Correction appended; story updated
Hollywood director Brad Furman couldn’t help himself.
Standing in front of a capacity crowd at the landmark Tampa Theater after the world premiere of The Infiltrator, the Bryan Cranston-starring crime drama that’s raked in $13 million so far, Furman detailed how much he’d enjoyed exploring Tampa while making the movie. He’d even gone to a bunch of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games, he noted to the delight of the audience — but then drew a smattering of boos by adding a post-script. “But I’m a Philadelphia Flyers fan.”
Furman doesn’t regret the reflexive shoutout to the orange and black. It’s part of who he is.
“I didn’t have to say anything about the Flyers,” says the 41-year-old Lafayette Hill native. “When I was growing up, they were so defining to me. I remember when [Flyers goalie] Pelle Lindbergh, who was my hero, crashed into that wall.” (Lindbergh died in 1985 after driving his Porsche into a wall next to Somerdale Elementary School in New Jersey.)
It’s not just the Flyers that have Furman’s heart. The Friends’ Central alum, who later played Division III basketball for NYU, is equally obsessed with the Eagles, Phillies and Sixers.
“When you grow up in the Philadelphia area, the local sports teams are in your blood,” Furman explains. “It’s in your DNA to root for them.”
Even after you move away, “you can enjoy other teams but you love the Philadelphia teams,” he says. “You love the players and the coaches.”
Furman actually played on teams led by those very players and coaches while coming of age. For example, when he was in the Narberth League, he was coached by former Sixer Joe Bryant (yes, Kobe Bryant’s father).
“That was an amazing experience,” Furman says. He actually played on the court with Kobe himself when the future star was in 9th and 10th grade. “He was phenomenal.”
He also remembers high school games with other Philly natives who’d go on to become NBA big shots, like Rasheed Wallace (Blazers, Pistons, Celtics). And Furman personally played against Alvin Williams at Abington’s Alverthorpe Park, years before Williams ended up as a key point guard for the Toronto Raptors.
“When I look back at those days, what amazes me is that Alvin Williams couldn’t go to his left!” Furman says.
Between high school and his pro career, Williams played for Villanova, arriving a year after now-legendary coach Jay Wright left his turn as an assistant there. Furman himself was once coached by Wright, when he was 12 years old and attending Nova’s Rollie Massimino basketball camp. The personal connection made Villanova’s 2016 NCAA tournament win extra special.
“I just can’t contextualize it,” Furman says. “It was a different kind of amazing than when Villanova won in 1985. I remember staying up for that one.” He’s looking forward to translating that feeling to the big screen, somehow. “I’ll have to figure out what my basketball movie will be.”
If only Furman had been considered to direct Silver Linings Playbook.
“Before I saw that movie I was concerned if they would be able to pull off what it means to be an Eagles fan, but they did a good job with it,” Furman admits. “Bradley Cooper was great in that movie.”
Furman and Cooper are the same age, and they had friends in common. “Bradley went to Germantown Academy and I had friends who went there. He’s a great guy — another Philadelphia sports nut in Los Angeles, just like me.”
Before The Infiltrator — a gripping, fast-paced suspense film based on the true-life takedown of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar that stars John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger and Amy Ryan alongside Breaking Bad’s Cranston — Furman scored acclaim directing such films as The Take (2007), Lincoln Lawyer (2011) and Runner Runner (2013). His success means he now walks in elite circles, the kind that has him breaking bread with sports stars like former Eagles lightning rods Terrell Owens and DeMarco Murray.
“Most Eagles fans have no idea what those guys are really like,” Furman says. “DeMarco told me he loved playing for the fans of Philadelphia. He didn’t have one negative thing to say. He just said it was tough with Chip [Kelly, former Eagles coach]. T.O. is a cool guy, too.”
Furman hopes to catch a Phillies game in his hometown before the season ends.
“I love going to Phillies games. The most intense one I was at was during the playoffs in Los Angeles [Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS],” Furman recalled. “Where Victorino hit that game-winning home run.”
[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ7J2bh23xo” caption=”Note: Victorino’s homer in the 8th tied the game, and then Matt Stairs pinch hit to win it. But sometimes memories are better than reality.”]
He was caught in hostile territory. “We were all wearing our Phillies gear. When we were walking out of Dodger Stadium I never felt so much fear for my life — Dodgers fans were so upset and the gang culture out in Los Angeles is big. I thought we were dead, but we made it out alive,” he says.
“You stick out your neck when you’re a Philly sports fan. When you grow up in Philly, it’s also about the work ethic. You appreciate the players that bust it, and you try hard whether you’re playing sports or, in my case, making movies. Philadelphia has had an undeniably huge impact on my life as a filmmaker.”