It's lunchtime July 8, and the creator and stars of HBO's "Entourage" — starting its eighth and final season July 24 — are catching up over drinks at Montage Beverly Hills' new Macallan Bar, £10, for a discussion with The Hollywood Reporter.
Adrian Grenier leisurely peruses his iPad as Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly and Kevin Dillon discuss the merits of "Cowboys & Aliens" star Harrison Ford. "He can open anything," Piven says with a dismissive wave of the hand. A noticeably slender Jerry Ferrara steps onto a balcony overlooking the hotel's glimmering pool and lights a cigarette while series creator Doug Ellin coordinates transporting his own entourage — his brother Rob, childhood friend Larry and Larry's wife — from the valet stand to £10 two floors above.
Bowing in 2004, five months after the network's storied series "Sex and the City" bid farewell and as "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under" headed into the twilight, the half-hour dramedy from then-freshman showrunner Ellin and executive producers Mark Wahlberg and Steve Levinson (Wahlberg's longtime manager) followed four friends — all little-known actors at the time — from Queens as they navigated Hollywood's glitzy labyrinth of sex, drugs and velvet ropes.
Averaging 8.1 million weekly viewers in its 2010 season, up from 4.7 million in season one, the first real glimpse at the seductive inner workings of the entertainment industry has become a cult favorite not only with its slightly male-skewing 18-to-49 demo (among HBO's youngest series) but also with the industry it depicts.
Now, nearly a decade and six Emmy wins later, the group finally reveals the inspiration for the eerily familiar characters, too-close-for-comfort storylines and hush-hush plans for a big-screen sequel in a candid conversation with THR's Leslie Bruce and Lacey Rose. (Because of scheduling, interviews with Wahlberg, Levinson and execs Chris Albrecht and Michael Lombardo were conducted separately.)
PART 1: 'HBO was very, very hard on us'
Mark Wahlberg, executive producer: It all started when I was making a documentary about my friend Donkey [Donnie Carroll], the real Turtle, and his quest to become a rapper. The reality TV craze was just beginning, and everybody started saying: "We should film you and all your guys and all the craziness going on. That would be even funnier." I said, "Absolutely not." So we decided to turn it into a scripted version.
Steven Levinson, executive producer: Doug's older brother is one of my closest friends from college, so Doug and I have been friends for a long time. I suggested to Mark that we go to him to do this. [At the time, Ellin was an out-of-work writer and independent filmmaker.]