Once again, the Turtle wins the race.
For eight seasons on HBO's hit series Entourage, Jerry Ferrara's Turtle played second-fiddle to Adrian Grenier's Vincent Chase. He was a chauffeur, a babysitter, the chunkier kid from back home in Queens who was at times painted as just along for the ride on Vince's Hollywood coattails. In later seasons, though, Turtle trimmed up, landed a ridiculously attractive girlfriend in Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and started to stand on his own as an entrepreneur.
And now, just two short years after the Entourage finale, Jerry Ferrara is making some of the same successful steps. "I haven't really made the comparison like that … because I always think of myself in real life as different than the Entourage character – way more driven and motivated," he says over the phone. But this much he won't deny: "I've been working really hard since the show's been over, and I'm a very lucky guy. Things have been good."
No kidding. Over the coming year, the 33-year-old has almost half a dozen projects coming down the pike, including this weekend's Last Vegas. The Chronicle caught up with Ferrara earlier this fall to get updates on his very full plate. Excerpts below.
Jerry Ferrara: I mean it’s basically the Mount Rushmore of acting. It’s all guys that I have tremendous respect for. DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline … I really wanted that job if for nothing else than for the experience of working with those guys. I almost didn’t care if they cut me out of the movie; I wanted that on-set experience, you know? It’s been a goal of mine to work with Robert DeNiro, like any kid from Brooklyn, since I was really young. And the good news is the experience was even better than I thought it would be. Those guys were extremely nice, treated me with respect, and were the most professional people that I’ve ever worked with. You’d think guys of that success level [would] kinda do whatever they want, but what they chose to do was be really professional and be fucking great actors, excuse my language [laughs]. It was amazing to watch the four of them joust and do their thing.
Austin Chronicle: You’ve stepped into a couple of different sorts of roles since Entourage, but it must be also sort of strange to be the young gun on set, right? I’m sure the dynamic was very different.
JF: Here’s what’s kinda funny about my career. With Last Vegas, obviously you could say I’m the baby in the cast. And I kinda was on Entourage as well … But what's starting to happen in some of the other things I’ve worked on that’s actually kind cool … there have been a few situations on movies I’ve worked one where I’m like the elder statesman of the group. And I’m very much that guy who will like grab the 22-year-old kid and be like: “Get over here, kid; I gotta tell you a story. Here’s a cautionary tale. Don’t ever fucking do this …” Apparently I have a lot of wisdom to offer. I like that role of being the kinda experienced guy. Now granted I’m working with kids who are 18 and 19 years old, but I’m the veteran guy at 33, and I love it.
AC: Well you were that age when you came out to Los Angeles, right? So surely you’ve got some wisdom to impart.
JF: I still very much feel like I’ve barely started … but I moved here when I was 20 years old. I got Entourage when I was 23 and now I’m 33. So it’s been a long time but I feel like I just started in some ways.
AC: You talked about DeNiro being a hero. Do you ever just wake up and think to yourself: “I’m now in the club of people who have been punched onscreen by Robert DeNiro”?
JF: Look, I’ve never really been beat up in a movie or in a TV show; it’s either been a draw or the creative gods decided that I should win, which is always great writing [laughs]. But I guess if you’re gonna get an ass-whooping on screen, who better than to whoop your ass than Robert DeNiro? … I’ve been very lucky with onscreen love interests and I guess onscreen fights. I’ve been very, very blessed.
AC: Yeah, I think you’ve been pretty gifted in both of those categories so far, especially on Entourage.
JF: [laughs] Like I said, great writing!
AC: You’ve talked in interviews before on the starting over process after Entourage. And you’ve talked about how one of the things that was really important – and you were willing to audition to get them – is wanting to get different kinds of roles. Certainly Last Vegas is an example of that. What do you feel like has been the key to success in getting those kinds of roles after Entourage?
JF: The main luxury we all had is that we knew when the show was going to end, so we were able to put a plan in. It really is just … you gotta leave your ego at the door in a sense. I’ve done over 100 episodes of television, and love or hate Entourage, say what you want about it, we definitely left a mark in television. And at the end of the day, that … afforded me a lot of great opportunities, but in the same breath I have also had to work doubly as hard to also prove that there’s a lot more to me than just that. … So for me it was just taking small roles in Empire State, and in Battleship, which led me to Lone Survivor.
But in getting away from the character of Turtle – and not in a negative way, because I love that character … what that show has done for me, it’s why you and I are talking right now, so I don’t mean in a negative way. It’s just that perception a lot of the time is reality, so I got myself into really good shape and I just kinda checked any ego or entitlement at the door and almost said: "Let’s just start over with this movie thing. No one really knows me in the movies; they only know me from TV. So let’s just start from the beginning." And that’s what we did.
AC: In Lone Survivor, the movie you’re doing with Peter Berg, you’re playing a soldier, which is a pretty different type of role for you. What’s it like preparing to take that sort of step?
JF: Yeah, I played a Marine in Lone Survivor, [which] is based on a true story, based on a book. And it is a very, very intense war story. I mean, there’s no other way to put it. It’s an intense movie.
Peter Berg is someone I’ve always respected. I actually worked with him on Entourage when he did his cameo. I did a very small role in Battleship and worked hard and got to know Pete, and he gave me this role in Lone Survivor. The toughest part is I was doing Last Vegas and Lone Survivor at the same time. So to be doing Last Vegas, which is this really funny Vegas romp with these hall-of-famers, and then to jump on the plane from Vegas to New Mexico where you’re doing this intense, real-life story where I’m the new guy but they were out they were in New Mexico for weeks upon weeks already in the middle of it…. That was the trickiest thing. You know there’s no jokes to be made here on Lone Survivor. Come in here, do your job, and do these guys justice who really lived this story. And just listen to every word that Peter Berg says because this man knows the story inside and out. And luckily it’s easy to trust a guy like Pete Berg creatively because his track record speaks for itself.
JF: So I literally just went in there and went with Pete.
AC: Right. Well, that seems like a pretty safe bet.
AC: What’s it going to be like to be back with the gang?
JF: Oh man, making that movie is just going to be the most amazing thing. … It’s going to be really sweet to get the band back together again, you know?
JF: Because we had the greatest time making that show man. Literally. The greatest, greatest time. And those guys are lifetime friends. We’re brothers.
AC: Well I think that will come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
AC: I know you can’t give anything away, but can you tell us anything about what to expect?
JF: Without saying anything that would get me in trouble, I guess the way I can describe it without giving away too much is it’s kind of a throwback to the earlier years of Entourage where the four guys are together a lot more. It’s very much in that season 1 and season 2 vein of what the show was, [when it was just] these four guys who are just living under these extreme and extraordinary circumstances and looking out for one another. So we’ll call it like the “throwback Thursday” of Entourage.
AC: My understanding is that you were a producer on film which a lot of people really enjoyed at South by Southwest, A Band Called Death. I have to ask how you got involved in a documentary project about a proto-punk band from Detroit. How does that happen?
JF: [laughs] Well it actually happened through some friends of mine … Matthew Perniciaro and Kevin Mann. They co-produced the LeBron James documentary More than a Game.
They kinda had this story that was almost … not done, but they had all this footage of the band [of Death]. … I always say that editing, and specifically documentary editing, is kind of just writing with pictures. Like you’re still figuring out what the story is in the editing room. And man, when I saw some of the footage and I saw these guys play, I was immediately interested. And then when you really get to the heart of the story you figure out this is more than just a music doc. This is an American family story, you know?
These are three African-American brothers from Detroit playing rock & roll in the late Sixties and early Seventies, when everyone is telling them, “You guys should be like Earth Wind & Fire.” And they come up with this hardcore punk rock. Right there you got me hooked. And then when you find out just what a great family [theirs is]…. Their motto was "Always back up your brother." And that’s what the story is about. … It’s just something that I’m very, very proud of. The minute they kinda came to me looking for some producing help, I was in. The minute I saw what the story was, I was in.
AC: Were you in town at all for the festival?
JF: You know what? I was working. I so wanted to be there. I’ve never been to South By, and I am beyond jealous because that seems like something I would just go crazy for. Between the music and the movies and the food and the people in Austin, it’s one of my favorite cities, and I am going next year whether I have a movie there or not. I’m dying, dying, dying to go.
AC: Your restaurant is coming to Austin. I’m a native, and that’s very exciting for us.
JF: The few times I’ve been [to Austin], I’ve always left with a great feeling of “Why don’t I come here more?” Myself and the other guys involved with Fat Sal’s have always targeted Austin as one of the next cities if we could develop this brand. And luckily it’s doing really well here in Southern California. We closed on a great piece of real estate on Guadalupe Street in West Campus and the Sal of Fat Sal’s moved down there with his family. We just started construction, and it should be done relatively soon.
AC: That’s awesome. I used to live a couple of blocks from there and it’s a great location.
JF: That’s what I keep hearing. Everyone who has spent some time in Austin and knows the location that we got is pretty upbeat about the spot.
AC: Are you going to be in town at all for the opening of the restaurant?
JF: Absolutely … and also the Sal of Fat Fal’s is one of my best friends, and he’s got some kids I have to go see because I love them as well. So I’m going to be coming to Austin a lot more.
AC: Well we look forward to seeing you. I’m pretty confident that the more you come the more you’re going to like it.
JF: I’m going to get myself a condo there at some point. I’ll tell you that.
AC: Anything else in the works that you’re excited about or think people should know about?
JF: I just wrapped Think Like a Man Too which will be out in the Summer of next year. Bigger and better than the first one. And I just wrapped a really small indie in New York that’s kinda going back to my old neighborhood. It’s called The Life. It’s basically my first real lead in a movie…like every scene leading man type stuff. And that shit is hard. I have a whole new respect for those guys who do that.
Last Vegas is in theatres now. See our Film Listings for showtimes and a review.
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