Adrian Grenier became famous on HBO’s Entourage playing an actor who shoots to stardom and has to cope with paparazzi marking his every move. Naturally, Grenier then became a real-life target of the paparazzi. Last year, Grenier directed a movie, Teenage Paparazzo, which introspectively chronicles the true story of his unlikely, evolving relationship with a precocious 14-year-old paparazzo, Austin Visschedyk (below left). And while I talked to Grenier a couple weeks ago about this project, in advance of its September 27 premiere on HBO, paparazzi snapped his photo. Snake, meet tail! The conversation is excerpted below:
Brent Simon: The idea of a youngster skulking about at night as a paparazzo evokes a strong first response. How objective or subjective did you want your film to be?
Adrian Grenier: Well, obviously I have my own opinion about paparazzi, especially so often being the victim of their disrespect. I think when I saw Austin that was the last straw for me. I knew I had to do something. I had to figure out, just for myself, what was going on in a culture that would embrace that, and encourage young people to engage in it.
BS: Austin comes across as pretty bright, if typically self-involved. How reticent was his family to participate?
AG: Oh look, there’s a paparazzo! (pause) You should put this shot they’re taking of me right now with the article. There they are. I hope I look OK. (laughs)
BS: Irony of ironies! How much of an influence are paparazzi on your everyday decisions?
AG: They always tend to dominate a situation. You could be having a casual stroll with a friend or loved one, and they just come in and destroy any nice moment. But I think as an actor and performer, we speak in the language of images and stories, and paparazzi are really no different. They get content for tabloids to make stories. And who better to use than performers? What upsets celebrities is that they don’t have control over the story. I don’t think I’ve met any celebrity that doesn’t love a nice fluff piece about them, a picture that says look how gorgeous they look. But what they don’t like is when all the media can’t be positive about them; they can’t take the bad with the good.
BS: Paris Hilton has some interesting insights in the movie.
AG: One thing I really respect about Paris is that I consider her an artist of a different art form — her canvas is the tabloid media. She’s extremely talented in being able to utilize and create on that platform, and I look up to her for that. She taught me a lot about how to be able to roll with it, embrace it.
BS: What percentage of paparazzi maybe is charged mainly by the thrill of pursuit, and actively antagonizing celebrities?
AG: Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s the same proportion of douchebags in any population. They’ll make more money if they can conjure a good story [and] prod a celebrity to do something, whether it’s do a little dance, hold up a peace sign, pose, or throw a punch. They’re like mini-directors on some level, I guess, no different than Stanley Kubrick pushing someone to the brink of sanity to get the shot. The only difference there is that the actor is a willing participant who’s being paid.
BS: The film talks some about parasocial relationships, those one-way feelings of intimacy people have for celebrities. Are any paparazzi like this?
AG: I think we mostly tend to have very simple relationships in our capitalist, consumer society, and paparazzi aren’t different necessarily. They look at celebrities as a paycheck, as food on the table. One thing I am excited about is that the Creative Coalition has invited the film to be part of their spotlight initiative slate, and take it to high schools and colleges around the country as a way to invite students to look at the way they consume media. And I hope TeenagePaparazzo.com will be a continuation of the film, where people who’ve seen it, and users in general, can have a two-way conversation.
BS: How about Austin today? Are you still in contact with him?
AG: Austin will be a presence on the website. I want to give him an outlet to express himself, and also give people an opportunity to see what he’s up to, and what sort of photos he’s taking. Right now we’ve yet to see. I think he’s growing up in his own way, and thinking about college. He’s a much more mature person than he was, and I’m curious to see what the experience of the film’s release will mean for him.
For more on the film, click here.