and Company). And Richard Kind was part of that, too, wasn’t he?
He was! Absolutely. He’s a legend. Everybody loves Richard Kind!
Well, I know we’ve got to wrap things up, but you mentioned your stand-up career. I presume you’re looking forward to the opportunity to get back on the road.
As a matter of fact, I’m about to be back out there. I’m starting a tour in Tempe, Arizona on April 8, and I’ll be doing dates through the spring and into the summer and fall.
I know you’ve been doing stand-up for awhile now, but did it take some time for you to find your footing in that medium?
Yeah, it did. I grew up doing sketch comedy at Second City, so I have a background in improvising on my feet. I’ve been doing that my whole life. But to navigate a stage by myself is a different story. But I’ve been doing stand-up now since 2017, and I’ve been loving it!
Will Harris () has a longstanding history of doing long-form interviews with random pop culture figures for the A.V. Club, Vulture, and a variety of other outlets, including Variety. He’s currently working on a book with David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. (And don’t call him Shirley.)