Watching “Entourage” can feel a bit too close to home sometimes.
No, I didn’t have a co-starring role in “Aquaman” nor do I have a group of friends attached at the hip that suck the financial life from me, but I know who these guys are. Not necessarily Vince and his troupe — manager Eric, hanger-on Turtle and brother Johnny “Drama” — but those they interact act with: the agents, publicists, studio execs, aspiring screenwriters, wannabe directors and the various showbiz folks they encounter on a daily basis.
As an editor for Daily Variety, the entertainment industry’s trade paper, my job is to deal with those wanting to get into — or, more often than not, get their clients into — the newspaper of record.
Variety also has been in the crosshairs of “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin for years. The publication wasn’t kind to his first few movies, and in Variety’s initial review of “Entourage” back in July 2004, we wrote: “Taking a dig at Hollywood requires a nuanced touch, a blend of the familiar with the surreal, or else you’re stuck with one long in-joke. At its worst, ‘Entourage’ doesn’t even manage that.”
Ouch. So with that —and a couple of other shots along the way — Ellin was looking to get even. And, via Drama’s revitalized TV acting career, he’s done just that
Drama brings drama to Variety offices
At the end of last season, Drama (Kevin Dillon) lands a co-starring role in the Ed Burns pilot "Five Towns." After the series gets on the air, Variety trashes Drama’s performance, infuriating the actor known best for his role in “Viking Quest.” Taking the critique way too personally, Drama storms into the Variety office and confronts the paper’s scribe.
Those of us in the newsroom received a memo that the “Entourage” crew would be shooting in the newsroom on an August Friday from about 4 a.m. to mid-afternoon. When I arrived to work at about 9 a.m. that day, the office was packed.
Not with editors and reporters, but with nearly 100 behind-the-scenes folks — make-up artists, sound technicians, lighting pros, cameraman and dozens of extras. Now, if you haven’t been to a newsroom, its inhabitants will never be confused with those from the Ford Modeling Agency. We’re not the best-looking group around, especially in the context of image-conscious Los Angeles. So when these extras — who were sitting in various cubicles around the newsroom — were all about 22 years old and looked more like Heidi Klum than the late Ann Landers, it made those few legitimate Variety employees laugh in disbelief.
Shortly, the assistant director came over to me and started telling me what to do. In a scene, Drama runs by my desk hunting for Variety's critic (not our real critic Brian Lowry, but the fictional Paul Schneider, played by an actor). There were so many extras and so few real Variety staffers in the newsroom, the A.D. assumed I was an master thespian.
When I informed him that I actually had a journalism degree and where I was sitting was, indeed, my actual desk, he apologized and asked if I wanted to be in the shot. It took me all of about a nanosecond to tell him yes.
Method acting: Stand up, talk on the phone
My detailed instruction was to stand up from my chair as Drama was about to run by and then watch him as he dashed across the newsroom. My co-worker Ann was asked to do the same, though she had to pretend she was making a phone call at the same time.
As the director yelled “Action!”, Drama would scamper toward my desk and Ann and I would get up as the assistant director yelled “one.” Seemed simple enough.
In between scenes, Dillon was friendly, hung out with several Variety staffers and posed for a few pictures. He never flexed his star cred and was downright chummy with us ink-stained wretches.
Production wrapped around 2 p.m. and those low on the crew’s totem pole had the chore of turning the newsroom back into a newsroom again, with the camera, dollys and huge lights to be loaded back on the truck. Rumor had it the crew had another on-location scene to shoot that afternoon, at a local newsstand where Drama first reads the scathing Variety review.
With my 15 minutes of fame now behind me, what better time to start thinking about my Emmy speech for later this fall? Sure, if I must, I’ll talk to the press beforehand and discuss my motivation for the scene, childhood inspirations and what it means to be the next great HBO star — James Gandolfini, Ian McShane and me.
Now I just need to find an agent. I wonder if Ari Gold is available?
Stuart Levine is a senior editor at Daily Variety. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.