How the fake Hollywood of Entourage took over the actual lives of its stars
If the cloud of Axe body spray surrounding your local movie theater didn't already tip you off, the day has finally arrived: Entourage, the feature film based on the HBO series of the same name, is here. Promising an insider's look at Hollywood — and delivering little more than shallow lifestyle porn — Entourage sustained a loyal audience over eight seasons by positing that booze, boobs, and bros are all you need as you drive your stretch limo down the road to the grave.
But if Entourage isn't exactly enlightened on a storytelling level, it does offer a fascinating case study of the four lead actors — Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, and Jerry Ferrara — who have spent more than a decade living inside its bizarro version of Hollywood. This weird blurring of the Entourage world, in which everything seems to revolve around Vince and the boys, and the real world, in which Entourage is an enormously successful franchise, has had a remarkable impact on the actual lives of the show's stars.
In the four years since Entourage aired its series finale, each of the four "boys" at the center of the show's narrative has seen his career drift into a weird dead zone. The most successful is probably Jerry Ferrara (Turtle), who turned up as part of the main ensemble in Think Like a Man and its sequel, along with smaller roles in movies like Lone Survivor and Last Vegas. Kevin Dillon (Drama) starred in the awful (and swiftly canceled) CBS sitcom How to Be a Gentleman. Kevin Connolly ("E") starred in the awful (and swiftly canceled) CBS sitcom Friends with Better Lives.
And then there's Adrian Grenier, who plays Vincent Chase, the megawatt A-lister at the center of Entourage's narrative. It's easy to forget now, but when Entourage premiered in 2004, Adrian Grenier himself seemed like a star on the rise. His career even began with more promise than Vincent Chase's; while Chase had a small supporting role in a crappy movie aimed at teens, Grenier actually starred in one.
But the continued success of Entourage meant that Grenier's career as a real-life actor was gradually subsumed into Vincent Chase's fictional career. Grenier's Hollywood career peaked in 2006, when he played Thankless Boyfriend in The Devil Wears Prada. But in the Entourage-iverse, Vincent Chase is still one of the most famous and successful actors in the world.
For all its flaws, Entourage has been fairly prescient about the type of project Hollywood embraces — with the exception of the leading man it chooses to star in them. Many of the movies Vincent Chase "starred" in during the series' eight-season run are happening, in one form or another, in the real world. The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, actually happened — with Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. Aquaman is happening — with Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa in the title role. That Pablo Escobar biopic? There are two on the horizon — one starring John Leguizamo, and one starring Javier Bardem.
In the Entourage movie, Vince's big passion project is a loose modern adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. What's the over-under on how long it'll take before some Hollywood studio greenlights a version of that — without Adrian Grenier?
All of this has put Grenier in the awkward position of playing a character who is exponentially more famous, talented, and successful than he is. Vincent Chase is the star of Aquaman, the highest-grossing movie in history. Grenier nearly failed to get a $300,000 documentary about whales off the ground; with 24 hours left in its Kickstarter campaign, friend (and fake Gatsby costar) Leonardo DiCaprio donated $50,000 to get the movie past the finish line. Vincent Chase is actively courted by directors like James Cameron and Martin Scorsese; Adrian Grenier is not.
Grenier, to his credit, is not unaware of this. Unlike his costar Jeremy Piven, he understands why longtime Entourage fans have begun to conflate him with his character, and he's basically cool with it. In an interview with Runner's World, Grenier describes how fans often interrupt him while he's exercising: "They'll be like, 'Vince! Where's Turtle at?'" Though he occasionally distances himself from the role, he's just as likely to roll with it: "I take my role as Vince on the show & off very seriously," he wrote in a Instagram post when the Entourage movie was held up in contract negotiations.
Yes, the idea that Grenier plays Vincent Chase off-screen, in his day-to-day life, is sort of insane. But can you really blame him? The success of Entourage has led Grenier and the rest of the cast into a kind of vague, B-list approximation of the Entourage lifestyle, as their pretend mega-stardom has curdled into actual semi-stardom. If you can't conquer the box office as Adrian Grenier, why not take your shot as Vincent Chase? The sheer parade of actual A-listers who have cheerfully played themselves on Entourage — including at least 35 in the movie alone — shows that plenty of celebrities are eager to make the fantasy feel just a little more real. If the four stars of Entourage aren't big enough names to sustain these kinds of cameos themselves — well, that's just the price of maintaining the show's carefully calibrated fantasy.
And you can't sustain this kind of fantasy over so many years without it becoming a kind of self-contained reality anyway. In January, in a surreal blend of reality and fiction, the cast of Entourage turned up on the red carpet of the 72nd annual Golden Globes ceremony to film a few extra scenes for the movie. Surrounded by the evening's actual nominees, the actors stayed in-character, giving interviews about the fictional successes of their fictional counterparts.
Months later, the cast got to attend a red carpet premiere as themselves — for their work in the Entourage movie. When asked how he's changed in the 12 years since Entourage first premiered, Grenier admitted, point-blank, that he basically hasn't changed at all. "Maybe I’m just as immature,” he said. “I think everything is exactly the same. We all have Peter Pan syndrome. That’s the point of the show. You get to live young forever."