Exclusive Interview : Doug Ellin

Of ARENA TV’s “Entourage”

Stick your hand in a bee-hive and it’ll get sticky, stand too close to a sprinkler system and you’ll need a change of clothes, go out on the town with actor Mark Wahlberg and his friends and you’ll be scribbling show ideas on toilet tissue for the duration of the outing. Or so Doug Ellin was told. CLINT MORRIS reports.

“My manager called me and asked me to come out with Mark Wahlberg and the guys one night”, the writer/director/producer of the hit new show Entourage says. “Anyway, we go out and my friend tells me ‘This is a show!’. I’m like ‘Ah, I don’t know about that – I don’t really see it’. But my manager just kept saying ‘It’s a show, it’s a show, it’s a show’”.

Ellin, who wrote for TV’s “Life with Bonnie” and directed the film “Kissing the Fool” (1998) before hitting big with the HBO comedy series, says not only did he not share the same view as his manager that this would make a good show, but he didn’t like the idea of a show that centred around “a bunch of a guys that live off another guy”.

Ultimately, he took a larger magnifying glass to the idea and realised there was something there – and that he misunderstood the motivations of the characters. “I realised that these guys in the pitch actually do have a purpose – they’re not all just living off another guy – they don’t just sit around”, he says, adding, “That’s in contrast to a real Entourage – who don’t usually do much”.

With some help from actor Wahlberg (“Planet of the Apes”, “Boogie Nights”) and Steve Levinson, Ellin’s show, loosely based on the former underwater spruiker’s early days in Hollywood, was up and going.

Entourage is a peephole into the daily life of an up-and-coming movie star and his long-time friends, the titular ‘Entourage, whose long-time loyalty and support of the actor is paid back in spades. Their sole purpose? to turn actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) into the biggest movie star possible.

Ellin says the characters are essentially based on Wahlberg himself and his troupe, but it’s more of a hodgepodge of character traits than direct take-offs. “I basically took traits of Mark’s friends and took traits of my own friends and pushed them all together”, he explains.

Though Wahlberg is perceptibly the inspiration behind the show’s rising film star Vincent Chase, many have spotted the characteristics of a certain “Titanic” heartthrob in the performance too. “When we first started casting this thing, we were looking for Mark, but there just weren’t any Mark’s out there. When we found Adrian we realised that it was actually more of a Leo-guy that we needed. Not only does Adrian remind you of Leo (Di Caprio) to look at, but also just the whole deal about his character is reminiscent. It worked.”

Kevin Dillon, brother of actor Matt Dillon, plays Johnny Drama, Vincent’s less flourishing actor brother. A bit close to home, right? “Everyone says that, but Kevin is a very successful guy. He’s been acting for twenty years; he just shouldn’t be compared to Matt. He’s a successful guy. He’s a genius. That guy makes every single moment something. He brings a level of sincerity and a sympathetic attitude to it that. It’s not that he was born to play this role; he’s just a brilliant actor”.

The only actor that didn’t have to audition for a role, says Ellin, was veteran film actor Jeremy Piven, whose credits include “Grosse Point Blank”, “Say Anything” and “The Family Man”, who plays Vincent’s foolhardy super-agent Ari Gold.

“As soon as we came up with this character, who’s based on a real guy by the way, we knew Jeremy had to play him”, explains Ellin. “I’ve been a fan of Jeremy for twenty years. I grew up watching him and remember thinking I want to make movies with this guy! So I begged him to do the show.

“He was very hesitant about it at first because we didn’t have a lot of money, and he didn’t know what he was getting himself into, but I told him ‘Jeremy, the only thing I know write now is that I know how to write for you. I know that even if the show isn’t good, you’re going to come out looking great’.

Though Piven’s fan-base has grown since the show hit the air, Ellin realised something – to this date, he was the actor’s biggest fan.

“He’s only now being recognized on the streets by people and I’m just amazed. I’m like ‘Jeremy, am I nuts or haven’t you been famous for like twenty years?” He says it’s nothing he’s ever been close to”.

Seems everyone wants in on the show too. They’ve had no trouble in coaxing some rather big names to guest-star on the series.

“Everyone knows someone who they can get on the show. That’s how it usually works. Mark knows somebody, or I know somebody…and we just ask them”, Ellin, who kicked off his career in the mailroom of New Line Cinema, says.

Among the names that have already appeared on the series – Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson, Val Kilmer, Luke Wilson, Larry David, and Gary Busey.

“This show is ninety-nine-point-nine percent scripted, and Gary Busey, I don’t think, said a word I wrote”, laughs Ellin of the infamously off the wall actor, who’s appeared in such films as Lethal Weapon and The Buddy Holly Story. “He looked at me and said ‘Doug, I won’t give you your words but what I will give you is the truth’. The guy comes up with stuff that’s so crazy and interesting. That’s why we bought him back for another episode because I love the guy. He’s brilliant. I’d say he’s Gary being Gary but he’s one of those actors that you just don’t feel is…acting”.

Ellin, who says he’s keen to get Russell Crowe on the show, sometimes can’t always get the person he wants though. He wanted Internet Guru Harry Knowles, webmaster of the popular Aint it Cool News website, to play himself on an episode – but got cold-feet when he came to the conclusion that Knowles mightn’t even be able to act. He couldn’t afford to risk it. “It required a lot of acting that role, and whilst we might have wanted Harry, we didn’t want to risk it because we didn’t know if he could act”, he says, adding that they ultimately cast an actor to play the Knowles-esque character.

One of the most difficult aspects of the series is the fact that it’s shot on location. “It’s really hard. I mean, we shot at a Laker Game – and we couldn’t even block it off at all. We went on, we wirelessly miked the guys and we shot it like a documentary. We did the same at the Sundance Film Festival. We didn’t block off any streets, but because know one knew who we were, it just looked like we were doing a very independent guerrilla film shoot”, he says.

In the U.S, the show, which Wahlberg has now taken a step-back from (“He calls when there’s something he doesn’t agree with – but he’s too busy doing films”) is about to kick off its third season. “We’re writing it now, and we start shooting February and it’ll air in June in the states. I’m working seven days a week at the moment, I can’t tell you the last time I saw my family. It’s a lot of work”.

ENTOURAGE Premieres on Arena on January 1st 2006.

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