Bigger role, but still just Mrs. Ari

Times Staff Writer

Mrs. Ari, the smart, fearless wife of fictional Hollywood agent Ari Gold, doesn't even have an official first name. But Perrey Reeves, the actress who plays her on HBO's "Entourage," isn't complaining.

The series, after all, is about four young guys trying to make it in the land of film and money. Her character, who comes on particularly strong in Season 3 (starting Sunday ), is an extension of her obnoxious, neurotic husband, Reeves says. "I love it. That's how the boys see me," she says.

In Seasons 1 and 2, the male-dominated show was full of stereotypical scantily clad, big-breasted Hollywood women, whom the guys -- Vince, Eric, Johnny Drama and Turtle -- liked to describe in graphic terms. Season 3 opens with the four members of the entourage in a sidewalk cafe, ranking female passersby on a scale of one to 10. But this season, Mrs. Ari and other female characters, such as Eric's girlfriend, Vince's mother and Ari's new colleagues, also come on strong as independent-minded, roost-ruling women. "It really balances it out," Reeves says.

The show started out as a "guy show" but now "we're trying to find more time for women," says head writer Doug Ellin. "We want to show that these guys are not sexist guys."

They may rank women numerically, but "at the end of the day, they're all guys looking for somebody they can talk to," Ellin says. "They're not predators."

When women are on screen, Ellin wants them to be "as strong as possible.... " Even Ari's daughter is getting an expanded role.

"Obviously, there are extremely strong women in Hollywood," he said. "I hope we keep showing a fully rounded world."

Reeves says the character of Mrs. Ari was first brought up in Season 1 when Ari Gold (played by Emmy-nominated Jeremy Piven) was bragging to Eric, Vince's manager, about a specific sexual conquest. "Eric says, 'You mean, Mrs. Ari?' "

Reeves, a longtime friend of Piven, was working on the 2005 film "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" when she learned he had recommended her for the "Entourage" part. "They weren't sure what they wanted to do with the role. Maybe she'd be a doormat," she says. "I said, 'No, no, no. I'd kick his butt.' And it worked out."

"Once we found her, we knew we had something great," Ellin says. Reeves' character brings sophistication to Ari, he says. When they're together, "he gets a nice glow about him, he gets a little classier." She's also "the only person who puts him in his place."

Reeves says Mrs. Ari, a former actress and trust-fund baby, "has clear boundaries and is very organized. She loves Ari so much. She's there to make sure he doesn't do anything foolish. They're ambitious, but in a mutually supportive way." At home, she's in charge, a fact that reveals Ari as a big dog who's all bark.

"When you see [Ari] say stuff and see his wife call him on it, you see he's all talk," says Ellin, who admits his own wife, Melissa, provides material for Mrs. Ari. Reeves and Melissa Ellin have become such good friends that if Mrs. Ari ever does get a first name, Reeves wants it to be Melissa, Doug Ellin says. In fact, he says his wife has had a nonspeaking part on the show as one of Mrs. Ari's friends.

With Mrs. Ari, Piven gets to show Ari's softer, more vulnerable side, which fans will see more of in Season 3. "We feel we're really a nice family. You never see us with nannies. We actually do our job," Reeves says.

In Sunday's episode the couple have their first big fight, over a bounced check for their daughter's private school. "He yells and screams, and I'm like, 'Please. I know what you're doing. Put an end to that right now.' " Several men have come up to her to say Mrs. Ari reminds them of their ex-wives, Reeves says.

Born in New York and raised in New Hampshire, Reeves, who does not disclose her age, is probably best known as Will Ferrell's wife, Marissa, in 2003's "Old School." She also had a recurring role on NBC's "The Lyon's Den."

She and her fiance are building a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, where she lives when she's not working. The couple have been together five years, which amounts to "about 25 in Hollywood," she says.

For her first scene on "Entourage," "Smith" director Doug Liman released her a day early. "I went from that set, in the same hair and makeup, changed my shirt, and went right on," she says. "I was meant to do this part."

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