A Philadelphia friendship led to 'The Words'


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In a roundabout way, if it hadn't been for Jack Klugman, actor Bradley Cooper might not have had a place to crash when he moved to Los Angeles.

When Brian Klugman wanted to leave Carnegie Mellon University, he called "The Odd Couple" star who is his great-uncle (and grandfather's brother).

"I didn't see him too much growing up but when I was in college in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon, he was like my hero," Brian Klugman said in a recent phone call. "I said, 'I want to drop out and move to LA' and everyone in my family said no. I had never really spoken to him that much and he said, you can come out and stay with me."

The younger Klugman did, and he paid it forward with boyhood pal Mr. Cooper, who recalled in the same speaker-phone conversation, "I stayed on Brian's couch. He was the first one to go out," and the actor followed suit five or six years later.

"He was the guy who paved the road for me to come out to Los Angeles," the blue-eyed star of the "Hangover" comedies, "Limitless," "The A-Team" and the recent "Hit & Run" said.

Mr. Klugman, Mr. Cooper and a third pal, Lee Sternthal, were on the call at the same time to promote "The Words," which opened in theaters Friday.

Mr. Klugman and Mr. Sternthal co-wrote and co-directed it and Mr. Cooper stars as struggling writer Rory Jansen who plagiarizes another man's novel and becomes a literary sensation. The cast also includes Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Ben Barnes, Dennis Quaid and Olivia Wilde.

The movie, made for $6 million, shot for 25 days in Montreal, which cheated for all of the locations, from 1940s France to present-day Paris, Philadelphia and New York. The roots of the project stretch back more than two decades to a friendship forged in the men's hometown of Philadelphia.

Although they were all back home, their time was not their own. "If our bucket list in Philly was to go to all the radio stations locally, well, we're living the dream," Mr. Cooper, People magazine's 2011 sexiest man alive, said with a laugh.

Like a football announcer with a telestrator, Mr. Klugman offered to break down the trio's history for a reporter. "I went to summer camp with Lee Sternthal when I was 10 years old, Lee was 11 years old. That same year, I met Bradley in fifth grade at Germantown Academy."

The bond endured through school, camp and boyhood aspirations of becoming a firefighter or magician or even an actor.

In "The Words," the aspiring novelist's father -- played by the great character actor J.K. Simmons -- asks if his son should think about writing as a hobby instead of a profession. Did someone ever say that to any of the three?

"Yes. Every day. Every ... day," Mr. Sternthal volunteered, confirming it was a parent who made the suggestion.

"Bradley said it to me," Mr. Klugman quipped.

"The truth is and partly why we've stayed great -- if not best -- friends is, especially growing up where we did, the arts were not a huge part of the culture," Mr. Cooper said. "The idea of wanting to be an actor or wanting to be a writer, seemed like a pipe dream.

"Finding Brian, a comrade in arms, so early in my life was wonderful because he really would pull me up by my bootstraps as I would pull him in moments of insecurity or lack of support. Because a lot of people were very practical and would just kind of laugh it off."

At every stage in his life, Mr. Cooper had someone who would scoff at the idea he wanted to be an actor but not Mr. Klugman, also an actor with film and TV credits,

"I second that," Mr. Sternthal added. "I went to summer camp with Brian and he was a huge inspiration. Brian's nodding his head and saying yeah-yeah-yeah but it's true."

Mr. Klugman and Mr. Sternthal received story-by credit on "Tron: Legacy" but make their directorial debut with "The Words." They had been inspired by accounts of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, losing his precious manuscripts on a train.

That, according to the movie's press notes, sparked a series of questions between the collaborators: "What would have happened if Hemingway stopped writing? What would happen if you found the stories? Would you know they were spectacular?"

Days after moving to LA, Mr. Cooper's pals staged a reading of "The Words" with Jack Klugman handling the part of the character called simply the Old Man, ultimately portrayed by Mr. Irons.

"I thought it was incredible but I was never in the conversation," Mr. Cooper said. "It wouldn't have done anything to help them make the movie, and then there were actors they batted around for years and directors. It looked like they were maybe going to get it made. I was just always on the sidelines sort of cheering them on.

"It wasn't until about three years ago or so where they decided to direct it themselves and then they approached me and said, 'Hey, would you want to maybe play Rory? I said yeah, of course.' I would do anything for them."

"Then I wound up benefiting the most, I think, because it really was a great experience. What started out as, maybe, a favor in some ways, wound up being very beneficial for me artistically."

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published September 9, 2012 4:00 AM


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