After seven years of playing the best friend a guy could have, Jerry Ferrara bid adieu to his Entourage (although, not forever) as he staked out new ground on the big screen. Life after Turtle included a meaty role in Think Like A Man and a supporting gig in Battleship, but Ferrara is poised for his biggest platform to date with the premiere of Empire State, a crime drama co-starring Liam Hemsworth, Emma Roberts and The Rock, that has its world premiere tonight at The Gasparilla International Film Festival.
In the '80s-set Empire State, Ferrara, Hemsworth and Michael Angarano play a trio of Queens-born buddies who catch wind of a massive money-making opportunity after discovering an "in" with a local armored car company. ETonline caught up with Ferrara to find out what attracted him to this can't-miss movie, how it felt to be the "old dude" on set and see what Entourage movie morsels he was willing to spill!
ETonline: Given the world and locations this film brings to life, I'd imagine you, as a Brooklyn-boy, felt a certain kinship to the story.
Jerry Ferrara: Oh, absolutely. I've changed a bit since I moved to L.A. but I am considered for a lot of Tri-state stories, so I've read a lot of crime dramas that are just bad. Real bad. But when I read this script, I just had to be in this movie. I love movies that are loosely based on the truth and could relate to the culture. I grew up Italian, but the Greek culture on the east coast is very similar -- especially in the family sense. I didn't necessarily participate in any heists, but I could relate to the idea of needing to take what you want. It's funny, these days, if you want money, you can create an App or some kind of tech thing and make a billion dollars. But, in the '80s, guys who didn't come from a lot of money had to seize opportunity whenever it presented itself.
ETonline: Do you mind the typecasting that comes from playing such a popular character for so long?
Ferrara: It's a double-edged sword -- it's a compliment because people want to give you opportunities, but they also think that's who you are, and that's all you can do. You just have to be open to the opportunities as they come to you. I also tried to get in shape, so I could look a little bit different [from Turtle]. It's not like I wrote out an agenda, I guess you could say it was a plan. I'm also not afraid to audition. You don't think I can play something? Let me show you that I can. I had zero entitlement after Entourage, and I think that was appropriate. It was almost like starting over.
ETonline: Sounds like you could relate to the characters in more than one way.
Ferrara: I connected with the idea of taking that one shot. These guys had the opportunity to rob a bank and, not that I was a criminal in any sense, but I could understand that moment where you have to make a decision that could change everything. In New York at that era, it was very easy to get caught up in that kind of activity. It becomes a morality struggle where you can decide to go left, and grind it out like your parents or go right and make a million bucks. And back then, a million bucks was a lot of money. I mean, it still is a lot of money, but people talk about it like it's not a big deal. I have to laugh when people say that.
ETonline: What was it like working with Liam and Michael and Emma?
Ferrara: Well, this is the first time I've ever been the old dude on a movie [laughs]. And it was kind of nice. I was kind of the baby on Entourage, and every project I've ever worked on, I was the younger guy. So this was literally the first time I was older than everyone else -- Liam was 23, Michael was 22, Emma was 22. I was the grizzled life veteran in this picture … it was kind of nice.
ETonline: Well, it's gotta be nice that Hollywood still thinks you look 22.
Ferrara: Yeah [laughs]. Liam's 23 but he's also like 6'5" with dashing movie star good looks. Those guys are ageless -- so, yeah, my character is a little bit older in the script because he's the guy who helps give them the courage to commit a crime like this, but I have so much respect for everyone who worked on this movie. I've been in a few situations where it wasn't as professional as this movie was. Especially on indies. But everyone was so down to make the best movie possible here.
ETonline: It's interesting because a movie like this has no expectations, while something like the Entourage movie has nothing but expectations. Which do you prefer?
Ferrara: I like expectations, but I totally hear what you're saying because with expectations, you have people coming at you from a place of doubt. The reaction to the Entourage movie has been positive to this point, but I'm sure there are people who wonder how we could make this movie. There are lots of predetermined notions about what you'll see versus something like Empire State, which is judged by the quality of the trailer, the actor interviews and then the movie. It's like a baby in a way that has not been touched or jaded by the world yet. It's so pure.
ETonline: Rumors of Entourage movie have been floating around since the final season premiered, but were just that -- rumors -- for so long. So what's it like to know you'll be playing Turtle again this spring?
Ferrara: It's such a good question because, like everyone else, I assumed it was just a rumor for a long time. The adjustment period after spending 8 years on that show was interesting. It's not that I didn't miss it right away, of course I did, but it took a minute to set in. We had it good on that show and truly cared about each other, so I started to want to make the movie because I knew it would be a whole lot of fun. Now it's like, "Holy sh*t, we're actually going to get to do this!" I never fully allowed myself to think it was going to happen. I didn't want to jinx it. Plus, I wondered if people actually wanted to see an Entourage movie ... looks like we're going to find out.
ETonline: Having read the Entourage script, do you feel comfortable saying people's expectations will be met?
Ferrara: I absolutely do. It's very much a throwback to the early days of Entourage with all the guys together. If anyone didn't think we could make this movie, we wouldn't be making this movie. If we doubted the material or the interest, no one would be signing up. But, I'll tell you, everyone from top to bottom is excited to tell this story.
ETonline: In the real world, three years have passed since the show ended. Is it the same in the world of the movie?
Ferrara: Look, I know we’re not protecting the end of The Sopranos, but I'm not allowed to say much. I can tell you that it sticks to a similar timeline. It's pretty close to where it left off.
ETonline: OK, I don't want to get you in trouble since they could still kill Turtle off if you started blabbing plot points.
Ferrara: Exactly! Let's get the movie in the can so I know I can’t be killed off, and then I'll tell you everything [laughs].
For more information on The Gasparilla International Film Festival, click here!