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But perhaps focusing on the caddish qualities of the Piven persona is to miss the boat, for what distinguishes his protagonists are the certain moments when they emerge, well…soft. Like James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano racing home after a whacking to give daughter Meadow a goodnight kiss, there’s a tenderness beneath his sharks’ skin. Is Hollywood issuing some sort of psychological commentary regarding Jewish big-ballers?
Piven doesn’t think so. “They’re looking for someone to go in there and inhabit this person,” he explains. “No one’s looking at the Star of David on my chest.… It’s not like I walk into a room and the casting people all go, â€˜Okay, here comes the Jew!'” Nonetheless, for more than a decade, the actor has been playing Jewish shysters you can’t help but love.