Many people want Adrian Grenier to legally change his name to Vincent Chase. Naturally. It’s hard to think of Grenier as anyone but the narcissistic playboy/movie star he played for eight seasons on HBO’s male-bonding comedy-drama Entourage—a role he reprises this summer in the movie version of the series. Hell, when I catch him on the phone, he’s cruising down Sunset Blvd., top down, on his way to a meeting with his agent. Dude even runs his errands like Vince.
In truth, Grenier is much like his fictional counterpart: he’s a doe-eyed actor navigating the vapid terrain of Hollywood with his own close circle of friends and a trusty agent. Where he diverges from Vince, however, is in the way he dissects that terrain and the world surrounding it. He’s directed a swath of socially conscious documentaries, from 2010’s Teenage Paparazzo, a critique of our celebrity obsession from the eyes of a 14-year-old paparazzi photographer, to this year’s 52, an eye-opening look at the way ocean noise pollution is quickly becoming a major threat to marine mammals. Talk to the 38-year-old long enough and you’ll realize he wears his big, bleeding heart on his sleeve. Vince will flirt with the bunnies at a Playboy mansion party; Grenier will stress over the way the whole thing reinforces the heteropatriarchy. The irony of this all is not lost on the actor.
So in the Entourage movie, Vince decides to take a stab at becoming a director. You’re an actor-turned-director in real life, too! How similar is Vince the character to Adrian the person?
Probably about 62.5% or so.
Entourage gave me was a little bit of levity. Everything doesn’t have to be so serious.”
That’s awfully precise. Was this the type of role you envisioned yourself playing when you first came to Hollywood?
Oh, not at all. I resisted it at first, in fact. The character of Vince was still just a blank canvas in a lot of ways. So I only could see the misogyny, the materialism and the superficial parts of it. It wasn’t really something I was interested in. But when I talked to Doug, he assured me all that stuff was just the backdrop. It was a reality that exists and the world these guys were thrust into. But ultimately, he was going to allow me to create a character that was deeper than that.
What kind of actor did you initially aspire to become?
I wanted to be in the movies that I loved—dark, gritty indie films. But, you know, it wasn’t up to me. Something Entourage gave me was a little bit of levity. Everything doesn’t have to be so serious. You don’t have to deconstruct everything.
Did you have trouble pretending to party on a show that’s largely about partying?
I did, I did. It was kind of funny. Doug would come up to me between takes and tell me to smile already because we were having the best time. And I’d be like, ‘It doesn’t say that in the script!’ And he’d say, ‘It doesn’t have to! That’s just the show.’ So now I just smile arbitrarily at all times, whenever possible. I’m actually a brooding, serious guy, believe it or not. People don’t appreciate how much of a stretch that character is for me, on some level.
I watched your documentary Teenage Paparazzo. You strike me as someone who’s quite apprehensive of fame and celebrity culture.
Absolutely. It’s something I’ve always questioned and been wary of. And I’ve sometimes felt cautious of the way Entourage has dealt with it. I don’t think a lot of people question whether or not the show’s degrading to women or misogynistic or totally materialistic. I mean, the fact is that guys talk like that and there’s certain realities to that culture, so I think it would be disingenuous to leave it out. But, on the other hand, I think the show has a lot of really valuable lessons. In fact, the strong female characters in the show really prove that.
What is it that you hate about celebrity culture?
I don’t have very much hate in my body.
Okay, maybe hate is a strong word.
There are certainly things about celebrity culture that I find frustrating. But I don’t know if it’s the celebrity that’s to blame necessarily. I think it’s really the complex system of media and attention and distraction and motivation and incentives that’s overtaken American culture. Celebrity culture is just one result of that. It’s a symptom of a bigger problem.
Still, one could argue you’re contributing to the problem: you’re on a show that’s making people want to become celebrities, aren’t you?
Yeah, I am. [Laughs.] I mean, that’s partly why I made Teenage Paparazzo. It’s an answer to the promise of fame. You know, Vince and the boys can do no wrong. They are without reproach and nothing bad ever happens to them—or at least nothing that they can’t get out of. But it’s all just a fantasy. So I hope people don’t take it too seriously. I know people do, though. I’ve had plenty of people come up to me and say, ‘I moved out here to be an agent because of your show’ or ‘I want to be an actor because of Vince.’ And the realities of what it means to actually have a career in acting, the struggles and the insecurities that come along with it, aren’t really addressed in the show. So you’ve got to be careful.
Do you feel guilty about making people want to enter showbiz?
I am not my brother’s keeper. No, I mean, I’ve done what I can to make sure that I’m not just blindly going through it. I’m sharing my thoughts on my experience. Hopefully people will watch Teenage Paparazzo as the antidote to getting lost in the fantasy.
You’re a fascinating case. You became a celebrity by playing a celebrity on a show about being a celebrity, and now you’re deconstructing that celebrity. It’s all so very meta.
Definitely! I don’t even know if my situation has been replicated ever since or even before. But it’s certainly a rare opportunity for me to have that very meta perspective, but also to just have the will to deconstruct it. A lot of times, when you reach a certain point in your career, the last thing you want to do is undermine it or be perceived as biting the hand that feeds you by questioning the industry that’s made this all possible for you. But I guess I wanted to. And I have.
“We’ve certainly contributed, if not helped define, the bromance in this era.”
You’re involved in many projects aimed at bettering the planet. There’s been your wealth of documentaries, and you also founded SHFT.com, which is aimed at nudging sustainable ideas into pop culture. When did you become a humanitarian?
It’s just the way I was raised. As a human being, you’ve got to care about your neighbours and your planet. Nobody else is going to do that. Growing up, my mom really instilled in me a sense of my own power and how I affect the world. I believe we all have our own influence and it can be great. We have to honour that. A lot of people out there don’t feel that they actually affect the world. I think that’s a testament to their lack of believing in themselves and what they actually mean to the world.
The world has a lot more bros in it today thanks to Entourage. How do you feel about the bro culture your show has helped spawn? Is it good for humanity?
You’re welcome! We’ve certainly contributed, if not helped define, the bromance in this era. But I think guys like to be a little more sensitive and show a little bit more tenderness to one another, despite there being an overload of macho-ness in our culture. One thing about this movie is it’s surprisingly touching. You still have the babes and cars and all of that stuff, but more times than not, the audience is going to find themselves getting choked up and feeling genuinely touched. You know, in an emotional way. Not touched as in groped.
It’s a figure of speech, I know! But the word ‘bro’ has become a bit of a dirty word these days, don’t you think?
I think haters will always try to undermine the jock elements. But is it really bad? Bros loving bros under one God? I don’t think so.
Are you ready to say goodbye to Vince and your Entourage bros once and for all?
Vince ain’t going nowhere. I think we’ve got a couple more movies after this one. I’d put my money on it. We’re all going to Vegas tomorrow. So I might actually put my money on it.