Adrian Grenier is not the biggest movie star in the world; he just plays one on TV. Sometimes it's hard to see the difference; the one identity runs into the other. Example: Here he is on the vertiginous 48th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel overlooking Columbus Circle, two attentive young women at his side as he mulls which pair of free Gucci shoes he should wear to the evening's premiere of The Devil Wears Prada. (A gratis Gucci suit is hanging in the bathroom.)
He'd just as happily walk the red carpet in the orange Pumas he had on a moment ago, but this sort of thing is no longer entirely his choice. "I've got enough flack from my manager," he says. "They want me to dress up a little." That's stardom in a nutshell: On the one hand, people want to give you free shoes; on the other, you gotta' wear the free shoes that people give you.
Grenier's actual stardom is tough to discern because his real identity -- up-and-coming actor who often takes small parts in big Hollywood movies such as Hart's War or Prada, which exceeded expectations and took in $27-million (U.S.) at the box office last weekend -- is overhung with the identity of his most famous character.
On the HBO comedy Entourage, which airs Sunday nights in Canada on The Movie Network and Movie Central, Grenier plays the easygoing, pretty-boy actor Vincent Chase who, as of the current season, is the biggest movie star in the world. (In the Entourage universe, Chase starred in a James Cameron-directed big-screen blockbuster adaptation of Aquaman: action figures and a theme-park ride quickly followed.) The fictional Chase lives in a gorgeous Los Angeles mansion and is chauffeured around town in a Hummer by his peeps. Grenier, meanwhile, is living a far more realistic actor's life, sharing space with a pal while he shoots the series in L.A. Back home in New York, where he grew up, he's renovating a house in an unfashionable part of Brooklyn.
And yet there are some people in the world who have evidently grafted the A-list aura of Vincent Chase onto the B-list reality that is Adrian Grenier.
That Brooklyn homestead? People bat it around on local blogs, tracking its developments and debating its significance as if it were an epic Sanskrit poem or the Brangelina baby. "I was shocked that people actually cared about that," Grenier says languidly. "But I think a lot of times that sort of thing is not so much about the celebrity.
It's a way for people to bond."
That modest view of his own celebrity, or lack thereof, is rare among actors getting their first real taste of privilege. But the chasm between the Hollywood fantasy of Entourage and his own lived experienced is instructive for Grenier. "You recognize that there's nothing really free, ultimately, and that you're getting something not because you're so great and so cool -- nobody is, I think we're all equal -- but you're getting it because it serves a purpose. And it's your job to sell things, to a certain extent."
He continues. "I've been learning all sorts of things about what it is to be a celebrity and what it is to be an A-list celebrity versus B-list, or a superstar versus just a regular old star," he murmurs. "I was shocked when I heard somebody say, 'Oh yeah, Johnny Depp's doing Pirates of the Caribbean, he's finally become a superstar.' And I was like, but wasn't he always a superstar?
"Like, in my mind, he's huge. I'd loved every movie he's ever [been]in. I loved his choices, he's a great actor, he was in the media and the press, and then I was told you become a superstar when the movie you're in makes a certain amount of money. So I was shocked, but you know, then it made sense, ultimately, that it has less to do with you and it has more to do with what you're associated with." (That lesson is taught in the current season of Entourage: more melding of fiction and reality.)
By that measure, even his small part in Prada will help raise Grenier's star. He plays Nate, the boyfriend of Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), the film's heroine who is forced to work endless hours as the personal assistant of the titular devil (Meryl Streep), a fascistic fashion-magazine editor. The situation is a reversal of film and social convention, placing Grenier in the classic woman's role, waiting morosely by the phone for his mate to come home from the world's toils.
He leans on an industry cliché to explain why he took the part. "There are no small parts, only small actors," he says with a chuckle. "I believe that.
"I made movies with my friends through high school." (He attended a public school in Manhattan dedicated to the performing arts.)
"We had video cameras and whatnot, and I learned early on that you do what it takes to make the movie happen, you know? Sometimes I'd hold the camera and film my friends, and sometimes the reverse. Sometimes you hold a boom . . . and it doesn't matter whether you were the star or if you played the guy in the background."
Grenier is still dedicated to the do-it-yourself approach in which the only thing that matters is getting the shot. The website for his production company, Reckless Productions, features a silhouette of a filmmaker capturing a shot of his own foot going up in flames.
A few years ago, Grenier recalls, he had a small role in the Bruce Willis Second World War drama Hart's War. His final moment on screen had him lying on the cold steel of a railroad track, his head blown half apart. The special-effects guys rigged him up with prosthetics that required him holding still until they got the shot. "They happened to place me so that my neck was on the metal of the track, and it was so cold, and I was so freezing. I was on the ground and if I moved then they would have to re-rig and everything, and I said, 'No, no, it's okay, I'll stay here. Just get the shot, just get the shot.' "
By the time they called "cut" -- three hours later -- he was cursing his self-abnegation. "I was like, 'You're an idiot, why didn't you just get up?' It was so righteous of me to suffer through it, and now I realize you don't have to suffer so much."
Not that he minds suffering for work that means a lot to him. A few years ago, he made a documentary, A Shot in the Dark, about re-establishing a relationship with his father, who'd abandoned his mother when he was an infant. And back in April, he premiered a 17-minute short at the Tribeca Film Festival. Personal documentaries and shorts don't tend to be money-makers.
His agents and managers, the same ones who give him flack for failing to dress properly, would rather he cash in on his new-found fame. "Yeah, they're not fulfilled by the indie movie," he laughs. "They're fulfilled when a movie is a big hit and a success, and the result of that success is money." Naturally, this produces tension. "I think you've just gotta' find the balance," shrugs Grenier. "One for them, one for you."
It's a good line. It also happens to be from Entourage.