For viewers on opposite coasts, it wasn't always easy to tell if the hit HBO series "Entourage" (2004-2011) was satire or documentary. (People in the middle probably thought it was science-fiction). Was Hollywood really such a Dionysian snake pit of sexual excess and unbridled egomania? Could a quartet from Queens really be such a clueless collection of caricatures?
"Oh, yeah, the attempt was always more documentary," said Doug Ellin, who grew up in Merrick and created the series, which was based on actor Mark Wahlberg's early years in the film business. "Not a real one, obviously, but from minute one it was more important to me to be real than to be funny."
Which didn't stop the show from being funny, something everyone involved hopes will translate into "Entourage" the movie, which opens June 3 and reunites the original cast: Adrian Grenier as A-list actor Vincent Chase; Kevin Dillon as his half-brother, C-list actor Johnny "Drama" Chase; Jerry Ferrara as Turtle the driver-cum-tequila magnate; Kevin Connolly as Vincent's manager, Eric; and Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold, the superagent now heading a major Hollywood studio (quite obviously Warner Bros., which is releasing the movie).
Though not as stark as it once was, the contrast remains between the principal players and the place they've chosen to call home, at least for as long as it lasts. "I made them Queens guys to put a little more edge on it," Ellin said, "but these are basically four guys from Long Island. I wanted to take New York guys, put them in Hollywood, fish out of water, and see if they could survive."
They have. But it's been four years since the show and HBO parted company, during which time Hollywood has gone through some seismic shifts in priorities and focus. Which may explain why -- among innumerable cameos by actors playing ill-tempered versions of themselves (Liam Neeson, Ed O'Neill, Jessica Alba, Kelsey Grammer) and sports stars partying their little hearts out (including Amar'e Stoudemire, Kevin Durant and Seattle Seahawk Russell Wilson) -- there are cameos by money men (Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban, Steve Tisch) whose appearances seem certain to thrill the massive crossover audience between "Entourage" and CNBC.
The perceived "delay" in getting "Entourage" to the big screen was partly due to the year it took Ellin to write the script ("I just didn't want to write it; I find it hard writing"), and the year that has gone by since they actually shot the film.
"People get a little thrown by the four-years thing," said Connolly, who grew up in Patchogue. "I think that everybody, after eight years, wanted to hit the reset button."
Connolly, for instance, directed the documentary "Big Shot" about the infamous John Spano-New York Islanders scam. ("I'm still not over it," the actor said, referring to the Islanders' elimination in this year's NHL playoffs.) But, Connolly added, "it was more like an extended hiatus. No movie is easy to make; more often than not, they don't get made."
The movie that did finds the boys in new territory and new trouble: Ari has given Vincent $100 million to make his directorial debut, which runs over budget, leading to trouble with father-son Texas financiers Larsen and Travis McCredle (Bill Bob Thornton, Haley Joel Osment), the latter of whom comes to Hollywood to gum up the works. Eric, meanwhile is awaiting the birth of his child with Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) while juggling several other women like chain saws; Turtle is easing into a romance with mixed-martial-artist Ronda Rousey (herself) and Drama is hoping that Vincent's movie will rescue his floundering film career.
The Chases may be half-brothers but they occupy temperamental poles: If Vincent is the Zen center of the "Entourage" universe ("He has to be in order to survive in this world," Grenier said), Drama is the asteroid zipping through space, crashing into things. He's also the character most likely to follow an actor into his real life.
"Yeah, people see me, they start with 'Hey Johnny!!' They say it five times, I don't turn around," Dillon said. "I don't know if they don't know my real name."
More seriously, he said the energy of "Entourage" comes out of the style of shooting, the shortage of close-ups, the four guys muscling their way en masse into a world they didn't initially know. "A lot of it has to do with the snappiness of the dialogue," he said, "The banter is different, it's so quick, and we do it all without cutting, which created a signature for the show."
Early on, said Ferrara -- who has very noticeably trimmed down and toned up since "Entourage" left HBO -- "no one knew what we were doing. It went back and forth from a kind of naturalism to the more theatrical. Dougie will always lean towards the real and people thought we were those guys -- they didn't think we were acting. I think at times 'Entourage' is a satire, but it's more real when it's got that doc style. That's when it's at its best."
And how will it do, four years after we last saw its characters hustling their way through Hollywood? "A lot of people say they want to see it," Ferrara said. "And there are others who say they don't. But if we can get those people who claim they don't want to see it to secretly see it, that's when we'll be huge."
The TV to movies elite
"Entourage" will have to earn a lot of money at the worldwide box office to make this elite list of movies based on TV shows:
1. "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" (2011) $695 million
2. "The Smurfs" (2011) $564 million
3. "Mission: Impossible: II" (2000) $546 million
4. "The Simpsons Movie" (2007) $527 million
5. "Star Trek Into Darkness" (2013) $467 million
6. "Mission: Impossible" (1996) $458 million
7. "Sex and the City" (2008) $415 million
8. "Mission: Impossible III" (2006) $398 million
9. "Star Trek" (2009) $386 million
10. "The Fugitive" (1993) $369 million