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Boy, that ego sure looks familiar

Special to The Times

HBO’s new series “Entourage” follows a young star and his homeboys as they explore the wilds of the Westside, traveling in large cars (a Hummer, an Escalade, a stretch limo and a Rolls, just in the first couple of episodes) and cruising through crowds of comely young women in scanty clothes.

But the real attention-getter, at least in the power precincts of Hollywood, may be the caustic portrayal of the young star’s agent, Ari Gold. And it isn’t just the name that brings to mind one of Hollywood’s leading agents, who also happens to be named Ari.

The real Ari Emanuel is notoriously abrasive -- a go-for-the-jugular partner in the Endeavor agency, currently riding high as Michael Moore’s agent and a public critic of the Walt Disney Co. for its refusal to distribute the documentary filmmaker’s politically charged “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Ari Gold, meanwhile, is a foul-mouthed, Viagra-popping bully with a weirdly likable quality that associates say is characteristic of Emanuel as well.

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Emanuel, on the phone Tuesday from a vacation in the south of France, acknowledges that he sees aspects of himself in Gold. “There’s absolutely times when I’m over the top,” he says. “Not to the level that he is, [but] there are parts of the character that are me.” But he emphasizes that the show is a comedy. “People that know me -- they know that I’m a character, but I’m not that character.”

Emanuel’s clients include actor Mark Wahlberg, who is the inspiration for the lead character in the “Entourage” series and is its executive producer. The Endeavor agency also represents writer-producer Larry Charles and, according to Emanuel, will collect a fee for helping to package the show.

Doug Ellin, the creator of “Entourage,” which premieres Sunday, said the nattily attired Ari Gold started out as a composite of Emanuel and another, more even-keeled agent, Jeff Jacobs of Creative Artists Agency. Jacobs was Ellin’s camp counselor years ago and represents him now. Emanuel and Jacobs signed releases waiving the right to sue over the on-screen portrayal.

But in classic dog-eat-dog fashion, the Emanuel side of the character seems to have devoured the Jacobs side.

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Still, Ellin insists that the character draws on traits from each man. “He’s definitely got more Ari in him than Jeff, but Jeff is in there as well. When you see the good ... ,” Ellin hesitates. “Well, both of them have good points. I think both of them are great guys.” According to Ellin, Emanuel approved the casting of actor Jeremy Piven, a former Endeavor client. “Ari called up from a plane in China and said, ‘It’s OK for Jeremy to play me -- and no one else,’ ” Ellin says.

In the frat-house-with-money world of the entourage, Ari Gold is an electrifying presence. A scene in the first episode takes place at Koi, the West Hollywood sushi place. Gold is dining with entourage member Eric, who has crossed Gold by talking movie star Vince out of a remunerative project. Gold starts out boasting about a brand of sake that he and his wife discovered in Japan. “We were visiting Sofia on the set of ‘Lost,’ ” he says breezily. “I dunno, that film. Didn’t really capture the place. Twice as boring in real life.”

Then Gold gets down to business, lambasting Eric, a former pizza joint manager, for interfering with Vince’s career. “I don’t have dinner with people like you,” he sneers. “I don’t do this. Do you think Hugh Jackman calls and says, ‘Hey, Ari, love the script. Gotta run it past my pizza boy’? I’ve been doing this for 15 years! What

After relentlessly insulting Eric, Gold proposes that they “hug it out.” That’s pretty much dead-on Emanuel, according to former associates. “I never experienced a hug-it-out,” says one. “But ... when he realizes he may have gone overboard, it’s ‘Bubbie, bubbie, bubbie, I love you.’ ”

Unlike most people, Piven says, the character has no fear of confrontation. “He can be wildly inappropriate, this guy. At the same time, he can be totally professional.”

Emanuel is known as a particularly confrontational player in a town full of aggressive competitors. Former associates say he could be rudely disparaging even to his own colleagues -- quick to point out that he was bringing in more commissions than certain others in the company. One says that when challenged, “his answer was always, ‘Shut the ... up! I’m carrying you!’ He knows he’s controversial, and he can’t help himself.”

(Says Emanuel: “I don’t remember saying that, [but] I’m not a wallflower, for sure. I’m the guy who takes all the heat.”)

For all his fabled combativeness, the 43-year-old agent has taken pains to show himself to be a friend to the environment, joining up last year with Laurie David and Arianna Huffington in a campaign against SUVs. (Given that, he might want to have a chat with Wahlberg about the gas-swilling beasts driven by the entourage. On the other hand, Emanuel is supposed to have riled some of his partners a few years back by giving Wahlberg a Bentley. Emanuel, who says he traded in his Ferrari for a hybrid, maintains that the story about the Bentley is apocryphal. “This is one of the rumors that [our competitors] put out. Every six months to try to destabilize us, another story has gone out.”)

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The Gold character is by no means a true copy of Emanuel. The fictional Ari proudly shows his clients some home video of his child and then urges them to notice his shot of his neighbor’s attractive posterior.

In another scene, Gold invites Eric to guess, in the crudest terms, whom he had been bedding. “Mrs. Ari?” Eric asks sweetly. The correct answer is a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.

Even Emanuel’s harshest critics say this aspect of the portrayal is fictitious, and that whatever his faults, Emanuel is a devoted husband and father.

“I married my high school sweetheart,” Emanuel says. “I’ve been faithful for every single moment of [the marriage], which is not the character.” Emanuel says his wife hasn’t seen the show, but he described it to her. “She said, ‘It’s comedy. I get it.’ ” A number of agents and managers say their curiosity is piqued by the portrayal of Emanuel. “I want to see it myself now because of that,” says veteran Bernie Brillstein, who has fallen out of touch with the agent in recent years. “I knew the young Ari. We were very close. I’d like to see what the new Ari looks like.”


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