MoviesOnline sat down with Piven at a roundtable interview to talk about his new movie and what it was like to be part of the Spy Kids franchise. He told us why he liked portraying multiple characters and which character he enjoyed playing the most, what it was like working with Robert Rodriguez at Troublemaker Studios in Austin, and how he felt about leaving behind the character of Ari after playing him for eight years on the “Entourage” series. He also updated us on his latest projects including “So Undercover” with Miley Cyrus and Aardman Entertainment’s “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” and he revealed the status of the “Entourage” movie.
Q: How was the experience of being part of the Spy Kids franchise?
JP: It all starts with Robert Rodriguez. He’s a genius. I love him. I’ve been a fan of his for a while. After having that experience, I have even more respect for him now than I did even before which is amazing. He has created this world for himself where he can create in his backyard and you go and play in his world. I grew up on the stage so I’m used to playing multiple characters and having fun and being larger than life and that’s exactly what this was. To me, this was like going home.
Q: Which character was the most fun to play?
JP: Probably Tick Tock. As soon as I put on that outfit, it was just like I lent myself to do this weird thing. He even said that Antonio Banderas, in one of the movies he did, didn’t know how to play this character. Then he put on this jacket and all of a sudden it just came to life. You never know what element it’s going to be that’s going to set you off on this character. I was lucky enough to find the voice very early and I pitched it to him. You go to hair and make-up and I saw this insane wig that I thought would be great for the look. I wanted to really find a way seamlessly and not for it to be clunky – to disappear so that you didn’t know it was me. That was the goal with a lot of the characters and then to have it be a reveal at the end.
Q: You crafted a pretty dynamic performance. This villain is not someone who’s this typical ‘take over the world’ kind of character. He actually has these intentions. Is that something that you were interested in fleshing out?
JP: It was really all there when I got to it. My father passed away and I loved to spend time with him so a lot of these themes spoke to me. I think we all either have parents or parents that have passed on and we would like to spend more time with them and that’s at the root of this movie. So, I just think it’s a beautiful theme. Even though he’s an evil character, he’s got good intentions.
Q: When you say you were lucky enough to find the voice early on, how did you go about that?
JP: When I read the character and then Robert said, for instance, that this particular character knows that he’s on an endless loop and that he can keep coming back to life over and over again, I was like, wow, that means he doesn’t really care. He’s just this totally carefree entity. What would that sound like? And then, I put it together and he pitched it up a little bit because I’m playing the scenes with myself. So, even though the voice was completely different, you need to be a little higher. It’s just amazing what he’s capable of doing. He can do it on the spot.
Q: What’s it like shooting at Troublemaker Studios in Robert’s house?
JP: It’s unbelievable. I marvel at his whole set-up. It’s just perfect. I grew up in a theater family so we had a theater not too far from us and it feels very similar. He gets the joke. You have your family and you have your life and you can see if you can put them together, but no one does it. And everyone comes. He doesn’t go to Hollywood, Hollywood comes to him. And it’s really smart. We’re lucky to be a part of his world. I’d love to get back in there and do some more stuff with him.
Q: Did you find a good sushi restaurant while you were in Austin?
JP: In Texas, no, I didn’t. In Austin, I saw some of the most amazing music though. Every night it was like there was a new genius playing in town. I saw Ray LaMontagne and Mumford & Sons.
Q: Do you still have sushi every other day?
JP: I was on this diet in which I had nothing but fish for 20 years. That was the only protein that I had and I got ill. Now I eat red meat and chicken and all these things that I haven’t eaten and every once and awhile I’ll have a little bit of fish, but not too often.
Q: Robert is amazing how he has these two sides to him with films like “Machete” and the Spy Kids films. Does that interest you how he can do both?
JP: It really does because I would love to do that with my career as well. And that’s what it feels like I’m doing. I just came from eight seasons of playing this incredibly edgy character and now I’m just having fun in this kids movie. Next I have the most dramatic role I’ve ever played in my life called “I Melt with You.” I couldn’t be more proud of that performance. It was an incredible experience. Then, after that, I’m playing opposite Miley Cyrus so I’m kind of all over the map and I love it. The one thing you don’t want to do is repeat yourself and I’m not. It’s like personality in a cup. Give me some of that.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out this movie would be in 4D?
JP: I thought he was kidding. I swear to God. Everyone I’d tell would go “Oh c’mon! Really!?” I’m telling you right now, this is the sign that the movie is worth watching. I’m surrounded by children and I’m laughing and they’re all “Shhhh! Be Quiet!” They’re laughing at certain things and then I’m laughing at certain things. There’s something for everyone. I have a 6-year-old niece. I’ve taken her to 3D movies. She gets about 17 minutes into it and then she’s done. The glasses are off. She’s playing with the popcorn. It’s now become a megaphone. These kids were with it and they wouldn’t keep their eyes off the screen. And then, when it would say “Ding, ding, ding. Scratch #3” and they’re still looking and sniffing, and I look around and you have an entire audience of kids sniffing and staring. Listen, they don’t lie. They don’t know that it’s a screening and we’re there. They don’t know who I am. They’ve never seen “Entourage.” That was real. That was a real response. They loved it. I got the response from the kids. I think it won thumbs down. A lot of high fives. So we’re okay.
Q: Any update on the “Entourage” movie?
JP: Yes. They want to do it. It’s all about Doug Ellin. He’s the writer. They’re basically like “Write this movie” and he needs to pick it up. (laughs) He needs to do it. We need to get on this guy.
Q: What about “Entourage” with the Smellavision?
JP: I definitely think that Ari would smell like money for sure. You’d definitely get the smell of currency. He would smell probably like what Jay-Z smells like. Money, just money. Money and success.
Q: Can you tell us about the Miley Cyrus movie, “So Undercover”?
JP: I basically play a character that puts her undercover into this world. It’s the type of role that I’ve never played. It’s a straight-laced, button-down FBI agent. He’s an Aikido expert. Miley, believe it or not, is an 18-year-old Jujitsu expert. We spar a lot verbally and she’s a little beast. I mean, she’s a force to be reckoned with. I loved it. I really didn’t have a reference for Miley Cyrus at all, but I’m a fan now. I had a great time with her. There’s just great chemistry. I never would have expected that.
Q: How was it working with Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook?
JP: They’re so grown up, aren’t they? It’s weird. It’s very surreal. The moment I saw Rowan I just went “Oh my God, you look like you could be my daughter.” And she went “You look like you could be my dad.” And then, she hugged me. They didn’t know who I was. When I walked in, they didn’t have a reference for my work. So they didn’t even know I was playing the character. It was just a really great, fresh way to start with them. They both have great instincts. They play off of whatever is right in front of them. They haven’t worked enough to even know how to lie on camera. You can always learn a lot from kids.
Q: Robert was saying it was so nice to have kids on set because they have such an appreciation, it makes you realize how lucky you are to be part of this world. When we talked to them, they complimented you on being a real actor who can do so many characters.
JP: That’s amazing considering they have no reference for me whatsoever. That’s incredible. That’s a huge complement.
Q: For someone who’s so passionate about the craft of acting, what’s it like to leave a character like Ari who is someone that’s been so defined by you?
JP: To be honest with you, if it wasn’t for this season, I would absolutely feel like there was unfinished business. But after the completion of this season, I got what I wanted. I wanted for this character to be brought to his knees and for you to see his humanity come out in some way, shape or form. I knew that the only thing that’s holding him together is his wife and kids, and if they left, he would be completely lost. And so now, you get to see this character navigating through some uncharted territory and I just couldn’t be happier. What an amazing season and what an incredible way to end this. I feel incredibly grateful and there’s nothing bitter about it. It’s just sweet. I feel great.
Q: How was it working on Aardman Entertainment’s animated feature “The Pirates! Band of Misfits”?
JP: That was unbelievable. The claymation process takes them 5 years. I love those guys. Those guys have been my favorites since their short films where they’re going to the moon and the moon is made of cheese (“A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit”). I’m a fan of those guys, Wallace and Gromit. They’re from the U.K.
“Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D” opens in theaters on August 19th.