Sometimes, as the old maxim goes, it's not what you know, it's whom you know. Bryan Greenberg knew the right guy when it came to landing the lead role in the HBO comedy series "How to Make It in America," which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. He just didn't know that he knew him.
"I knew the creator, Ian Edelman," Greenberg says. "I played basketball with him. I didn't even know he was a writer. I was reading in the trades that he had this pilot that he was doing for HBO, and I was like, 'I want to read this.' "
It's a good thing he did. Greenberg, who has spent the better part of the past decade acting on the series "One Tree Hill," "Unscripted" and "October Road" and in films such as "Bride Wars" and "Prime," calls the new gig his dream job. On the show - which co-stars Victor Rasuk, Lake Bell, Luis Guzmán, Shannyn Sossamon, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi - Greenberg plays Ben Epstein, a Brooklyn 20-something who hustles his way through life while trying to make it in the New York fashion scene.
"He's at the place in his life where his peers have gone on and become successful, and he's definitely not happy with where he's at in life, and I think a lot of people can relate to that," Greenberg says. "His ex-girlfriend left him because he's not happy. He's working at Barneys folding jeans every day. He's basically miserable."
Misery loves company
Before anyone starts feeling too sorry for Greenberg's character, it should be noted that he's not miserable in the true sense of the word. He's miserable only to the degree to which a good-looking young guy hanging out with the hipster elite in Manhattan can be miserable.
"He's a cool kid," Greenberg admits. "He can get into all the clubs, he can get into all the parties, he's well connected - but he's broke. It doesn't mean anything to him anymore. He's kind of over it. He's the kind of guy that had every hot sneaker there was, and he's over it. He's wearing boots now."
He may not have money, but he's got style. And by the end of the pilot, it seems fairly evident that if he's going to better his situation, that's going to be his ticket. It's not the show's, though. There's more to "How to Make It in America" than cool clothes and connections.
Early buzz might lead one to believe that the series is equal parts "Sex and the City" and "Entourage," but that's not the case. While there is a fashion element to the show, Greenberg points out that it's strictly street fashion, not high-end fashion.
"This is not a 'Sex and the City,' girls-drinking-martinis kind of New York," he says. "I don't live in that New York. I never could relate to that. This is guys who work really hard on the grind, and they're struggling to pay the rent."
And, as such, all the show really shares with "Entourage" is its executive producers, including Baldwin's Rob Weiss and A-lister Mark Wahlberg. While that affiliation draws unwanted comparisons, Greenberg admits that Wahlberg is a good person to know, so to speak.
"His name means a lot," he says. "If we wants to get [designer] John Varvatos on the show, he'll call him up; he's got those connections. . . . When he picks up the phone to make something happen, it usually goes down."
While it took a little help from guys like Wahlberg and Edelman for him to get into the position he's in today, Greenberg says that ultimately his dream job on "How to Make It in America" - like the show itself - is all about living the American dream.
After all, there weren't always Hollywood heavyweights and helpful hoopsters around to lend a hand. A lot of hard work will have taken place between the time a young Midwestern kid decided he wanted to act and the day Greenberg's new series hits HBO for the first time.
"This country allows you the opportunity to make whatever you want of yourself. It's not biased in that aspect," he says. "You know, I came from Omaha, Nebraska. There weren't a lot of people doing the acting thing. But I wanted to do that, and I moved to New York City to train and go to NYU, then I moved to L.A. I feel like I'm living the American dream."