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Jeremy: I had to explain to a shop assistant who I was

As Jeremy Piven returns for a third series of ITV drama Mr Selfridge, the dapper American actor tells Jeananne Craig what's in store

With his iconic moustache, beard and dark good looks, Jeremy Piven isn't hard to miss. But there are some places in the UK where the star of Mr Selfridge can walk around unnoticed.

"I can walk through Neasden and feel a little invisible, which is kinda fun," he says. "There are so many different, wonderful communities - Somalian, Ethiopian, Indian - it's fascinating to me."

Thanks to a replica of the original 1909 interior of Selfridges, built inside a huge old carpet warehouse at Neasden Studios, Piven's been spending a lot of time in the north-west London region since the series began in 2013.

But while he's working in the capital, the New York-born actor likes to stay a little closer to the real Selfridges: "I live on the same block, which is crazy, it's like I'm stalking that place. I think (current owner) Mr Weston's gonna put a restraining order on me - like 'enough already!'"

He says he can walk into the shop with a hat and glasses on and not get spotted, but admits there was one strange moment, where he had to explain to a shop assistant who he was.

"I was getting some Tom Ford cologne and there were a couple of people taking pictures and the woman behind the counter didn't understand why, so I said, 'Actually I'm on a show, I play Mr Selfridge', and she kind of looked at me - and I felt like it was the one place where they would know! It felt like I was having one of those horrible 'Do you know who I am?' moments. She either didn't have a reference, or didn't want to pretend she did ..."

Piven's his usual dapper self today, in a suede jacket and flat cap - and is the ultimate gent, offering a welcoming bowl of fruit during our chat.

But he's in a sombre mood, which is reflected in the place we find Harry Selfridge at the start of the new series.

As the first episode opens, it's 1918 - five years on from where the last series ended - and Harry and his family are gathered for the funeral of his wife Rose. But just nine months later, he's giving away his eldest daughter Rosalie to Russian aviator Serge de Bolotoff.

At the reception, on Selfridges' roof terrace, Serge starts pressuring Harry into investing in his aerodrome enterprise, and suddenly Harry's not so sure it's a good marriage for the family. Meanwhile, soldiers are starting to return home from the war and finding their jobs have been taken by women. Harry's got some tough decisions to make ...

Piven reveals the series is darker than it's ever been before.

"We're going to go as dark as we need to go. The pace is totally different than the first two years, and I feel we've earned what we're doing this season, because everything we've planted has come to fruition this year - we hit the ground running from the first scene on."

But it's not all doom and gloom; there's romance for Harry in the shape of newcomer Nancy Webb, played by Kelly Adams, who wants to build homes for ex-servicemen - on the same plot of land Serge has earmarked for his aerodrome.

While Piven can't say much about Harry's new love interest, he reveals: "He's very much in mourning, and here comes this woman out of the blue who is not only lovely, but has a big heart and wants to do the right thing.

"She represents the carrying of the torch from Rose, his wife, because Rose was a philanthropist who wanted to build these homes for artists in Chicago. He didn't think he'd ever find love again, and in a way, he's devastated and destroyed that it's almost too late."

Joining the cast this series is grande dame of stage and screen Zoe Wanamaker, who plays Serge's mother Princess Marie de Bolotoff, as well as real-life sisters Kara and Hannah Tointon, as Harry's daughters Rosalie and rebellious Violette.

As Piven's only 49 to Kara's 31 years, he found it "very surreal" walking her down the aisle while filming Rosalie's wedding.

"People are witnessing it going, 'OK, Mr Selfridge, is that your wife?' And I'm going no, 'No, she's actually my daughter'."

Wanamaker, meanwhile, is a "really fun, funny woman who seems ageless," he adds.

"She's very hard-working and stays in character, in the Russian accent at lunchtime - not to show off, just because it's the best way for her to work."

Piven was taught to act by his parents, drama teachers who run the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston, Illinois. He appeared on stage, alongside John Cusack, in productions of Chekhov plays and admits: "I just assumed all kids had this upbringing."

He recently returned to his most famous (pre-Mr Selfridge) role to date: playing Ari Gold in the Entourage film, which is due out in June. The original TV series ran from 2004 until 2011 and chronicles the career of young actor Vincent Chase and his friends from Queens, New York, as they navigate a new life in LA. Piven has won a Golden Globe and three Emmy Awards for his role as Vincent's abrasive agent.

"The difference between playing Harry and Ari is night and day," he says now. "To go back to a character that you played for eight seasons, was like throwing on an old coat.

"It's based on a guy who is incredibly reactive and thinks he's really, really funny. But if you're having a temper tantrum for hours on end, it's incredibly draining.

"I was in cars ranting and raving and breaking things, screaming, smashing. You crawl into bed and are like, 'What just happened?'" the actor recalls. "So to come back and play Harry was welcome!"

  • Mr Selfridge returns to ITV1 tomorrow at 9pm

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