Kevin Dillon, Adrian Grenier, Doug Ellin, Kevin Connolly and Jerry Ferrara (AP)
Over the course of its eight-year run on HBO, the TV series Entourage captured one of the ultimate American alpha-male fantasies: rolling around Hollywood like you owned it.
Now, the guys are graduating to the big screen. In the cinematic continuation of where we left off when the series ended in 2011, superagent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) has been promoted to full-blown studio executive, and he’s hired leading man Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) to star in and direct a make-or-break blockbuster. As always, Vince’s posse — his manager Eric (Kevin Connolly), driver Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), and brother, Drama (Kevin Dillon) — have a vested interest in the big event, not to mention some drama of their own. There’s an appearance from Mark Wahlberg (whose career the series was loosely based on, and who produced the film), among dozens of other celebrity cameos, including some highly decorated NFL stars.
In March at the SXSW Film Festival, we met up with series creator and the movie’s writer-director, Doug Ellin, and the cast of Entourage for a coffee hangout that was much like you’d expect: First off, it took place at a posh venue — the patio restaurant to the Four Seasons in Austin,Texas. Then there was the laughter at unintentional sexual innuendo, mild ribbing, and athlete worship. And of course, lots of talk about the enduring appeal of Entourage. (Kevin Dillon fell sick the day we met and couldn’t join us.)
How’d it feel for you guys to reunite and revisit these characters?
Jeremy Piven: I feel like we had eight seasons of prep time to do this movie, so we were all on shorthand.
Kevin Connolly: When it was a show, Doug always kind of ran the ship, regardless of who was directing the episode. Becoming the actual director was really no different.
Adrian Grenier: And the best storytelling is really when you cast well and create circumstances, you have a great script, and have a well-oiled crew —
[Connolly lets out a laugh at the mention of “well-oiled.”]
Connolly: You know what I mean. Too bad Dillon wasn’t here, he would’ve appreciated that.
The two Sex and the City movies set a precedent for an HBO series going to the big screen. Did you guys look at what those movies did right or what they might have done wrong?
Connolly: Not sure they did much wrong [laughs].
Piven: Eight hundred million dollars at the box office.
Connolly: It is kind of funny that when Sex and the City came out, and they were so successful, particularly in that opening weekend, I think the next tier of people that were happy was us. Because we thought, “Wow, OK, maybe there is a market for a movie.”
Ellin: I think what they did and, hopefully what we did, is they stuck true to what the show was and what the characters were. Our show was a very cinematic show to start with, so I think it translated nicely to the screen. Though our expectations are closer to the Veronica Mars movie [laughs].
Watch the latest trailer for ‘Entourage’:
You hear actors say that starring on a hit television show can be both a blessing and a curse — a blessing, obviously, because you’re on a hit show, but a curse because you’ll always be so closely identified with that character. Do you guys agree?
Connolly: It’s been nothing but a blessing for me. I would never use the word “curse” in the same sentence as Entourage.
Jerry Ferrara: Any room I’ve ever gotten in with the chance to show I can do more, they’re calling me because of something that was Entourage-related, probably. I also think today, it’s different than 20 years ago.
Connolly: Listen, if Ed O’Neill can go from Al Bundy [on Married With Children] to winning Emmys on Modern Family, or Katey Sagal [Sons of Anarchy], the list goes on and on…
Piven: I’m about to start shooting Season 4 of Mr. Selfridge, which is a PBS turn-of-the-century Masterpiece Classic, so to play Harry Selfridge for four years and go back to Entourage is a blessing.
Do you ever get tired of people calling you by your characters’ names?
Grenier: I changed my birth certificate.
Connolly: It is what it is. Especially when you know that they know that that’s not your real name. Most of the time, you just kind of play along with it.
Ellin: From the beginning of the show, people used to ask me, “Is this scripted? Is it all made up?” Because they thought nobody was really acting. I think that’s a testament to how good they are.
Piven: I was 40 movies into it before we started, I wasn’t 20 years old. But was known as, at times, the schlumpy best friend of John Cusack in movies, a far cry from a power-hungry, oxygen-stealing agent. So you’re constantly pigeonholed in this business, as evidenced by all your questions.
Ferrara: [If we didn’t have Entourage], they’d be saying something else. They’d be yelling something else at us.
Grenier: Or not saying anything at all, which is even worse.
And you can still evolve as an actor while playing the same role.
Ellin: The good thing in regards to our show was we really got to see transformations with the guys and their characters. Look at Jerry. Jerry’s a leading man now. When he was 24 on the show, he was completely different, physically and as an actor.
Piven: And you had to literally put [Jerry’s weight loss] in the movie. You had to face it.
Ellin: That was a big thing, and Jerry and I butted heads for a minute. It all worked out great. Jerry’s one of my closest friends, but I was pissed. I was like, “You gotta put on 100 pounds for this movie. Turtle’s a fat guy.”
Ferrara: I told him I’d charge him per pound.
Ellin: But the truth is, it really worked for the whole transformation of what he is, and really, his real-life persona, his acting persona, it all kind of grew as we’ve gone on.
Kevin Dillon, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, and Adrian Grenier (AP)
Does the film depart tonally at all from the series?
Ellin: It’s supposed to be the feel of seasons 1 and 2 — really about guy wish-fulfillment in this fantasy world and taking an inside peek behind the scenes of all of this stuff.
Piven: Once Ari goes from an agent to running a studio, and he gives Vince his first opportunity to star in a movie and also direct, the stakes are completely raised. But they’re done in such a plausible way, that it’s not like, “Oh my God, we’re in a very self-conscious way trying to make it a bigger show.”
What about content — the series was always pretty solidly in the R-rated realm. Can you get racier in the film version?
Ellin: Is it a good thing? We’re racier. It’s R, but we had to cut some stuff to get rid of an NC-17. Specifically, Kevin Connolly’s six or seven nude scenes.
Connolly: I’m by myself.
Ellin: But without being gratuitous, the movie is sexy, we’ve got beautiful women in it, and some good-looking guys as well, obviously. Less of my interest, but… [laughs] It’s a sexy movie, it looks beautiful, and we have lots of good-looking people in it.
What’s been Mark Wahlberg’s role throughout the whole process?
Ellin: Mark’s amazing in the movie, but his best role was that every time I’d run into him when I wasn’t writing the script, he’d come up to me and say, “What are you doing? I’ve made four movies and $300 billion, and you’re not writing this script?”
Connolly: Without Mark, we wouldn’t have the movie. He’s so confident: “Make the movie, get it made.”
Ferrara: He can’t stop talking about it!
Like the series, the movie has tons of cameos. Who are some of your personal favorites?
Ellin: Sometimes there’s just been great fate for us. Like Russell Wilson and Tom Brady [the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriot quarterbacks, respectively] are friends of mine, but they’re in the movie, and then they both go to the Super Bowl, where they’re playing each other.
Piven: In between takes, Russell Wilson asks me, “How do you play it when you’re acting: Is it regular season, playoffs, or the Super Bowl?” And first of all, to even have that conversation with Russell Wilson is really exciting for me, and it’ll sound very pretentious, but I said, “I play it as if it’s the Super Bowl. Right or wrong. You know, maybe I swing too hard.” And he said, “Yeah, I’m the same way.”
Ellin: Kevin and I went to dinner with LeBron James, and the first thing he said was — and these are all the guys who now, seven years later, run his life — “This is my E, this is my Drama, this is my Turtle.”
Kevin, you got banged up during the party scene where you guys were tossing the football around with Russell Wilson, right?
Connolly: Yeah, I broke my leg playing, pushing a little harder maybe, because of Russell Wilson and Rob Gronkowski.
Ferrara: Treating it like the Super Bowl.
Connolly: [Laughs] I was treating it like the Super Bowl on many levels.
Piven: Maybe you should’ve treated it like scrimmage. [Laughs]
Connolly: Honestly, the best part — if I were to pull a positive out of that — we were shooting at this big house, and I went down, and I was able to pick myself up, and I basically went and hid in this room. I was just kind of laying there with my leg elevated, trying to figure out what I was going to do, and [New England Patriots stars] Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman came in — they took the time to walk a good distance to come check on me.
Ellin: And by the way, Gronkowski: I’m talking to friend of his about what he’d be willing to do, and he’s like, “He loves the show, he’ll do anything.” So I go up to him, and I’m a little nervous — it’s Rob Gronkowski — and I want to ask him to do something a little crazy, and he goes, “I just gotta tell you. I told my friends when I was 16 years old in high school that I was going to be on Entourage, and they thought I was crazy. And now I’m here.” He was so excited to be there, and so game to do anything.
Piven: I looked up at one point, and he was ladling out soup for the cast. And that’s not a joke.
Do you guys hope to do multiple movies?
Piven: You’ve gotta manage your expectations, as Doug wrote for Ari to say to E once. “Manage your client’s expectations.” We would all love to take a ride for as long as people are curious about it. But we can’t get ahead of ourselves.
Ellin: It’s up to these guys, but I’d like to do at least two more, and maybe an opera.
Connolly: [laughing] Turn it into a musical!
Entourage opens everywhere Wednesday.