At the end of a long day's filming, I caught up with Mr Selfridge himself, Jeremy Piven, to talk about series two.
Before Broadchurch came along, Mr Selfridge was ITV's best drama of 2013, but definitely kept its place as the best period drama the channel has seen in a long time. The first series proved a huge ratings success for the channel, with the first ten episodes averaging more than 7 million viewers each.The series focusses on the life of flamboyant American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge, played by Jeremy Piven (Entourage) who founded Selfridges on Oxford Street in 1909.
The second series take place five years later in 1914 as the store celebrates its 5th anniversary.
Proud of the store’s success Harry needs to make sure in this series that the store plays its own part in the war effort and help keep morale high on the home front. Despite needing his wife Rose, played by Frances O'Connor, more than ever, the last five years has seen the pair spend a lot of time apart. Rose now spends long periods in America whilst Harry lives the life of a single man in London.
Last year I visited the set of Mr Selfridge and was amazed by the attention to detail on set. For example, in Harry's office, each of the envelopes on his desk contained handwritten letters that if someone were to read them, would make complete sense, thus evoke a genuine reaction. Talking of Harry's office that's where, at the end of a long day's filming, I caught up with Mr Selfridge himself, Jeremy Piven, to talk about series two. Here's what he had to say...
First of all, here we are talking about Series 2. Did you always know there would be a second series?
That's an excellent question and I guess I've been doing it long enough to know it's not good to get ahead of yourself - it's just never good. So I didn't think that way, but I was astounded at how well prepared everyone was interns of when they came to me, they had an idea of the trajectory of Mr Selfridge for four seasons!
They said to me - "Here's Harry, here are the other people he interacts with, and here's how we see it playing out." I knew there was enough material to make it interesting for at least four seasons. Whether we screw it up or not is up to us you know! (Laughs).
Well obviously you didn't screw it up because it went really well didn't it?
Yeah and I think that's due to the people around me. It's so interesting that I really do feel that my entire cast are totally over qualified for the roles. Each of them could be doing the lead in anything and I think that's one of the reasons why the response that I'm getting when an episode is over, is that people want to see more.
They want to know with each character, what their story is. And I think it's fascinating because of the writing, the directing, everything, but also the level of play by these actors.
You do play the lead, so does that make you a leader amongst the cast? Do they look up to you?
Well... they have to because that's what the script says and that's what the name of the show is. (Laughs!) I think I take my cues from everything we've read about Harry and the store itself. He really loved what he did.
In terms of the interaction with the people he worked with, he treated everyone equally. Here on set there is as much attention to detail on the background artists as there are any of the main cast.
So everyone's treated the same and I think it's very noble. I think Harry somehow picked up on that, and that was part of his nature and it's just been a pleasure to play. Everyone is so incredibly professional, and fun as well.
Everyone likes to have a good time but at the same time you can bet that they're going to bring a real layered present performance. So it's inspiring to me to have avast like this.
How does this series compare to the last then?
I think the series this year is funnier and yet I think it's darker. It's our responsibility to only get better because we've gotten people's attention and we better do something with it. Now that you know who the characters are, we get to jump ahead five years!
So five years on, what is Harry like and has he changed much?
He has really changed and that's one of the reasons why I love to play the arch of a series. And it's my first time jumping ahead like this, so I love it. I think the novelty of proving himself in this country has worn a little thin, because he doesn't have the love of his life.
Because he's been running around and being a slave to his demons and so, his wife is still on the fence about him. He has this continuing realisation that she's everything to him. So that has almost dominated his world, as opposed to him being totally sidetracked with the success of his store.
So he keeps trying to win Rose back?
Yes, but also, in the beginning, one of his heroes is P. T. Barnum, and the way I played him was a guy who really felt like he needed to put on a show.
And he was performing and the store was his theatre. And I think that his wings have been clipped a little bit in that way. He still has the upmost respect for everyone that works with him and he wants to work as professionally as possible, but there's a little bit of his swagger that's been knocked down a little bit because his heart is hurting.
Deep down, aside from the affairs, Harry is a family man and he adores his children right?
Absolutely. The writing is so brilliant, and there's no fat on it. There's one point where she says - "You go out every night, I wait at home. Why do you do this?", and he says - "Do you think I like being this way?". In lesser hands, that would've been an overwritten monologue, but that's all you need. That says it all about the guy.
Finally, you've played a lot of roles, how does playing Harry Selfridge compare?
This is one of the roles that I think is tough to find anywhere. You talk about film and TV and the difference and I really think that this is a golden age for television. I really do believe that. There are roles in television that are as detailed and as layered as in film, it's happening everywhere with these shows like Breaking Bad.
More and more I'm being recognised for Mr Selfridge, and what's interesting is that Mr Selfridge has reached an incredibly diverse group. I've had octogenarians come up to me and really appreciate the show, which means a lot to me.