You could forgive Jerry Ferrara if he suddenly feels deserving of a new nickname. For more than 7 years, the 32-year-old actor has dutifully played the role of Turtle, the heftiest of Vinny Chase’s three best friends on HBO’s hit series Entourage. Between seasons, Ferrara recently committed to a healthy diet and regular workout routine—dropping 55 pounds from his formerly stout physique. With Entourage in the midst of its seventh and final season, Ferrara shared the secrets to his dramatic transformation, and whether or not we can expect to see a leaner, healthier version of Turtle on the big screen anytime soon.
You’ve got a hit show, a beautiful girlfriend, a thriving acting career. Life seems pretty good. What prompted you to drop so much weight?
Life was and is very good—more than anything, I was just really out of shape. Every time you start a new project as an actor, you take a physical. They’re not the most in-depth, but they serve a purpose. I got on the scale and I weighed around 203. I’m only 5’7. I was about to turn 30, and I wasn’t active anymore. So I started working with a nutritionist and a trainer. I played basketball twice a week. And soon it all just became a habit for me. I became addicted to something good for a change. [laughs]
How did your bosses react to that? Nobody expects to see a ripped ‘Turtle’.
Yeah, I was about 3 or 4 months into the process when [Entourage creator] Doug Ellin noticed. I’d lost about 20 pounds over several months—this wasn’t some crash diet. I see Doug all the time and he hadn’t really noticed. But there was a moment when I walked into the production office at the beginning of filming Season 7 and he goes, “What the hell were you thinking? You couldn’t wait one more year? This is going to be so jarring!”
I admit the timing wasn’t perfect. Turtle was associated with being that way. Creatively, though, I think it worked. The character evolved a lot. And at the time I was highly motivated—it’s hard to just turn around and wait a year. Who knows if you’ll ever be that motivated again? Luckily, we’re now two episodes in and the feedback has been very complimentary, thank God. There hasn’t been any backlash. I might’ve dodged a bullet.
So do they ever directly address Turtle’s weight loss on the show?
The truth is, Doug had a great way of bringing it up and integrating it without being too heavy-handed. He directed the first episode. We deal with such long days, though. Sometimes 12 or 14 hours. We forgot to add in the line that we wanted to address it, so it got swept over, but not intentionally.
Kevin Connolly said you’re the most unlike your Entourage character. This recent transformation just seems to reinforce that idea.
Yeah, it’s been an evolution. I was a lot like Turtle at one point in my life—I’ve always played him as a younger version of myself. He’s the least mature and driven, kind of lazy, and that summed up how I was when I was 18. When you turn 30, you have more responsibilities to deal with. As I’ve grown up through this show, I‘ve become very different from the character. Any actor who is being honest will admit there’s always a small or large part of the real you in every character. It’s impossible not to have that.
What was the most dramatic adjustment you had to make to your lifestyle to reach your goal?
The hardest part was probably cutting out the pasta, which I’ve had maybe twice in the past six months. The sweet stuff was easy for me to knock off—I don’t have a giant sweet tooth. I gave up so many things. It wasn’t that I was out of control—it was just years of eating anything I wanted. I wouldn’t eat a whole pizza, but if I wanted pizza two or three times a week, I didn’t think to limit myself. So I just cut out all the stuff that I viewed as unhealthy. I live alone, too, so I’m not a big cook. I’d eat pancakes for breakfast, or a burrito with everything I wanted. Now it’s oatmeal and egg whites.
Is it true that you own a deli in Westwood called Fat Sal’s?
I do own that place, along with two long-term friends of mine. A large part of the menu is built around comfort food. Sometimes, you just have to live your life. But we are going to launch a ‘Skinny Sal’s’ side of the menu.
Have you ever actually tried the ‘Fat Sal’s challenge?’
[ED: The Fat Sal’s challenge is a sandwich that contains—among other things—steak, hamburger, pastrami, chicken fingers, bacon, mozzarella sticks, fried eggs, jalapeno poppers, fries, onion rings, chili, and marinara sauce, served on a 27-inch garlic hero.]
No, I’ve never tried it because I know I’d regret it. That’s for the college kids who want some laughs. I dare anyone to try, though. I would love to sit down and watch anyone try.
Eating challenges aside, how important is the occasional indulgence?
That’s the big thing I’ve learned. If you want something, have it. If you feel like it’s forbidden, you’ll want it even more. Whenever I have a craving, I go and have it and just make sure I don’t have it again the next day.
Where else do you like to go in Los Angeles when you need a break from the diet?
There’s a great Italian restaurant, Madeo. I’ve sort of developed my own personal Zagat’s guide during Entourage since we shoot at a lot of the places.
Who’s the most fit guy on the cast of Entourage?
I have to say, all those guys do a great job of staying in shape. Kevin Connolly is a gym rat. He eats well. And Kevin Dillon is a freak of nature. I don’t know if he works out every day, but that dude puts a month in the gym and everything he had when he was 18 comes back. It’s the same with Jeremy Piven. He’s very regimented with his health. Adrian has been hitting the gym pretty hard, too. I was always the only one who didn’t. [laughs]
Actors work notoriously crazy hours. How’d you find time to work out?
I won’t lie—there’ve been times when two weeks have gone by and I didn’t do anything physical. Sometimes your days are 12, 13, 14 hours, Monday through Friday. When it’s like that, I try to get weekends in. You just gotta’ suck it up. If I have to work at 7 AM, I’m up at 5 and get 45 minutes in. Granted, I hate it when I get up—I’m cursing and miserable—but when I leave I feel happy about it. I’m surprised I’ve kept it going this long. Every morning I can come up with 10 reasons I don’t need to do this—and I just ignore those. I know the first 10 minutes will suck, but I’ll leave feeling happy.
How hard was it to stay consistent?
The first month was easy because it was new and challenging, but the results weren’t drastic, and that can be disheartening. But it’s everything after that. Like one day you’ll put on a shirt that used to fit you—and that’s where it set in for me—wow, this is actually starting to work. I should stick with it.
I read somewhere that you’re also trying to quit smoking.
Very true. I played sports growing up. I hated smoking, thought it was disgusting, and wish I’d never picked up the habit. Now I’ve tackled this first battle of getting into shape, but I’m still doing this other awful thing. A week ago, I made a promise that I would quit on August 1. You just have to be ready to do it. There are so many tools that can help you—patches, gums, e-cigarettes—and they’re all useful, but you also have to be disciplined and motivated and ready to do it.
With Entourage winding down, what’s next for you?
We just wrapped the final season about a month ago, so we’re all pretty much done with that. A week after we wrapped, I started working on a new movie called Think Like a Man based on Steve Harvey’s book, Act like a Lady, Think Like a Man. It’s got a great cast, and it’s good for me because it started right away. I’m very lucky.
What are the odds we’ll see an Entourage movie?
There’s one thing I have learned, not just with entertainment, but any business. Nothing is done until it’s done. You can tell me all day long there will be a movie, but until we sign papers, it’s not a done deal. That said, I know the cast is in, Doug’s in, and I know HBO’s in, and it’ll all boil down to Doug Ellin writing the script. There’s a very strong possibility.