Jeremy Piven wasn't always a motor-mouth. The three-time Emmy winner, fast-talking agent of HBO's "Entourage," faster-talking hustler of scores of movies, says it's the nature of his career that gave him his patter.
"Listen to me now. Am I a fast talker? Very slow talker in real life," he says. "But working, I do feel the need to give my scenes some sort of pace. And you know, thinking about it, that must come from having tiny roles for so long. I would always see how much I could get into one scene. I still do that. You look at my first 20 movies -- 'Singles,' 'Say Anything,' I was talking at the speed of light, like firing buckshot, trying a WHOLE lot of things that might hit."
He chuckles at that.
"Old habits die hard. I have, ever since then, gravitated toward abrasive, fast-talking hustlers. That's my bread and butter. But I've played the soft, put-upon best friend a lot, too. 'Serendipity,' for instance."
Yes, but "Serendipity" (2001) was P.E. -- pre-"Entourage." Those were the days when J.P. could only truly count on work as a sidekick to his lifelong pal, J.C.: John Cusack. With "Entourage," Piven has heat. He's followed by the tabloids. He got the full tabloid blitz when he pulled out of a Broadway production of "Speed the Plow "because of mercury poisoning -- "too much sushi," he said. Nobody bought it until A) his doctor backed him up and B) Web sites such as thefoodsection.com pointed out just how easy it would be to OD on sushi. "Sushi rehab," they suggested.
Now Piven faces even more heat. He's the lead in a movie. "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" (opening Friday), has Piven fronting a crew of hustlers -- Ed Helms, Ving Rhames, Ken Jeong -- as used-car salesfolk who "move the metal," helping distressed dealerships slash prices and sell cars.
"Car sales are down 40 percent," Piven says. "This is happening right now. Guys who own dealerships have to call mercenaries like [his character] Don Ready in to turn things around.
"I read this script and said, 'What, was this written for Vince Vaughn?' This guy is so Vince that I ended up doing homage to Vince playing him -- that rapid-fire, swaggering thing."
He has laughed off "sushi-gate" and doesn't let the lack of an Emmy nomination for "Entourage" this year ruffle him. At 44, it's all good.
"I was 40 movies into my career before things started happening," Piven says. "I've been lucky enough to do things in the right order, I think, the way this career is supposed to go. You apprentice a job, and then you get your shot. This is my shot, name above the title. None of this is lost on me."