Exclusive Interview: Jerry Ferrara on Last Vegas

We sit down with Jerry Ferrara (yes, Turtle from Entourage) to talk about his new film Last Vegas, as well as the legacy of his legendary show and his recent casting as boxer Arturo Gatti in a new biopic.

You likely recognize Jerry Ferrara as the fourth corner of the ulimate friendship square from HBO’s Entourage, but he is making sure you’ll know him for a lot more than that. For example, he was just recently cast as Arturo Gatti in a new boxing biopic and he can soon be starring alongside Mark Wahlberg in the latest Peter Berg movie. But before all that, he sat down with us this week to chat about his latest work that once more brings him back to Vegas with four friends….friends played by Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. The movie is Last Vegas and this is our exclusive interview with Ferrara. Den of Geek: So let’s start with the question I’m sure you’ve been asked a hundred times or more by now, that I’m sure you’re sick of answering; you get a call saying, “Hey Jerry, we want you to be in a movie with Kirk Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, and others…” Do you even look at the script at that point? Jerry: Ferrara: Well you know what, that would have been the way it went down, but it kind of went a little bit in reverse. I had actually gotten the script first without hearing or knowing who was involved. I’m not even sure they had finished those guys’ deals at that point, but I’m not really sure why they didn’t say who was involved. I read it and I responded to it without knowing who was in it. Then when they told me who was in it, I was like, “Okay, do I have to pay you guys to be in this?” At that point it was a no brainer, “let’s lock this down.” When you knew then, did you have an idea of what you expected on set? Did you want this to be an extra learning experience or did you prefer to just kick back, have fun, and see how things go? It was sort of a mixture of both. I did make a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to “fanboy” out, and be “that” guy, because it’s easy to become that. There are questions that I wanted and could have asked, so I definitely decided to tame that part down a bit. There is something to be said about just laying back and observing, and watching. I have a front row seat to history in a way. These four guys have never worked together before, which is completely insane to me. You look at all the movies they’ve done in their careers, and they’ve never crossed paths acting wise, till this movie. I just decided that I was going to pull up my seat and watch this thing play out. Now your character, it’s easy to say when you first meet him, that he’s a complete tool. Then it gets to the point where, you don’t have to care for him, but he’s somebody you have to be compassionate toward in a certain manner. As an audience member, we have to start to love him, like the main characters do. Did you want to create large backstories for him, or did you just go with what was in the script and see how it flowed?  You know what, it was pretty easy in the sense that, I know guys that are kind of like Todd; or should I say, I’ve seen guys like Todd. Maybe I had even been like that when I was much, much younger and dumber. To me, the interesting part of it was my job early on was to annoy the audience enough that when De Niro punches me that they almost want to cheer. Then the second half was like when you hear about guys who people say something about them like, “Oh, you know he’s only like that because he’s insecure.” Though, you never see that guy act insecure. So, I wanted to play it where there was this admission of, “Here’s why I act like an ass; because I don’t know how to talk to girls, and I have to get drunk to talk to girls.” I kinda’ played him like he was a virgin, that’s how bad he is with girls and social situations; he doesn’t even know what he’s doing. Are those points that all came from the script, or did you work on those ideas with Jon (Turtletaub) or Dan (Fogelman)? That’s all stuff that came out of just talking with Jon and Dan. I told them, this is how I see it, and just tell me if you think that is a good direction to go in, and they were very supportive of that. They said, “We’ll pull you back if it’s too much or push you if it’s not enough.” That’s exactly what they both did, and Jon particularly; he just can’t get enough credit for this movie. Talk about being the captain of a very big ship. That’s exactly what Jon Turtletaub was. You know, thinking about Jon [Turtletaub], a lot of times when I hear his name, I only think of things he’s done recently, and I kind of forget all of the different genres of films he’s made over the years. When he walked onto the set, did you have this feeling that he was immediately in control of things, or do you feel you saw him still growing as well? He absolutely had control of it all, but that’s the things I have always noticed about Jon; he’s in control, but he’s not controlling. There’s a difference between being in control of something, where you’re confident and there’s an ease to everything, as opposed to being controlling. Obviously, he wasn’t micromanaging those four guys, but I can’t think of another director who could have done as good as a job [as] Jon. He was just perfect for directing this movie.  Now, while your character is certainly different than others you’ve played in the past, did you get even the slightest bit worried that maybe people would see a film about four guys, in a party atmosphere, bonding together, and start making Entourage comparisons? Look, if we wanted to actually try and make that comparison, maybe we could say that the four Entourage guys would grow up to be those guys. It honestly never crossed my mind. To me it was a totally different character, and it’s their movie. Not that anyone is trying to claim ownership of the film, but you watch the movie and you know, I’m just there in a small part to help drive the story along for the four of them. So yeah, it never really entered my mind, and then again, to see who I’m working with…I mean, I don’t know. Really it’s just what you want to make of it. If I went in and just played it like I’ve played other characters in the past, then that’s on me, but I went into it with a different plan. I just had fun. This movie was for me, in a sense, and what I mean is; whether you like my performance, or you don’t like my performance, obviously I care because I tried very, very hard, but I’m taking things away from this movie that much bigger than something like, “Ohhhhhh, I hope this movie will further my career.” I will look back on this, years from now and smile, because I got to do something most people will never say they did, I got to be in a movie with those four guys, at the same time…and Mary (Steenburgen), I don’t want to exclude Mary who is obviously a stellar actress, and so unique. Well of course, you were just horrible in the movie; just kidding of course.  Haha, well you know, even though that would be a bummer to hear, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Certainly, I don’t want to hear that I’m hoping that’s not what happens, but in the same breath, I’d be a little numb to it because I know I got an experience much greater than someone just saying, “Oh, you were great in a movie.” Yeah, I’d like to hear that, of course, but the experience itself, the actual on set experience, I will take with me for the rest of my life. Vegas is a place that automatically has a certain aura, whether you’re talking about the Rat Pack days or the modern days with films like Last Vegas or The Hangover films. Whether you had a specific vision of the town or not beforehand, has your idea about Vegas changed in anyway coming out of this film? For whatever reason, it’s just kind of the way it happened for me, I’ve been working as an actor in Vegas for a while. We shot couple of episodes of Entourage in Vegas, of course we shot Last Vegas there, I just finished shooting the sequel to Think Like a Man in Vegas; I’ve worked enough in Vegas now where Vegas is not a place you can fake. Vegas itself becomes another character. Even if you go back and look at The Hangover, or this film, or go look at Very Bad Things by Peter Berg, which is one of my favorite movies; Vegas is just a character. It’s not like, “Oh hey, I’m going to go shoot a movie in Vegas.” No, it’s a character in any movie. You have to factor in what Vegas brings to a movie and you can’t cheat that.  You know, just to go quickly back to the idea of learning something from your seasoned cast mates. I know the news came out recently that you’ve been cast as Arturo Gatti in his biopic, and as trepidations as you may have been. How hard was it not to go to De Niro who was in arguably the greatest boxing movie of all time with Raging Bull, and not pick his mind on the experience? Look, here’s what I’ll say; the Arturo Gatti thing has now come together quickly, but we’re still a long, long ways away from making it. Not necessarily making it, but being ready to make it in the sense that, I specifically as well, want to make sure it’s done properly and treated with the respect that his life deserves. Even in seeing Bobby De Niro at the junket this past weekend, where he did punch me in the ribs a little bit; of course I want to grab him and be like, “Hey Bob, I got a million questions,” but again, not wanting to overstep boundaries…I guess if it were the right place, right time, I’d absolutely ask him some stuff and I’m sure he’d be totally cool about it, but again, you just don’t want to overstep. What he did in Raging Bull, what all of those guys have done at varying point in their careers; there’s a mystique to them. He might not even be able to explain what worked for him, and what worked for him might not work for me, but if the right opportunity came along, where it was just he and I, outside or at a bar getting a drink, I would absolutely ask him a few specific questions. You’re right, there’s no one better in the world to ask about something like that, he became Jake Lamotta. Well Jerry, I want to thank you for your time, I know you have a lot more people to talk, so I’ll let you go, but tell me, is there anything else you have coming up that may not be on people’s radars yet that you think they should be looking out for?  Yes, not long after Last Vegas, there’s a movie coming out called Lone Survivor that Peter Berg directed staring Mark Whalberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emilie Hircsh, and myself, based on a book about a real story about these Navy Seals that went on a mission that went wrong. It’s just very intense and it’s Peter Berg at his best. Pete’s a good friend, but he’s also one of my favorite filmmakers. That comes out at the end of December I believe, and that’s going to be a real, real crazy ride for people. I encourage everyone to go see it. I recently just saw it and you’re going to just walk out of there breathing heavy. 


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