In the flesh, there's nothing about Adrian Grenier that suggests the flighty party boy he plays with such relish on HBO's hit TV series Entourage.
Yes, he's as impossibly pretty as his character Vince Chase, the kid from Queens, N.Y., who strikes it big in Hollywood, moves into a mansion with his "entourage" (E, Turtle and Johnny) and, in season seven, starts snorting coke and dating a porn star.
Vince wears T-shirts, has face scruff, hair that's perpetually tousled, and he rides a Harley. Grenier saunters into his interview at a Toronto hotel looking unbearably neat - crisp plaid shirt, pressed jeans, buttoned black cardigan and purple suede sneakers (they even match the shirt and don't have a single scuff).
In town to promote his new documentary, Teenage Paparazzo, Grenier describes himself as a "modern-day multi-tasker, for better or worse" - he makes documentaries, films a hit TV show, stars in movies (he played Anne Hathaway's boyfriend in The Devil Wears Prada), and plays guitar, drums, French horn and piano in not one but two bands, Kid Friendly and The Honey Brothers. "I thank my mom for empowering me to do what I want," he says.
Raised by his mother, a New York real estate agent, Grenier was estranged from his father for 18 years - the subject of his first documentary, 2002's Shot in the Dark. "My mom was always a hard worker, and she ingrained that in me," he adds. "But I've been making little films since I was in high school. They just developed, and it's not something I want to give up. I love the process. It's a good waste of time."
The idea for Teenage Paparazzo, which hits theatres on Friday in Vancouver and Toronto, came after Grenier, 34, was swarmed by the paparazzi in Los Angeles and happened to catch sight of one angelic face behind the madly flashing cameras: Austin Visschedyk, then 13, who introduced himself to the Entourage star as "paparazzi, dude."
Grenier was transfixed by how a kid that age could be so firmly entrenched in the warped, secretive world of the paparazzi. He wanted to explore how Visschedyk, who was home-schooled, could nevertheless be allowed to chase speeding cars and harried celebrities until three in the morning on his bicycle or skateboard.
So Grenier tracked the kid down, introduced himself to the boys' parents, and began a three-year project - shot after work, on weekends and during breaks in filming - to turn the cameras back on the people taking the photos and delve into the weird machinations of the integrated system (the stars, the paparazzi, the studios, the tabloids) behind global celebrity.
"When I first started being recognized, I thought the paparazzi were just these ominous beasts - cameras as faces," says Grenier, who laughs at the fact that he's managed to become a quasi- cause célèbre for playing a character on Entourage as tabloid-worthy as Lindsay, Paris or Britney. "And I think it's easy to demonize what you don't know. Easy to fear it."
"But that's how wars get started, when you point your finger and say, 'They're the enemy. Go get 'em'" he continues. "I think this is a type of war, with the paparazzi and celebrities lashing out at each other. With this doc, I'm hoping to humanize and defuse the situation - not only show the human side of the paparazzi, but also show the human side of the celebrity. So they're not just a paycheque, like a floating piece of meat that the paparazzi see as their windfall."
For the two-hour film, Grenier also interviewed celebrity pals and acquaintances such as Matt Damon, Eva Longoria, Paris Hilton, Alec Baldwin and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as historians, psychologists, critics, publishers and tabloid writers. (Noam Chomsky "didn't make the cut," he adds, with his trademark lop-sided grin. "I love saying that.")
At one point in the movie, filming threatens to stall when Visschedyk - thanks to Grenier's high-wattage presence in his life - suddenly becomes the focus of countless media interviews and is offered his own reality show. Grenier realizes he's created a monster, a kid obsessed with becoming famous, who's used to ignoring the rules and is totally disrespectful of any notion of personal privacy.
Today Visschedyk is 17 and, Grenier hopes, has put his paparazzo days behind him. "Time will tell what he becomes, or whether [the making of this doc] was a significant experience in his life. Maybe he won't see it as such and it will just be a slight nudge," he says. "But I can't imagine if we were in an alternate universe and he'd done the reality show, not my documentary, what he would have become: An indulgent narcissist? Or he could be hugely famous right now? Who knows, maybe I messed up his opportunity."
It's certainly difficult to watch the documentary and fathom how a kid barely into his teens could be allowed to roam the streets of West Hollywood long after the clubs have closed. But Grenier doesn't judge those parental decisions, adding "it's just in my nature to be more philosophical and curious than to be judgmental.'
"The only thing I know is that I know nothing," says Grenier, quoting Socrates in another this-is-definitely-not-Vince moment. "I didn't judge the mother because I don't think there's any use in making those kinds of snap judgments until all the information is in. I'm not a parent. I've never done it. I don't know what the right thing is to do. Until you put your feet in everybody's else's shoes, only then can you make an accurate assessment."
At the end of the documentary, Visschedyk and his mom sit down to watch the rough cut. The looks on their faces say it all: Neither likes what they've become.
"That was the key," says Grenier. "The reason I did this was to gain perspective. Awareness of self is the cure to all of this. I ended up liking many of the paparazzi I met, liking them a lot. And I guess if the media can be a destructive, exploitive tool, it can also be a healing tool."
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