By Karen Butler
“Entourage,” the celebrated HBO series inspired by how Mark Wahlberg brought his childhood friends along with him through the early days of his unexpected Hollywood success, is now a movie.
Produced by Wahlberg, the television comedy ran for eight seasons, wrapping up in 2011. The film reunites its stars – Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly and Jerry Ferrara – who play respectively actor Vincent, his brother Johnny, his agent Ari, and Eric and Turtle, friends from Queens, who move with Vincent to Los Angeles and help him navigate the treacherous waters of the entertainment industry.
Asked at a recent Beverly Hills press conference how closely the screen versions hew to Boston-born Wahlberg’s real relationships with his lifelong pals, writer-director Doug Ellin related the funny and almost unbelievable story about how the project first got going more than a decade ago.
“Initially, it started out to be Mark. Let’s find who the next Mark Wahlberg is,” Ellin explained.
“When Adrian was cast, it went very different. They are very different types of guys and they are very different types of actors,” he added. “Mark has a Johnny Drama, who, I would say, is probably the closest in [this] group to the guys in [Wahlberg’s] group. There is an E in Mark’s crew, but has almost nothing to do with this E, except for his name and there was a Donkey in Mark’s crew that I didn’t even really know, but, again, name-wise. Quickly, it went away from that. It was important to me to make it New York [where the guys came from] because I don’t know anything about Boston and kind of bring in a lot of stuff from my friends and family. And, also, Mark’s rise – he never really struggled. He probably wouldn’t agree with that, but he’s kind of gone straight up and we wouldn’t have had a show if Vince didn’t have his ups and downs.”
So, how did members of Wahlberg’s real-life entourage react when they initially watched themselves portrayed in the show?
“There are pieces of them and not pieces of them, so, whatever. But when they first screened the pilot – we screened it at Mark’s house – and it’s like 30 guys and I’m nervous,” Ellin confessed. “I didn’t know what they were going to think. It’s a tougher group. They’re a tougher group than this group, no offense. But I remember when Adrian came on… one of Mark’s buddies at the time just looks at me and goes, ‘Marky would kick the [expletive] out of that guy!’ So, we definitely went with a more vulnerable, sensitive entourage.”
Ellin went on to say Wahlberg graciously gave him and his team the freedom to use whatever they wanted to from Wahlberg’s life – and allowed them to omit anything they didn’t like.
“And come in any time that we really needed a big favor,” Ellin recalled. “How do we get Martin Scorsese on the show? When Eli Manning decided not to show up, Mark called Tom Brady and got him to show up. And Mark has, obviously, been a great proponent to get the word out for us.”
“Mark, I think, really, kind of, pardon my language, lit the fire under Doug’s ass to get going on the movie,” added Connolly, who was sitting alongside Ellin on the panel. “Because I think we all weren’t sure if there was a market for it or an appetite for it, and Mark was the one who was really instrumental in motivating Doug and finding people that wanted to make the movie. Mark has been real smart about when to get involved and when to let Doug do his thing… Without Mark, I don’t think we’re doing this movie.”
The filmmaker revealed one of his favorite parts of crafting the film was nabbing a particular Irish actor for a cameo.
“Liam Neeson was like one of those wish list [items.] How do we go get him?” Ellin admitted. “I called [Warner Bros. executives] Jon Berg and Greg Silverman and I’m like, ‘Is there any way we can get Liam Neeson in this movie?’ Which is kind of like when we tried to get U2 on the show. It was a joke. Like, ‘Could someone go get U2?’ And, somehow, we got them. And Jon called me and said, ‘Liam’s in.’ Either his son loved the show… I don’t even know. But Liam came and he was just great. These cameos come and they’re not doing it for money because we’re not really paying them. I mean, union rates. We’re not doing anything illegal, but Liam showed up and he had a great time and we’ve always had people who wanted to be there, so it’s been a pleasure."
Connolly said he sees the cultural impact “Entourage” has made since it debuted in 2004.
“A lot of people learned the ins and outs of the business watching the show,” he observed. “I can remember after we did the Sundance [episode,] getting calls from 10 of my friends from Long Island going: ‘We’re going to Sundance! We’re going to Sundance!’ And I’m like: ‘No. You’re not going to Sundance. You’re not going to get in anywhere. You’re going to be standing out in the cold. Don’t do it!’ So, I think we opened a lot of people’s eyes to lots of different aspects of the business.”
He noted he also frequently gets approached by aspiring actors who tell him they moved to the West Coast because they were inspired by the series.
“We made the traffic worse in LA,” Connolly quipped. “Countless times, people come up to me and say: ‘Yeah, me and my friends moved out here because of you guys.’ And I’m like: ‘Are you carpooling? You guys don’t all have your own cars, right?’ I think they look at us and go, ‘If these guys can do it, why not us, so let’s move out to California together and give it a run.’”
“Entourage” is in theaters now.