Jeremy Piven convinced five other actors his mercury poisoning is real, deadlocking a union hearing and sparing Piven penalties for leaving Speed the Plow. How did he do it? Maybe with some crying.

The Entourage star was certainly in tears after the hearing, when he sat for an interview at the offices of the New York Times.

Mr. Piven... twice broke down in tears...

He cried as he described the stress of fearing for his health while pushing himself to continue with the play. "I've never missed a day's work or a rehearsal in my life," Mr. Piven said. "I think there's a reason you've never heard of any problem like this before."

Times writer Patrick Healy also noted that Piven "looked exhausted and often meandered" during his interview. Which, along with the crying, is totally fake-able, especially by, say, an actor. And which could also be symptoms of suddenly-curtailed access to a stimulant.

There's no word yet on the results of tests performed by a doctor other than Piven's sketchy personal M.D., results that had been expected at the hearing, so all we have to go on is the word of Piven and his doctor. The actor also said he was in bed "almost every night" — you can find the known exceptions here.

Certainly the producers were not convinced; their five reps all voted against Piven, while the five Actor's Equity reps voted with him. (Actor's Equity includes both actors and stagehands.) The producers have the option of escalating to more aggressive proceedings. It's not clear if they'll do that , but lead complainant Jeffrey Richards pulled an apparently snarky move on the Times:

Reached by telephone at home after the hearing, Mr. Richards said he was sick and on medication and would have no comment.

This snide joke is actually a nice opening for Piven's PR team. If it trumpets Richard's purported sickness as evidence that illl health regularly prevents hardworking people from doing their jobs, Richards will be in a bind: He either concedes the point or, to dispute it, admits he was lying.

As for Piven's honesty, it's almost irrelevant at this point: If Piven told the truth Thursday, and has been going through hell, he deserves more credit for his acting, specifically for his professional commitment to Speed the Plow. If he lied, duping fellow thespians and a Times reporter, he also deserves more credit for his acting, specifically for being such a convincing con man.

(UPDATE: The Post's sources say Piven was indeed crying during the hearing, as well.)

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