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11.24.08

Is Adrian Grenier a Good Enough Actor to Play a Bad One?

HBO’s Entourage just wrapped its best season yet, but the question remains: Can Adrian Grenier act at all?

At the premiere of Entourage's fifth season three months ago at Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Theater, I asked Adrian Grenier, who plays Vincent Chase, “Is Vince a good actor, or just an A-list face?”

The previous season, where we got to see more of Vince acting than ever, left me certain that he's a weak actor. For the vast majority of Entourage, Vince doesn’t do much acting, and in the brief moments when we see him working, the scenes are usually cringeworthy: that clunky, unintense final moment of Queens Boulevard, all those wooden scenes in Medellin, and that horrifyingly tin, passionless bit in Smokejumpers. When a director told Vince’s agent, “Your client is soulless,” I had to agree. The question of whether or not Vince can act shapes how we should feel about him: Should we root for Vince because he deserves success, or should we be cynical toward him simply because he won the genetic lottery?

Grenier’s like Vince: a guy who looks like a movie star, but isn’t. It’s a weird meta-trip watching a so-so actor play a so-so actor.

Grenier told me, “That’s a very good question. Because that’s what this season is about.”

And it was. After years of effortlessly gliding upward in Hollywood, this year Vince had to struggle and claw to get hired, stay hired, and get seen for auditions. People said openly he was a bad actor and that he was finished in Hollywood. That tension and striving and slipping toward an abyss made this Entourage’s best season yet.

But now that more was being demanded of Vince—he seemed trapped in career quicksand and practically had to get on his knees to stay in the industry—that meant much more was demanded of Adrian Grenier. I’m not sure he delivered.

In every episode this season Grenier was outacted by both Jeremy Piven and Kevin Dillon. Jason Patric showed up for one episode and blew him away. All three episodes starring Stellan Skarsgard as the tempestuous genius director Werner Vollstedt made Adrian look small. I think Grenier’s like Vince: a guy who looks like a movie star, but isn’t. It’s a weird meta-trip watching a so-so actor play a so-so actor.

Grenier’s a good physical actor. He moves languidly and fluidly, like a pleasantly cocky big star who's comfortable in his own body. He walks down the street very well, reminiscent of Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. But when he opens his mouth, it’s never riveting, and often it’s as stale as Vince was in Medellin. He makes me think of the old adage that it’s possible for a good actor to play a bad one, but not possible for a bad actor to play a good one. Indeed, how could it be possible for an actor to play someone above the level of his own talent? If the actor can't understand how to express a character's layers and depth, how could he play an actor who could?

Then the season finale changed everything, as season finales are wont to do. They gave us Grenier’s best moments of the entire show: the emotional scene in Vince’s mom’s house in Queens, after Gus Van Sant has told him he’s not right for his movie and he sees everything falling away, putting him almost back to where he was as a broke teenager. He’s calm, but you can see the fear and sadness building as he kind of mumbles. Then he explodes, yelling, “Fuck!” and throwing the phone against the wall—a delicious little eruption. Then he jumps immediately back to calm before going out in the street to forcefully indict his manager for screwing up his career and coolly firing him. Those were the most gripping moments Grenier has ever given us.

And then, in the final minutes when it appears Vince just might be evanescing away from Hollywood and sliding back into Queens, out of the blue Martin Scorsese shows up to tell us two things. First, that his name is pronounced Score-says-he (not Score-say-zee) and that Says-He thinks Vince is good enough to be Nick Carraway in his update of The Great Gatsby. I’m not going to argue with one of the gods of modern filmmaking. If Scorsese says Vince’s good, then I guess he is. But I doubt we’d ever see Adrian Grenier star in a Scorsese flick.

Touré is the host of BET’s The Black Carpet and the host of Treasure HD’s I’ll Try Anything Once . He is the author of Never Drank the Kool-Aid , Soul City , and The Portable Promised Land . He was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, was CNN’s first pop culture correspondent, and was the host of MTV2's Spoke N Heard . His writing has appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times.