It doesn't feel like a movie shoot. It feels like a huge, glitzed-out backyard party where a few of the guests walk away every so often--only instead of grabbing a drink, they make tiny bits of a movie. Even by L.A. standards it's a weird party, with kids, celebrities, athletes, models, synchronized swimmers, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, the CEO of a private aviation company spigoting business cards and Manuel Noriega's former lawyer shoving $2 bills in everyone's pocket. It's exactly the kind of party that movie star Vincent Chase would have thrown in the hit TV series Entourage after one of his films. Except now the TV show has morphed into an actual movie. And it's even less like real life. Even the real parts.
"My ex-wife and my girlfriend are both here," says director and Entourage creator Doug Ellin as he pushes his father out of the way to get in front of a monitor. "That's my brother's ex-wife right there. That's his daughter." Seconds after he tells his kids to give him a second, he greets Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, who's here to hang out. Ellin tries to figure out a way to write him and Hurley into the movie, even though this is the last day of shooting. When Ellin's niece comes by, he shoos her away by pointing to Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Alyssa Miller. "That's one of the most beautiful women in the world," he tells her, with a sense of awe and history akin to showing her Antietam.
Entourage, the movie (June 3), picks up just months after the series, based on Mark Wahlberg's early days in Hollywood with his posse, ended in 2011. The show drew a loyal following for its satirical depiction of a Hollywood long on ego, short on compassion and very short on women's clothing. Budding movie star Vince (Adrian Grenier) journeyed west to join his brother, the self-absorbed actor Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), and quickly assembled a posse of childhood friends: rookie manager E (Kevin Connolly) and their pudgy, hapless driver Turtle (Jerry Ferrara). Brokering the quartet's dreams of stardom and riches is a maniacally ruthless agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven).
The show hasn't been off the air that long, but the culture has changed enough that this feels less like a reunion and more like a re-enactment. "I remember that guy," I think, looking at Grenier. "He used to have crazier hair." The show started in 2004, in the time of Oprah, before the bro-volution. "There was no Hangover. There was nothing with guys I know talking like guys I know, like Swingers and Diner were," says Ellin, wearing a Yankees cap. And today the guys are once again talking like guys, as if that itself still provided a thrill. A technical question emerges in the midst of shooting today's gay-wedding scene between Ari's protégé Lloyd (Rex Lee) and Olympic diver Greg Louganis. Perrey Reeves, who plays Ari's wife, asks Ellin if they're allowed to curse in front of a baby, as Doug's 12-year-old son Lucas, who plays Reeves' son, has already been doing, quite liberally. Ellin answers this query by totally ignoring her. If you didn't want to hear cursing, baby, you shouldn't have signed on to the Entourage movie.
Between takes, Piven heads behind the huge house to eat a taco from food services, and a dollop of guacamole falls on his tuxedo pants. He wipes it off, not particularly panicked about pants-stain continuity errors in the Entourage movie. "I felt I left it all on the field, so it wasn't like I was longing to get back in there and right the wrongs," he says of agreeing to once again play power-mad Ari, a role that won him a Golden Globe and three consecutive Emmys. Plus, spitting out all that anger, he says, exhausts him now that he's meditated, Zenned, yoga'd himself further from the character's trigger-ready anger. Today, for instance, he bought the crew a Bulletproof Coffee stand, which serves his ritual morning drink of coffee, butter and coconut oil--then a new trend among healthy New Agers. (In a few hours, Ferrara will right this braux pas by buying the crew sandwiches from Fat Sal's, a restaurant he co-owns; the delicious "Fat Jerry" contains cheesesteak, chicken fingers, fries, mozzarella sticks, fried eggs, bacon and mayo.)
Piven also worries about being further typecast in his Entourage role. Despite his playing a much more controlled jerk in ITV's Mr. Selfridge, an Access Hollywood interviewer playfully mentions that the last time she saw him he was yelling at her. She means when he was on TV, but Piven feels the need to explain the differences between screaming Ari Gold and centered Jeremy Piven. "But growing up in a theater family, it's sacrilegious to turn down a good role," Piven says. As he walks off to shoot the wedding scene with that stain on his pants, he says about the film, "Do we need to see more? We're about to find out."
Warner Bros. and HBO also seemed unsure about making more Entourage. It was hard to get the cast together for the tight $30 million budget the studio demanded--and the other actors tried to hold out for a percentage of the profit, as Piven got. So the movie was as on-again, off-again as any of the characters' romantic relationships. "I stopped thinking about it. It was frustrating. Are we doing it? Are we not doing it? It got greenlit like 10 times," says Emmanuelle Chriqui, who plays E's pregnant ex-girlfriend Sloan. The TV show, like most, lost viewers and reviewers in the last couple of seasons, during which Vince developed a serious drug problem and dated a porn star (whereas in earlier seasons, his drama revolved around topics like whether to take the lead role in a blockbuster version of Aquaman).
When the movie was finally greenlighted for good, the snark was pronounced. On Vulture, New York magazine's culture website, Josh Wolk wondered whether Wahlberg's claim that fans were demanding an Entourage movie was reverse psychology akin to getting his kids to eat broccoli. Grantland, a site for sports-and-culture-loving dudes, said that making the movie was "the kind of hubris that orders the pilot to set a course for the sun itself and then looks surprised when the wax bolts on their G6 Icarus wings begin to melt."
While an audience of people who desperately want to see the film might not be assured, there's definitely a huge audience of people who want to appear in it. There are way more cameos in this movie than any film made by Muppets (yes, including Warren Buffett). "We can get almost any athlete, besides Tiger," says Ellin. Walking to the set, Debi Mazar, who plays Vince's publicist Shauna Roberts, says, "The script has been changed a number of times. It has such a blinding array of celebrities and sports figures--I wonder if they can act. [Mixed martial artist] Ronda Rousey has a bigger role than I do." Marvin Ellin, Doug's dad, puts down the headphones he's using to listen to the actors and says, "I'm the only one in the country not in this movie."
Last week, Ellin says, he threw in 20 last-minute cameos, driving his crew insane, especially the casting directors who had to book these stars. At least two of them were booked because a crew member saw them at the gym. Mazar didn't know she was coming in from New York to be in today's scene until just two days ago. "I was supposed to write this scene six months ago. I finished last night at 2 a.m., and my entire production team was scrambling because they didn't know what the wedding would be," Ellin says, as someone brings him mini cupcakes. "That's Jerry's girlfriend, who I wrote in at 10 last night. She didn't know she was going to be here." Neither, as of last night, did Entourage semiregulars Reeves and Rhys Coiro, who plays reformed rageaholic director Billy Walsh. They're both here, somewhere.
All these bits have to be written around the movie's plot, in which--spoiler alert--the bros bro together to overbro a seemingly unbroable problem. The first thing you see in the movie is the words Ibiza, Spain followed by an aerial shot of a boat full of seminude women. The next two minutes of exposition erase everything that happened at the end of the series (Ari--unretired; Vince--unmarried; E--single again) so the bros can get right back to broing. Ari now runs a studio and puts his job on the line to help Vince fund his directorial debut. He taps a Texas billionaire (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son (Haley Joel Osment), while Turtle, who now has a Malibu mansion, continues to drive Vince around because--well, actually, it doesn't matter.
This wedding scene doesn't even matter, since it will be cut from the movie. Which is fine, since there's a helicopter circling overhead so low and loud that it's impossible to shoot. It's manned by paparazzi, but it's not here, as it might have been seven years ago, because Grenier and the cast are making a movie. It's because from overhead, a huge wedding scene at a mansion in ultra-exclusive Benedict Canyon looks a lot like a huge wedding at a Benedict Canyon mansion, and the photographers assume it's a real celebrity wedding. Cast and crew stop what they're doing, look up and give the whirlybird the bird. Ellin shoots this too, hoping he can put it in the movie.
Even with the finger giving, the testosterone is lower than it might have been a decade ago. Grenier, de-fro'd and less intense, says he's just having a good time. "It revitalizes me. Other jobs, it's more emotionally draining. There's always something fun to do or pretty to look at here," he says. "Before the show I was practically humorless. I was doing indies in New York in a winter coat. The first season, Doug would say to me, 'Smile.' I had to find the motivation to smile. I thought it was cocky to smile. On a personal level, I learned to laugh."
Even Connolly, who broke his leg in two places while tossing a football in a scene with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson a few weeks ago (also cut from the film)--and then kept walking on it for four days of shooting before going to a doctor--happily hobbles along in a cast painted to blend in with his suit. "On the day I hurt my leg, on the set were Ronda Rousey, Russell Wilson and Greg Louganis, who hit his head on a diving board, got the bandages and won the gold medal. Nobody was overly impressed with my injury. If this happened on my sitcom I would have been a hero, but on Entourage no one was impressed," he says.
Despite the fact that he's very successfully bouncing the baby playing his son on his lap, this set is still, in other words, very much a place for bros. The question is whether bro audiences still need that place.
By the end of the day, as dudes eat sandwiches containing various fried foods, it's clear that we should reason not the need. This is a party. And while the brands of Champagne and high-end cars have changed in the past four years, the desire to party with the hot and rich has been stable for a long time. "I thought it was odd that they didn't have relationships and just had each other," Mazar says about the main characters. "But men fantasize about that. And having the Ducatis and the girls with the big boobs and the miniskirts. It was all the things that I hated about Hollywood." And they still go on. Especially right here.