The Gronk Party Bus plows through the sleepy San Fernando Valley, toting Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, his brother Dan and their pal Goon (real name: Robert Goon) to a months-long celebration that is known to the football-loving free world as The Summer of Gronk.
Of course, we're barely a week into spring, but if Gronk says it's summer, then it's summer. The freshly minted-Super Bowl champ and 6-foot-6, 265-pound star is the owner and sole proprietor of the NFL offseason and any damn season it touches, thank you very much.
Today, though, the party is on pause. Merrymaking is not the goal.
Gronkowski, reclined in the rear of his famed Coachella-on-wheels (we'll get to that later), explains: ""We're about to be some super-duper-movie stars, baby!"
Well, something like that.
In the latest development in a work hiatus for the ages, the oft-dancing and occasionally shirtless 25-year-old bachelor, who's been spotted partying at concerts, watering holes and sporting events in Miami and Vegas and a metropolitan area near you -- no, seriously, look out the window -- is about to film a sizable role in a low-budget feature film.
The movie, "You Can't Have It," is a whodunit set in a bar. The bus pulls up to a nondescript production studio where crew members meet curbside to whisk the men to wardrobe. Rob, Dan and Goon are set to play plain-clothes police detectives, dispatched to the bar to investigate a disturbance that may or may not have resulted in a homicide. Dan, an ex-NFLer drafted in 2009 by the Lions, will play "Detective Stole." Rob, the second youngest of four Gronk Bros, is "Detective Weadon."
Gronkowski concedes that his role as an investigator of a bar incident is a change of pace for him. Normally, he'd be the guy in the bar, topless-twerking. "It's cool to switch it up and be the cop going in this time," he says. "Now I'll know what the cops are thinking, so when that happens in real life, and I'm the guy with a shirt off, I know how to play it off."
Jokes aside, today's gig is a small, calculated step up the Hollywood ladder for the aspiring thespian and, soon enough, voice actor. Last month Gronkowski partook in a table-read for a 2016 episode of "Family Guy" that will see the Griffins contend with a new, hard-partying neighbor. ("Stewie can't keep up with me," Gronk explains.) This summer, he'll make his big screen debut in "Entourage" (June 5), playing himself at a pool party alongside teammate Julian Edelman. Spoiler alert: Gronk's mouth will meet the receiving end of a beer-bong. "It has happened before, so yes, it's based on a true story," he says.
Gronk's two film roles are the handiwork of his manager, Henry Penzi, a longtime pal of "Entourage" executive producer Mark Wahlberg and a co-producer on "You Can't Have It." For that tiny film, which is toplined by the venerable Armand Assante (just Google him), Gronkowski's casting is a coup. Says producer Lyle Howry: "Gronk's hot right now."
Yeah, a little bit. The three-time All-Pro is fresh off a season that saw him snag 82 balls for a TE-best 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns before doing his part -- six catches for 68 yards and a score -- to propel the Pats to their Super dBowl triumph over the Seahawks.
The rest, of course, will go down in NFL offseason history with Gronkowski as the embodiment of TMZ's dream: see Gronk with model Marisa Hunter; see Gronk with 50 Cent; see Gronk with Flo Rida and a bottle of Patron; see Gronk downing shots with strangers; see Gronk, clad in neon, working DJ 3LAU's stage like a motorized highlighter at Miami's Ultra Music Festival; see Gronk spiking a hockey puck, spiking a cake on his bro's face, spiking an armadillo onto a trampoline. (OK, I made that last one up. Bet you didn't bat a lash, though.)
Today, Team Gronk's playground is a movie set. Their toys come courtesy of the film's prop master.
Dan: "Do we have guns?" (Yes, plus shoulder-holsters.)
Rob: "Oh, cuffs too?" (You bet.)
Their eyes light up like the Gillette Stadium scoreboard. "Let's go bust some bad guys," Rob says as he barges into a makeup room to find model-turned-actress Joanna Krupa seated alone at a table.
Krupa, playing along: "Oh, officer, I've been a bad girl."
Gronk: "Yes, you have been a bad girl. Turn around, put your hands behind your back." He cuffs Krupa's wrists. "You've been a very naughty girl. I'm gonna have to take you in."
"I usually get handcuffed in a good way," Krupa quips as she's paraded around backstage.
The S&M jokes continue, but Gronkowski is here to win, not just play. Just before filming commences, he asks a nerdy reporter for help with an off-book rehearsal (under the watchful eye of the film's director, Andre Gordon).
And -- action!
Rob/Detective Weadon (speaking in a dialect that is part-Mass-hole, part-Martian): "Somebody needs to explain what's going on."
Me/Suzanne: "Stand down, officer."
Rob/Weadon: "I need something more than that, ma'am."
Me/Jackie: "You two want to get fired, officer?"
Rob/Weadon: "No, ma'am."
Dan/Detective Stole: "No."
Me/Jackie: "Then I suggest you call your [bad word] captain so I can get on with doing my job."
And -- cut!
It ain't Tarantino, but the Gronks nailed their lines and they celebrate with chest-bumps. Minutes later, cameras are rolling at "Mr. Phil's Bar" with Krupa as bartender Jackie, and Dominique Swain as a girl with a shard of glass in her ribs.
During breaks in the action, the actors rest and replenish back at the Gronk Party Bus. Today, it serves as a Star Wagon, one with wood-flooring, club-like lighting and a spine-jangling sound system that spins a mix of EDM, hip-hop and slow jams. But as recently as last summer, it served Christ. Gronkowski acquired the church bus from a congregation in Long Island before refurbishing and rechristening. Why? "I always wanted a party bus," he says.
The eight-seater's upkeep falls to Goon. Gronkowski's housemate back in New England is also his self-described "utility-man," with duties that include cooking, cleaning, sober driving and bouncing. Goon is just one thread in Gronkowski's ever-present safety net of friends and family, there to reel him away from evildoers, uninvited Instagramers or wayward TMZ eyes. Not that Gronk sweats the gossip-mongers. This is the man who begat a verb: "Bro, we're about to get Gronked!"
"Thing is, we're never putting anyone in harm's way," Gronkowski says. "My friends and I, we're dancing hard as heck, but it's not like we're running people over. We're never, ever looking for fights. We're just happy go-getters when we're all out together. If something does happen, there's a crew of us - we back each other off, make sure everything goes smooth."
Even as he avoids trouble like he dodges linebackers, Gronkowski, who's as self-aware as he is polite, is finding it difficult to spin free of his own hard-won, hardy-partying reputation. Heavy lies the crown, even for the King of Revelry.
"It definitely comes with a lot of responsibilities," he says of well-publicized lifestyle. "I just gotta make sure I stay on top of my football game, which I do. Sometimes people don't think I'm really ever playing football. Whenever they see me (partying), they're like, 'Uh-oh!'"
And with the Patriots' offseason workout program set to begin on April 20, Gronkowski says he's already begun to rebalance his two priorities with more frequent visits to the weight room, pool and hiking trail -- but don't overlook his work on the dance floor. "I swear, it keeps me in shape," he says. "If you dance for a week straight, 2 hours a day, you'll see a transformation in your body."
Until then, forgive the young fella for celebrating a victory on sports' biggest stage, not to mention an improbable bounce-back from a blown knee and six surgeries that led to 17 missed games over two seasons.
"I've definitely been through a lot of lows," he says. "Now I'm at the point where I got through it all and won the Super Bowl, so I'm enjoying it while I can. If you're killing it out on the field, you can kill it anywhere else."
An hour later, it's a wrap, and the crew erupts in applause and kudos for the rent-a-cops. It's official:
"We killed it," Rob says.
So, what's next?
"Oh you know, a little celebration time."
Minutes later, back on the bus, rolling toward the setting sun with Goon behind the wheel, the Gronk Bros are bopping to EDM in the back, fully clothed but triumphant nonetheless. Their impromptu dance-off, like their sunny nature, is infectious, leading to a nerdy reporter's Carlton Banks moves.
Gronk is not even remotely impressed. "Man, you're dancing's terrible," he says before shouting at his driver. "Hey, Goon, pull over! Get him off the bus!"
"You got it, Rob!" Goon bellows back.
"Let's just throw him off," Dan offers.
The Summer of Gronk must roll on to Angels Stadium in Anaheim, where Gronkowski will toss the first pitch to Mike Trout before heading to some luxury suite to continue the party with a bushel of girls, boxes of beer, a beer-bong and a rapper. Or maybe not.
Gronkowski says he'll call it a night soon after his mound work in order to get some rest ahead of his morning run up Runyon Canyon, his second sprint up the hiking trail in three days. "My calves all the way up to my butt-cheeks are still sore," he says.
Party on, Gronk.