Adrian Grenier means well. The last time I saw him in person was at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which I had the privilege of covering for The Daily Beast. He was, strange though it may seem, given the unenviable task of opening for former President Bill Clinton at a private event celebrating the 20th anniversary of his receiving the Democratic nomination for president. And so, after two hours of popping cheap hors d’oeuvres, cradling domestic beers, and checking our phones, when Grenier took the stage to deliver a speech about his environmental activism, it was met with a collective, “WTF?” It wasn’t his fault, of course.
Yes, Grenier is best known for playing Vincent Chase, the narcissistic himbo/playboy/movie star on the HBO series Entourage. But he’s also been up to some fairly interesting things sans Doug Ellin, directing the 2010 documentary Teenage Paparazzo, a fascinating meditation on fame through the lens of a 14-year-old paparazzi photographer, and producing the 2013 doc How to Make Money Selling Drugs, which explored both sides of the “war on drugs.”
His latest documentary filmmaking endeavor is A Bee’s Invoice. It’s a 6-minute short film that explores “the hidden value of natural capital in the measurement of our economy.” It’s one of 20 short films included in the compilation We the Economy—a collection of shorts helmed by different filmmakers that seeks to provide a better understanding of our economy. The series is produced by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. Grenier also recently wrapped filming on the Entourage movie, which will hit theaters June 5, 2015.
I met the 38-year-old actor/filmmaker at a bar in Midtown Manhattan to discuss his myriad projects over some Scotch.
How did you come up with the idea for A Bee’s Invoice?
I’ve been making documentaries for 12 years, and doing environmental work as well. Vulcan approached me to do a documentary about demystifying the economy, and I asked them if I could make something about the hidden value of natural capital because I knew a bit about the subject. I wanted to do something that had a sense of optimism for the future and explored what’s next. Especially considering there’s so much inequality and the economy doesn’t serve the amount of people it should, how do we find a future where we correct those market failures?
This country is pretty reliant on “Big oil,” which seems to stand in contrast to the emphasis placed on renewable and sustainable energy sources in your documentary.
Right. Forget about having to pay the costs of it tomorrow. What I was hoping to do with this film was to get people in touch with the fact that they have ownership over these natural resources. The environment is going to be fine. We can go away tomorrow, and the environment will forget about our existence. But it’s doing a disservice to you, me, and future generations to allow big corporations to overstep and impose their costs onto us. We don’t look at it as such because we’re not actually tallying all those externalities since they’re in the form of higher healthcare costs or environmental detriment, so we’re not holding anybody accountable.
You’ve been angling into documentary filmmaking for a while now. How did you get into this racket?
When I was younger, my friends and I used to make short films with camcorders—inappropriate, gross, immature, violent films. It was just fun to pass the time. Thank goodness the Internet and YouTube didn’t exist back then, because I probably wouldn’t have a career today since some of them were pretty stupid. When I was in my mid-20’s, I wanted to make something bigger and made Shot in the Dark, which was my first feature-length documentary. I was inspired by Ross McElwee’s documentary Sherman’s March—about General Sherman’s ravaging march through the South during the Civil War, but ended up being a very personal film about his own love life.
There are some curious contradictions with you. You starred on Entourage, but also seem to be cognizant of classism. You posted an Instagram side-by-side of Kim Kardashian with an Alenza painting and claimed Instagram “confirms class structure and distracts us from our true goals of equality.”
Or really more that Instagram is no different than these paintings of yore that served to heighten status. These are paintings that we look at as high art, when in fact they weren’t so much.
With Entourage and Vincent Chase, do you feel like audiences and producers tend to conflate you with the character? That they now have trouble seeing you play other roles?
That’s the burden of acting. Every artist or musician has to recreate themselves. Take a band like Radiohead. Everyone says, “Play ‘Creep,’ play ‘Creep!’” and they say, “Fuck you, we’re going to make some new music and you’re going to like it.” It’s the way it is. I’m very thankful that people aren’t throwing tomatoes and are throwing compliments at my character on an iconic show. What an experience, man. An iconic show! It defined a generation and brought us into the aughts.
But a lot of the stuff I read about you and a lot of the actors on Entourage online seems to paint a pretty negative picture of you guys. Why do you think that is? Do you think people are conflating Adrian Grenier with Vincent Chase?
It’s mixed in my real life as well. I’ve been allotted a lot of opportunities that Vince was, so life does imitate art. I accept the challenge to reinvent myself and to try and convince the world that there are other sides to myself, and I’m satisfied so far. Not everything can be as iconic and big and amazing as Entourage. I went back and watched some early episodes, and I think the show really holds up. I’m excited about what we did, and I’m excited about what we’re going to show everyone with the movie out next June.
What was the deal with the Entourage movie? I read a bunch of reports prior to filming that claimed you were holding the movie up because of money issues.
Oh yeah, that whole thing. It’s politics and it’s shit-talking. People are looking for controversy, and they’ll find it if they have to. You negotiate, and until the deal is done, there is no movie.
Were they trying to give you less money? What was the deal?
It was to make sure we were unified. Our contracts on the show were one thing and then after that there were no contracts, so some players wanted to manipulate that fact. But we decided as a team to stick together, and stand united.
In every show, it seems, the creators and producers try to short-change the talent, and then eventually they all have to band together—like on Friends—and demand a pay rise.
Well, that happens on every show, right? In every negotiation, your strongest tool is the ability to walk away. And it may backfire, but you have to be willing to do it.
Vincent Chase’s two biggest “fictional” film projects on Entourage were The Great Gatsby and Aquaman, and Gatsby was made into a film years after the show went off the air, and now they’re making an Aquaman film. Were these scripts circulating around Hollywood back when the show was on the air?
Doug [Ellin] is a genius at capturing the zeitgeist, and I think Entourage was very prophetic. Short of saying that Doug is a sage or a prophet, if someone went back and did all the parallels between real life and the show, that would be pretty interesting. It would be a lot—and not even stuff that’s in public, but my own experiences. I’ll be in a room and be like, “Holy shit, this billionaire Saudi guy is actually asking me to bang his wife?” Different things in the show have helped me because I’ve been in that situation and think, “OK, I know what to do here.”
One criticism often levied at Entourage was the depiction of women on the show—that they were, by and large, empty vessels merely meant to service the needs of the male characters or serve as eye-catching “scenery.”
Right. Eye-candy. Great furniture, though? [Laughs] I would disagree. When I first read the script, I declined to audition. I said, “This is misogynistic, it’s base, it’s immature, and superficial. Pass.” I was ultimately convinced otherwise, and I’m very glad that I was. In retrospect, I was wrong. On the surface, yes, it may be that. It’s candy in a lot of ways—and not just the women, but the conspicuous consumption and indulgence of cars, drugs, parties, and so forth. It’s a male fantasy in a lot of ways.
But at its core, and I think the reason why the show lasted so long, is that it’s about brotherhood and friendship. It’s about the values that transcend all of that stuff and actually allow them to survive all that glitz and glamour. Plus, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Hollywood, but the show is a reflection of reality. There are a lot of women there who give women a bad name because of the way they portray themselves, carry themselves, and indulge themselves, and there are a lot of men who help to propagate that. So to ignore that reality would be disingenuous. And this isn’t a “activism” show. I’d tell Doug, “Come one, do they have to drive a Hummer? What are we trying to say about the environment? Can they drive a Prius?” And he’d tell me, “That’s not who these guys are. It would not be authentic if they drove a Prius.” And I respected that, because it held a mirror to reality.
Also, a lot of the tertiary “wallpaper” characters on the show are eye-candy, but many of the recurring characters are strong women. Dana Gordon. Sloan. Ari’s wife. Vince’s girlfriends. Carla Gugino’s character. Sasha Grey was… empowered. [Laughs]
Were you ever confronted by any of the people you parodied on Entourage? Did Harvey Weinstein ever corner you at a party and be like, “What the fuck?”
No, but I’m still wondering why Harvey hasn’t given me any roles! [Laughs]
So, what can you tell me about this Entourage movie? I know Liam Neeson is in it.
Haley Joel Osment is also in it playing a character, and he’s such a great guy. There are honestly so many cameos in the movie that I think it’ll set a Guinness World Record for cameos-per-minute. There are great ones. And the film just picks up moments after the show ended. I was really nervous when we started shooting, but once we started, it was just like riding a bike. But I can tell you that we all live in the end.