He’s back! Everyone’s favorite sleazy sports agent, Irv Smiff rides back into glory tonight on tonight’s episode of BET’s “The Game.” For actor PJ Byrne, stepping into the shoes of such a despicable character, is just like coming home. “The great thing about playing Irv for so long is that I don’t have to think about what makes him tick. It’s like putting on a second skin.” Byrne has been busy racking up movie credits, with comedic turns in both Final Destination 5 and Horrible Bosses last summer.
The Urban Daily caught up TV’s most lovable racist to get the scoop on Season 5 of “The Game” and why Irv Smiff would win in a battle of the sleaze against “Entourage” agent Ari Gold.
You were on “The Game” the first three seasons. What was it like being back on set the first day?
The first day, people were hugging me and it was such a great moment—I felt like I had never left. They were genuinely happy to have me back. The crew’s a little different, but they’re all great. There’s something about playing a character like Irv—I don’t have to think about his history or making character choices.
“The Game” now shoots in Atlanta. What was the adjustment like from filming in L.A.?
I love it! Everybody in Atlanta watches “The Game” so I feel famous over there. I go to the mall and people are like “It’s Irv!” Atlanta is really tied into the industry so they recognize people immediately.
When you meet your fans, is the reception positive or negative?
It’s funny because it’s like “Irv I love you…but you’re bad!” People feel like they know you. They always say “You’re so nice in person, I can’t believe you play that guy.”
Which cast members do you hang out with off the set?
Sometimes Pooch Hall or Wendy and I’m friends with the writers so I get to hang out with them too. The cast and crew are really like one big family. But the thing is when you’re down there, you’re there to work and they work pretty crazy hours. If you’re lucky to get a bite to eat or a beer, you’re just going to pass out afterwards.
Having to play a character so despicable, what kind of preparation do you go through to get into Irv’s mindset?
I always start by putting on the shoes. It’s the first thing that grounds you. There’s something visceral about how someone stands. As for the character choices for Irv, anything that’s appalling to me, PJ—that’s a choice I’m going to make for Irv. He does push the envelope and says some racy stuff. Is Irv really racist? I don’t know. Sometimes he just tries too hard to fit in. Irv isn’t pure evil, he’s just out for himself. He looks out for his clients, but at the end of the day he’s looking to win. When he says these crazy, dirty things it’s all out of love, in a dark, evil way.
Was there ever a time when you looked at your script and thought “I can’t say this. This is over the line?”
(Laughs) Every episode! I think to myself “There’s absolutely no way I can say this out loud.” The writers will come over and reassure me that’s it’s OK, it will get a lot of laughs. It has gotten easier over the years. If I think it’s horrible and inappropriate then I know it’s right up Irv’s alley.
Did you base Irv on any agents that you know?
After I graduated college, I was planning to go into the finance world. They’re some really dark guys—I based Irv on some people I had worked for in the past. It’s mostly absorbing the evil, nasty people I’ve come across in the business. People like Bernie Madoff, he doesn’t think he’s evil. He doesn’t give a sh*t what people think about him. In his mind he’s justified his behavior “I made all these people so much money.” People who are like that, truly narcissistic, that’s who I base my character on.
Who is more cutthroat agent, Irv Smiff or Ari Gold?
Irv all the way! Irv Smiff poops Ari Gold. I chew guys like him and digest them an hour later. Irv would shut him down, no contest. I would start with his toupee and take him all the down. (Laughs) All jokes aside, I watched “Entourage” and Jeremy Piven is an amazing actor. Just a great cast all around.
Which episode of the “The Game” was the most fun filming?
There’s a ton of scenes that come to mind, but definitely singing the Rihanna song “Take A Bow” with Wendy Raquel Robinson. I also sang “It Takes Two” with Rob Base, and while filming this season I got to kick a field goal at The Georgia Dome. That was so much fun.
A little known fact–you actually have a college degree in both finance and drama from Boston College. How did you make the transition into acting?
Well, originally the plan was to work on Wall Street after I graduated. I actually had a job lined up as an analyst. But a professor of mine told me I should go into acting and I said “You must be crazy-cakes.” He said “Here are the three best drama programs in the country. They only take ten kids, let’s send your application and see what happens.” I ended up being accepted into the theater program at DePaul. So even now, it still seems bizarre that I’m acting for a living.
What can viewers expect from Season 5 of “The Game?”
Expect a meaner, more racist Irv Smiff. You’re going to hate him more than you ever have in your life. The fifth season is all about relationships, but we’re really going to amp up the comedy. Tasha (Wendy Raquel Robinson) and I will battle, as always. The relationship between Melanie (Tia Mowry-Hardrict) and I will build up, and there’s going to be some very funny scenes where we go at it.
Season Premiere of “The Game” airs tonight on BET 10 P.M. EST
Watch trailer below: