The lovable celebrity hanger-on, Turtle, in HBO's hit dramedy Entourage embodies many a young man's dream. A friend you came up with back home invites you to move out to Los Angeles and live off of him with no strings attached as he rides a rocket ship to movie stardom, and takes you and the rest of his inner circle along for the ride. In many ways the character of Turtle has become something of a generation Y folk hero. As actor Jerry Ferrara's calling card, Turtle has made Ferrara admirable to guys, and just adorable to women.
Fans were actually surprised to watch as Jerry Ferrara, and his fictional counterpart, Turtle, evolved both physically and professionally in recent years. Jerry Ferrara transformed from a doughy twenty-something into a buff thirty-something man. Impressed fans posted online comments expressing their approval of Jerry's new look.
The character of Turtle grew more and more ambitious and eager to crawl out of Vincent Chase's shadow with each passing season of Entourage. As season seven of the hit HBO series drew to a close last year, Turtle was in the midst of an aggressive deal with Avion Tequila, and sporting a beautiful girlfriend on his arm (played by actress and model, Dania Ramirez).
I was impressed, as Jerry Ferrara is anything but a "Hollywood" cliché. Ferrara is a Brooklyn-bred boy, down to earth, accommodating and studiously professional. Playing Turtle on Entourage since 2004 clearly proves his acting chops.
I was excited to discuss this upcoming eighth and final season of Entourage with Jerry, what the experience has been like for him, how the show's characters have evolved over eight successful seasons on HBO, the possibility of an Entourage movie, and Ferrara's budding writing career.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): Did you already wrap the last episode of this last season of Entourage?
Jerry Ferrara: Yes. Our last day was this past Tuesday (June 28, 2011). That was the last shooting day of the show.
PR.com: How was it for you?
Jerry Ferrara: It was tough for me. I remember waking up in the morning and kind of just dreading it, knowing that it's going to be hard. Then it became such a long work day that towards the end I was so tired that I thought, "Ok, maybe I'm actually not going to be emotional about it because I'm exhausted." But, sure enough, when they called "wrap" I lost it. I had to go on a little man walk by myself and shed some tears, and it was really tough. I don't know how I feel about it just yet. I'm excited about a lot of things but I'm also sad about a lot of things.
PR.com: Being on Entourage marked a huge chapter in your life. This show was really your first big break.
Jerry Ferrara: Absolutely. I grew up on this show. I moved to LA when I was nineteen, I got Entourage when I was twenty two, and I'm thirty-one now. My entire twenties were spent playing this character and being with these guys every day.
PR.com: As far as your character Turtle goes, Kevin Connolly made a widely publicized comment about you. He said, "Out of all the guys on the show, [Jerry Ferrara] is the most unlike his character. He's, like, 180 degrees in the opposite direction." Have you lived vicariously through Turtle all these years?
Jerry Ferrara: I definitely did. I was more similar to Turtle when I was a little bit younger, which is always how I tried to play him, as kind of the young one, not even age-wise, but just maturity and status-wise, of the group. A lot of my knowledge about LA and about the entertainment business has come through this show. There have been nights when I left the set and I said, "Wow, I really wish that were real, because it would be really nice to have your three best friends around, hanging out and living life to the fullest." So, I've lived through the character and through the show, immensely.
PR.com: How would you compare your own Hollywood experience with how it's presented in Entourage?
Jerry Ferrara: Entourage, to me, is pretty accurate, especially in a true business sense. A lot of the stuff with Jeremy [Piven's] character, Ari, and most of the business stuff that's conducted through that character... Doug Ellin, our writer and creator, has done an amazing job, because that really is how the business works: from how actors get roles, and how directors come on at the last minute. As far as my own life, I've been doing a television show for eight years so I don't think I've reached the Vincent Chase status (referring to the central character in "Entourage" played by Adrian Grenier). But there have been certain parallels for me where I said, "Wow, thank God I've gotten this first-hand look because I kind of know what's going to happen in this situation." It's like, I've seen this movie before.
PR.com: Would you describe the entertainment industry as a boy's club? And do you think the character of Ari Gold is portraying a misogynistic point of view?
Jerry Ferrara: I was referring to the heavy handedness of how people get roles and how people get hired and fired. As far as the misogyny, I don't really view the show that way at all. I think it is a boy's club on a lot of levels, but this is just one story within the show. It doesn't mean that that is how every facet of the business works. It's just one particular story within the business. One of the more predominantly powerful characters, in terms of business, is female: Beverly D'Angelo's character of Barbara Miller. She's the one who bailed the Ari character out of hot water and put him back in business.
PR.com: I wasn't referring to the show, Entourage, as a whole. I'm referring specifically to the character of Ari and the way he sees the world.
Jerry Ferrara: He does say outlandish things in the midst of craziness, but he's a family man on the show. He loves his wife and he's a great father and you'll see this season, the extreme lengths in terms of his business versus his personal life, in what he goes through to try to save his marriage and his family. It's very heartbreaking stuff.
PR.com: Last season, it seemed that many of the characters progressed, both emotionally and professionally, including Turtle, yet the character of Vince regressed. Why did the writer's choose to write it that way?
Jerry Ferrara: I think with Doug writing that kind of arc, it's a tricky thing, because the Vince character is always the drive. He's the rainmaker of the group. If life is good for Vince, life is good for the other guys; if life is bad for Vince, then likewise for the guys. Trying to create obstacles for a guy who has it all is very difficult. On the show, we've done the storyline career-wise where Vince was on top and then he got knocked way down to the bottom, professionally, only to climb back up. I think from Doug Ellin's point of view, we can't keep having it where Vince gets the movie, loses the movie, has to get the movie back again. Also, I think it's worth exploring in Hollywood and in the entertainment business, just how easy it is to get caught up when you do have everything at your fingertips. I think it caught everybody by surprise. Some people loved it, and some people would rather things always just be good for the guys. I think it was a great story arc that was needed on the show, and I think it gave the Vince character some depth. [Vince] always is the kind of character that says, "I love all the toys but I don't need them. I love the money, but I don't need it." But this was the first time where you saw him on a downward spiral, and I think the show needed it.
PR.com: I do too. I actually really enjoyed the change in the dynamic of the show last season. Let's talk about you writing some episodes of Entourage for this final season. How did that come about? Did you have to really campaign for that opportunity?
Jerry Ferrara: Yes and no. I've always written in my spare time but I'm by no means a professional writer, and my relationship with Doug is so strong, we're best friends, and creatively I just saw a major opportunity to learn, even if I wasn't going write an episode. I would always go to the office and hang out when [they] were coming up with the seasonal arcs and I did learn so much. I had asked Doug as a friend and as my boss if I could get the opportunity, I would love to try. I said, "Just know I might fail, but if you're willing to let me fail, it would mean a lot to me. It's something I always wanted to accomplish." Sure enough, he gave me the opportunity to co-write two scripts with him.
PR.com: Were there any ground rules set down as far as reporting to the writers meetings?
Jerry Ferrara: Well, Doug Ellin said, "Jer, you're going to have to come to the office every day. You're not just going to show up and write your episode and leave. You have to know where we're starting, you have to know where we're finishing," and he's like, "you've gotta do it my way if you're going to do it." I jumped at the opportunity and he babysat me the whole way. He was there to guide me. He co-wrote the script, so I felt comfortable because I knew that if something I pitched or came up with sucked, he would tell me right away because his name was on it (laughs).
PR.com: How did the other cast members like what you wrote for them?
Jerry Ferrara: Everyone seemed to like it. I have to say, the response was very positive. They were very supportive of it. I was very self-conscious, like I didn't want to make it like I was writing this to write some stuff for my character. I almost wanted to, well, I would have loved if Doug would have helped me write myself out of the episode because I didn't want them to think there were selfish intentions. The response was great and they were all very supportive. It was an amazing opportunity. It changed my life because moving forward on to some other stuff I would like to write and produce and be in meetings. Now people will say, "Oh, you wrote two episodes of Entourage." That goes a long way. I'm very thankful to Doug [Ellin]. It was all Doug.
PR.com: Assuming that Turtle is in the episodes you co-wrote, how, as an actor, do you write for your character? How do you write dialogue for yourself?
Jerry Ferrara: At this stage, I'm not going to say it was easy. I obviously know the voice of the character but I didn't create that voice. There are moments where we had a funny line, but Doug would say, "That's great, but I think that's more of a [Johnny] Drama line, because he just has such command of those voices. If I heard a certain line and you asked me, "Who do you think has this line on the show?" I think all of the guys could do this. This isn't necessarily even a writing thing. This is just being a part of it for eight years. If you showed me a monologue that was just basic with some jokes and you asked me who it belongs to, I'm confident that I would get it 99.9% of the time. So the difficulty didn't come with the voices; I think the difficulties came in other ways, like I don't know how the [writers] have done this for 96 episodes, I really don't.
PR.com: It is incredible, because as writers, they are creating full three dimensional personalities.
Jerry Ferrara: And especially in the last few years as all of the characters have evolved, sometimes there are four to seven storylines that are all A and B storylines that are going on in one episode. So how do you get all these guys together for one scene if E is at the office, Ari's with his wife, Vince is with Sasha Grey, Turtle is having an Avion meeting and Drama is at an audition? At some point we all have to get together, and the way 4 to 7 storylines are woven together. That was the hardest thing that I saw.
PR.com: Over the past eight seasons of Entourage, who has been your favorite guest star?
Jerry Ferrara: Oh God! We were at the wrap party last night and they were showing a picture montage of all of the cameos we've had for all eight years and it's just so hard to choose one. Everyone from Bob Saget to Gary Busey, I mean James Cameron stands out the most for me because it was just great to see such a hall of fame director put his acting shoes on. It looked like he kind of liked not directing and just worrying about his acting for a bit. Martin Landau is a big stand out for me, and I really love the stuff with Jason Patrick when Vince was doing the Smoke Jumpers film. That stuff was very, very cool to me.
PR.com: And the episode that James Cameron appeared it, which was titled, "The Sundance Kids," wasn't that actually your favorite episode?
Jerry Ferrara: Yes, that was absolutely my favorite episode. It was the first time we ever went on location anywhere as a group and so much was going on: the Jim Cameron thing, and it was epic. It was the first trip that we ever took as a production. And it was also my first time to the Sundance Film Festival. I always said I would never go there unless I had a movie or something there. So this was an even better excuse. I went there to actually shoot a TV show.
PR.com: Are you as big of a fan of Avion Tequila as Turtle is?
Jerry Ferrara: I'm not the biggest drinker in the world, but I have gotten into Tequila recently, and yeah, I'm a giant fan of Avion. I strongly believe in the fact that it's just a cool product. The name is cool and it's one of the better Tequilas I've ever had.
Jerry Ferrara: It's really good. I'm not trying to sell you a product. There's a bottle of it in my house (laughs).
PR.com: (Laughs). I know. I only ask because I just read this morning that you like it. What's going on with plans for an Entourage movie? What do you know so far?
Jerry Ferrara: All I know is that Mark Wahlberg and Steve Levinson, two of the executive producers, really want it to happen. I know Dough Ellin really wants it to happen and Doug's going to have to be the driving force, because he's going to have to write the script and I know amongst the guys on the show, we would love to do it! I think it would be a great way to see just how many people really do watch the show and would come out to watch it as a film. I know there's a lot of interest from HBO, and even just on a studio level, in doing it. It's going to boil down to, what's the creative, what's the script like. We have to have a strong final season and the demand for us to be there and I really think it will happen.
PR.com: It's a big feat to take these larger than life Entourage characters and tie up the loose ends for this last season to satisfy the audience. Do you think that was accomplished, and what can people expect in the final season?
Jerry Ferrara: I think it was absolutely accomplished. I don't watch the show. After we shoot I'll go watch it with Doug but I don't watch it on TV only because I'm a freak and I hate to see anything I do (laughs), but I think that, for instance with Turtle, I look back, personally, at my character and where he started in season one, where he was telling girls, "Make out with me, and I'll show you where Vince eats breakfast."
Jerry Ferrara: And getting paid $100 a week as a driver to where he's finished, and where the audience will see [Turtle] has finished, it's one of the biggest evolutions I've ever seen. And it goes for all of us. Kevin Connolly's character wasn't even Vince's manager, and was living in the guesthouse fresh out of working for Sbarro's. Where he finishes is just epic! Eight years seems like a long time, but it's also flown by and the evolution is incredible. Johnny Drama has gone from an un-hirable afterthought of an actor who was on television in the 90's to where he finishes, he has a full blown career.
PR.com: You really are so much more cerebral, intellectual and grounded than Turtle, it's so distinct. Now I really get Kevin Connolly's comment about you. How was Turtle created around you?
Jerry Ferrara: I might have been more of this character when I was a teenager, but I have a particular friend who I've kind of modeled it after, who was very much like Turtle. He passed away at a young age. He was one of my best friends, so Doug did the cool thing where when they revealed my character's real name, which was Sal, that's my best friend's name who I lost. So I know who this guy is. I've always had a good [feel for] it.
PR.com: All of that being said, are you more of a relationship guy and less of a single, party kind of guy?
Jerry Ferrara: I think I am, as much as I have maybe resisted it in the past because I wanted to seem like I was the cool guy. I think deep down I just am. I like to connect, and don't get me wrong, I've had my fun in my life but I don't know, I just, I go for substance. I guess you can say I am very much a girlfriend, one woman kind of guy.
PR.com: Awww. That's sweet.
Jerry Ferrara: Yup. I think women will like that comment. I think dudes will be [disappointed] (laughs).
PR.com: That's a very un-Turtle comment.
Jerry Ferrara: What can I say?
PR.com: We all have the angel and the devil on our shoulders, so I'm sure you have both.
Jerry Ferrara: We all do, but the angel usually tries to win.
The eighth and final season of "Entourage" premieres July 24th at 10:30PM ET/PT on HBO. Follow Jerry Ferrara on Twitter @JerryFerrara.