Revisiting the original Aquaman movie with Entourage creator Doug Ellin
No offense, Jason Momoa, but Vincent Chase will always be my Aquaman. Years before the Game of Thrones alum was swimming with the fishes on the big screen, a rising star who was just coming off the Sundance stunner Queens Boulevard put on the suit first. Oh, you don’t recall James Cameron’s record-breaking blockbuster starring Chase and Mandy Moore? Well, sounds like someone didn’t watch Entourage!
Way back in 2005, three years before Iron Man kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, HBO’s Golden Globe-nominated comedy returned for its sophomore season of chronicling the Hollywood adventures of up-and-coming actor Vincent “Vince” Chase (Adrian Grenier); his manager/best friend, Eric (Kevin Connolly); his actor older brother, Johnny (Kevin Dillon); his driver/childhood pal, Turtle (Jerry Ferrera); and his super-agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven).
As season 2 kicked off, Ari was determined to take Vince from indie breakout to full-fledged movie star by getting him to sign on for Aquaman. Vince initially wanted nothing to do with the superhero world — until James Cameron came aboard as director. (The filmmaker played himself in multiple episodes.) The storyline continued throughout the season, with Moore cameoing as the film’s female lead/Vince’s former flame. The arc would culminate in Aquaman’s (fictional) release the following season, as it broke Spider-Man’s (then-real) record for biggest opening weekend in box office history. Entourage’s Aquaman saga didn’t have a happy ending, though, at least for Vince, as his desire to make the Pablo Escobar biopic Medellin before filming Aquaman 2 resulted in him being replaced by Jake Gyllenhaal (the rumored replacement for Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2).
With the upcoming release of Warner Bros’. real Aquaman movie, it felt like the perfect time to chat with Entourage creator Doug Ellin about why he picked the deep-sea hero and what he thinks about life imitating art.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: With season 2 of Entourage, you were clearly trying to have Vince make the movie-star jump, so why, at a time when superhero films were much more rare, did you go in that direction?
DOUG ELLIN: The thinking was definitely to make that jump, but it’s also the possibility of a giant bomb. It’s so interesting to me now because the real movie does look like it’s going to be a huge hit and does look like they visualized it in a way that my brain could probably never do. I thought Aquaman sounded like the most ridiculous movie in the world and, to me, the only way to make it work was if James Cameron was directing it.
That’s the amazing thing about how that season came together: My post-production supervisor Janace [Tashjian] worked on some stuff with James Cameron, and I wrote into the script “James Cameron’s Aquaman,” and she’s like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “Well, you’ve got to go get him.” Like, it doesn’t work unless he’s directing it, because this movie would never get made. And it’s funny because obviously the last 10 years, even though Spider-Man was the biggest movie ever then, it was almost like superhero movies had lost their shine. And now obviously 10 years later, every one of them is more successful than the last, and they all seem to work both commercially and critically — but at the time it was really kind of a silly thing, as even Vince said, “I’m not doing Aquaman.” But then it’s James Cameron’s Aquaman. So that was the big thing that gave us the small storylines that we could shift around.
You touched on this, but why Aquaman specifically? The character seemed to always be the butt of the joke, maybe even still is. You just thought it was the most ridiculous one to pick?
Yeah, that’s really what we went with. Like I said, now looking at the trailer, they obviously pulled it off, but I didn’t see any way you could make that movie. I’m not a big comic book or superhero person, but it just seemed very silly.
With James Cameron directing, Mandy Moore as the female lead, and a rising star in Vince, that’s a more impressive lineup than many real superhero movies can claim. Was Cameron truly the key to giving both the movie and the arc credibility?
Everything about it was Cameron-inspired. One of my favorite things is that at the end of the season, he wrote me a letter. My plan was for Aquaman to bomb, and I got a letter from James Cameron — which I need to find because it’s amazing — but writing about why it couldn’t be a bomb and all this stuff, and it was genius. I loved him and his willingness to do this, and obviously he’s one of the great directors of all time, so [it was great] to have him take it seriously, which others started to do on the show, when things did or didn’t work. We had a lot of movies that we came up with that [Hollywood] subsequently did, whether Medellin turned into Narcos or Great Gatsby got made. But it was very cool to have Cameron to do that.
Last year I wrote a story called “Hollywood is stealing Vincent Chase’s career” and went through all the films that you guys did first, like Aquaman, the ones you mentioned, and more. What were you thinking when you saw these come out after you had imagined them?
I love it. I don’t even know if it was true but I’m trying to remember… Oliver Stone was doing an Escobar thing and I read somewhere that Ari Gold gave him the idea. I have no idea if that is accurate. But I loved it. The Medellin storyline, I was reading Killing Pablo on a vacation and I was like, “This would be great, but it’s probably not the type of movie that I could ever write myself,” so I’m glad they all came to fruition. Aquaman, they seem to have proved me wrong, that this movie really can be made successfully without James Cameron. [Laughs.] It looks pretty cool.
A friend reminded me the other day that Gal Gadot guest-starred in a later episode as a love interest of Vince. So you actually had Aquaman and Wonder Woman together first, too! Had that dawned on you?
I’ve thought about it lately. It’s been wild to see, like, the actors who we found go on to whatever. I remember when Gal came in, it was a small little role but everyone said, “This girl is gonna be something big,” so it is cool to see.
Iron Man and the MCU didn’t start until a few years after you did Aquaman, and even Comic-Con was still looked down on a bit as a niche thing. Was it amusing to you to still be doing the show and all of a sudden the superhero craze begins in full effect?
It’s totally wild how it’s gone like this. And we had Stan Lee on the show. Each time these movies come out, I keep going, “Wow, they just keep making good ones.” I don’t think anyone could have anticipated this 10 years ago, except maybe the Marvel people.
What was your first thought when you heard Warner Bros. was doing an Aquaman movie? I’m sure you got a lot of texts and emails.
I got a text from one of my best friends asking, “Are you getting any from this?” And I’m like, “No, I’m not.” And he literally writes, “Why not?” He’s one of my friends who always asks very stupid questions, and I’m like, “Because I don’t have anything to do with it, what do you mean why not?” [Laughs.] I thought it was funny and cool. I don’t think for a second that we inspired it. I think they see how well these movies are doing, and they’re probably going to make every single superhero that exists at some point until they stop working.
I’ve pictured Vince/Adrian as Aquaman for so long that seeing Jason Momoa as the character throws me off. I would say they are far from being similar actors or having similar builds. Do you kind of feel like, “This isn’t the Aquaman I pictured!”
I forget the line for Vince, who obviously is not as muscular an individual, we talked about making him “a fluid swimmer.” That was really the simplest thing about it. At that time, Aquaman sounded ridiculous, James Cameron’s Aquaman sounded like a huge hit, and that was kind of what gave us the idea for the whole season. Vince thinks it’s ridiculous and then, “Oh wait, if James Cameron’s doing it, I’ve got to be a part of it.” It was all just for fun, and it’s amazing to see. I’m looking forward to seeing it, I think it’s going to work.
That was my next question: Do you plan on seeing it?
Oh yeah. The trailer looks great, and I’m hearing good things about it, so yeah, I’m 100-percent going to see it. I’ll take my son to go check it out.
You sure? We might not want to help it pass your Aquaman at the box office.
It’s funny because at the time, CNBC said [Entourage’s Aquaman] broke the record and everyone thought they were crazy, but the anchor happened to be a fan of the show, and they did it like it was a real report. He was like, “And at the box office, Aquaman passes Spider-Man,” but he did it dead-seriously on CNBC.
Speaking of Entourage and movies, after ending the series, you made the Entourage movie in 2015. In the back of you head, are you still thinking it would be cool to do more? Or are you looking at the movie as the end of Entourage?
I think it was the end of it. If anyone can figure out how to do the Broadway musical, then I’m sure I’d be thrilled to go watch it. [Laughs.] But no, I think it was the end of it. I love the whole crew and everybody, so if there was some opportunity, sure, but I don’t really think about it very often. I was surprised about the movie; I never thought the movie was going to get made. We had a good run.
Aquaman opens Friday.