Editor's note: This is the extended cut of an interview that appears in the Dec. 10 issue of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!
It’s been said that Philadelphia Eagles fans are -- how shall we put this? -- a tad off-kilter.
That sort of unique passion is examined in “Silver Linings Playbook,” a quirky, Oscar-buzz-generating dramedy from director David O. Russell (“The Fighter,” “Three Kings”) starring Robert De Niro as the patriarch of an Eagles-obsessed family and Bradley Cooper as his troubled, DeSean Jackson-devoted son.
The role was hardly a stretch for Cooper -- the Philly-born star of the "Hangover" movies lives and dies with his Angry Birds. That much was evident when I met up with the actor at the Eagles' facility following a Nov. 14 practice.
At the time, the Eagles were floundering at 3-6 and all but assured of missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Still, Cooper was hopeful and, for the most part, cheery.
But there is something about this particular Philadelphian that can put you on edge. You might call it, in movie-speak, a smoldering intensity.
Russell called it “scary,” straight-up. “He seemed like an angry person to me,” Russell told Esquire.
Well, after two more Eagles losses and one season-ending injury to Jackson, it’s safe to say that one should proceed with an abundance of caution when crossing paths with Bradley Cooper, Eagles fan.
You’re a big Eagles fan. You play one in your movie. Coincidence?
Well, David O. Russell wrote the script based on the book by Matthew Quick, and it was all in the book.
So if David had said, “Know what, let’s move it to New York and make it about Giants fans ..."
No way -- I wouldn’t have done that. [Laughs.] Thank you, David.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “you tattooed an Eagle on your ass and throw snowballs at Santa Claus,” how Eagles-crazy are you?
I come at it from a different viewpoint. The psychological and emotional beating that I take from the experience of following them makes it, for me, an internal struggle, rather than causing harm to others. In terms of emotional fandom, I’m a 10. I won’t talk to you for a while, or I’ll get in an odd, emotional argument with someone who may have made a lighthearted joke about the Eagles.
Why are Eagles fans so damn loony?
I don’t believe we’re any crazier than Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York or football fans from yore, for God's sake. I think it’s a badge of honor that we wear. I’m proud to be an Eagles fan. This movie is a send-up of that, to how much football is a member of the family and how it creates a sense of community. It’s all about community, really. That’s a beautiful thing.
De Niro’s character, thinking you’re the Eagles’ lucky charm, insists you watch games with him. Do you have anything like that, maybe a favorite lucky blankie?
I actually had an Eagles blankie when I was a kid, but not anymore. But I’m a little superstitious. I feel like when I don’t watch them, they do well, and when I do watch them, they don’t. So it’s a bit of quagmire. I love to watch Sunday football.
What’s your favorite memory of your Eagles?
The Fog Bowl comes to mind (in Chicago in 1988), Randall Cunningham punting end zone to end zone. Watching it on TV was insane. They kept commentating, even though you couldn’t see anything. And then there’s 4th-and-26, the throw to Freddie Mitchell down the middle against Green Bay (in the 2004 playoffs). That was a great moment. I was at the airport. I had to find somebody in the lounge to turn the TV on, and then I had to get them to turn up the sound. I didn’t care who was listening. I had to hear it.
It’s about moments. I remember when the Eagles got to the Super Bowl with Ron Jaworski, we moved the television into the kitchen. We had to eat dinner, but we weren’t going to miss any of the game.
The 700 level is notorious. Ever catch a game from there?
No, we didn’t go to many Eagles games when I was young. I think we went to one, and it didn’t really bode well for our family. My father would make us wear ties to all sporting events.
I’m sure that went over well.
It’s just the way he grew up. We had to wear our Sunday outfit from church to the game.
The Tom Landry School.
All right, moving on to the question that everybody’s asking: Andy Reid ... Does he look like a walrus, or no?
Well, there’s no such thing as a walrus. There’s no one walrus. Like a snowflake, no two or the same. So you’ll have to be more specific. I appreciate the question, though.
I, for one, think there’s a resemblance.
I was actually hoping you’d ask me that. I was just thinking, why hasn’t anybody asked me if Andy Reid is a walrus? [Laughs.] It’s an obvious question. It’s crazy that it took 20 interviews for somebody to ask me that. This was starting to get awkward.
With that settled, the real question everybody’s asking: Is it time for a new voice in Philly? Is it time for Andy Reid to go?
I don’t have the audacity to chime in on that. You shut your mouth as an outsider. We don’t know the whole story.
That’s for sure, but c’mon -- as a Raiders fan, I have a long to-do list for them. Play make-believe: Let’s say these tough football guys decide tomorrow to take suggestions from dainty actors. What would you like to see fixed?
First of all, I appreciate the “dainty” comment. That hasn’t been something I’ve been so blessed to be called. Thank you. [Laughs.] But -- what was the question? I’m sorry, I can’t quite get past the daintiness of it all.
Just saying, compared to football, acting is a dainty profession. The question was about fixing the Eagles.
Oh, right -- I just met Andy Reid. Hell of a guy. I’ve always heard he’s a tremendous individual. And that’s clear. Have you met him?
I have. And he strikes me as a leader of men, the kind of coach you want on your sideline.
Oh yeah, he’s very present. You walk onto that field and you immediately feel that these guys have a lot of respect for him. McNabb had a lot of respect for him. Mike Vick has a lot of respect for him. There’s something to that.
Now that hope for the Eagles' season is fading --
Well, the season isn’t over. That’s the one thing that frustrates me about us –- we envision the worst possible scenario before it happens, just to protect ourselves. Look, the Giants lost two in a row. We beat them, we beat the Redskins. It’s not over. [Ed. note: It’s over.]
That’s cool. But if you’re the coach: Would you roll with a healthy Mike Vick or rookie Nick Foles?
Well, the rookie is 6-6, size 16 shoe, with one hell of an arm. That’s exciting. But I’ll tell you what I hate -- I don’t want to see Michael Vick get another concussion. That scares me. There are things that are more important than football.
Any other suggestions for your Eagles?
I mean, look, we have a young team, the second-youngest in the NFL. That’s the bottom line. And you have a quarterback who’s smaller than I am, with an offensive line that isn’t seasoned, and a defense that’s trying to keep the dam from breaking. It’s pretty simple. It’s the reality of the team this year. But there’s a flip side to being so young: There’s a lot of hope.
If the Eagles had to choose between you and Mark Wahlberg for some supplemental draft that I just made up, who should they pick?
Oh, I’d go with Wahlberg. He’s a tough guy. My god, are you kidding me? He’s the real deal. When he did “The Fighter,” he really trained. Those were real fighters. He wasn’t acting.
You're pretty fit –-
For a dainty man.
Well, certainly. Think you can you do more driveway sit-ups than T.O.?
[Laughs.] That’s hilarious. No, he’s a specimen, that guy. Just ripped.
Are you much of an athlete, or are you merely maintaining your physique for the camera?
I love sports. I grew up playing baseball, basketball, tennis, running, rowing. But I didn’t have the mental confidence in high school, unfortunately. I was a late bloomer, athletically. I reached my peak in basketball in intramurals in college, and post-college in Los Angeles. If I could take the confidence I have now, to take risks, and put it into high school, that would’ve been interesting. As my father always said, you have to want the ball. And I didn’t want the ball.
If you could give up the life you have now to be a key contributor to the Eagles, would you do it?
Of course! I think almost every guy would want to be a professional athlete. That’d be incredible.
But you’re far more likely to get injured.
Right, but this is make-believe. That won’t happen in this make-believe.
What position would you play?
Quarterback, of course.
They could use one.
I don’t know, this Foles guy looks pretty good. Indulge me -- can we talk about the cast?
Chris Tucker was awesome. It’s been 10 years since he’s been in a movie.
I missed him. And he’s good in this.
Yeah, you tend to forget -- you think of just “Rush Hour,” but if you remember “Jackie Brown,” the movie by Quentin Tarantino, he’s incredible. And he’s fantastic in “Dead Presidents.” And John Ortiz, who’s been a paramour of Phillip Seymour Hoffman for years, he killed as Pat’s friend. They all killed it. And you have to consider that it’s an athletic event, a David O. Russell movie. We shot the whole thing in 33 days, which, if you know anything about making a movie, that’s an insane schedule.
I loved Jennifer Lawrence in this. In fact, I think I’m now in love with her.
She’s awesome. And she just killed it. I’d say of all the characters she has played, Tiffany Maxwell is the most like her -- minus the sleeping-with-everybody-she-works-with part. She’s so open, and she doesn’t have a censor. And then there’s her comedic timing and how funny she is.
When she drops all that sports knowledge at the end --
Yeah, when she comes in for the parlay scene, she’s just awesome.
The movie is set in your glory days of NFC Championship appearances. Why does your character wear DeSean Jackson’s jersey and not Donovon McNabb’s?
It’s a bit of a metaphor for my character, Pat, who has so much promise but just can’t finish. His father says that to him. Like DeSean (in 2008 against the Cowboys), Pat spikes the ball at the 1-yard line. But DeSean’s also everybody’s favorite player from that 2008 season, so the jersey felt like the right thing for Pat to wear.
Are you worried about hearing from DeSean, given that metaphor?
I just met him and we took a photo together, but we didn’t talk about it. I mean, this movie is a love letter to the Eagles. You kidding me? Oh my god, we document that great year where we beat –- killed -- the Cowboys. And then we end the movie there.
Why there, and not their playoffs ouster?
We chose to remember the good stuff.