Dream Catcher
Brian Klugman, an actor, writer and filmmaker with deep Philadelphia roots, has advice for anyone who wants to turn a dream into reality: “Go after it as hard as you can and hold on tightly”
by Debra Wallace

Even as a young child, Brian Klugman had high hopes of becoming a writer. Hard work and perseverance—not to mention the love and support of family members and close friends—helped him discover that, yes, dreams really do come true.

Klugman, now 40, has forged a career as a screenwriter and director, with two feature films under his belt. He’s also a TV and film actor, which might not come as a surprise considering his famous last name. His “Uncle Jack,” the late Jack Klugman, was a stellar Broadway, film and TV actor best known for his roles as Oscar Madison on the hit show “The Odd Couple,” and the title character in “Quincy, M.E.”

Klugman’s creativity was nurtured by his close-knit Huntingdon Valley family: Helen, his mother, a retired school teacher; Gerald, his father, a real estate broker; Jeffrey and Michael, his brothers; and Laurie, his sister. Even Uncle Jack, who died in December 2012 at the age of 90, did his best to offer support. In remembering the best advice his late uncle provided over the years, Klugman quotes Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: “To thine own self be true.”

Growing up, Klugman loved tennis, basketball and trips to the Jersey Shore. Some of his fondest childhood memories stem from the blissful summers he spent at Pine Forest Camp in the Poconos. There, he became close friends with a boy named Lee Sternthal. Later on, at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Klugman made friends with a charismatic teenager named Bradley Cooper. Together, the three young men built an allegiance based on “trust and truth,” and they made sure to encourage one another to pursue their dreams.

So far, everything is working out just fine.

Cooper, who grew up in Jenkintown, has become one of Hollywood’s brightest shining stars, with leading roles in major films such as “Joy,” “American Sniper” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” As for Klugman and Sternthal, their early successes included roles on the writing team of the 2010 sci-fi film “TRON: Legacy.” That accomplishment, however, has proven to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Klugman and Sternthal co-wrote and co-directed “The Words,” a sweeping drama starring Cooper, in the role of Rory Jansen, as well as Klugman, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Zoe Saldana, J.K. Simmons and Olivia Wilde. Released in 2012 to some critical acclaim, the romantic drama explored the devastating consequences that can happen when ambition supersedes love.

Klugman is proud of “The Words,” and he is thrilled to have collaborated with his childhood friends in bringing the film to fruition. “I got to make that movie with my two best friends,” he says. “What can be cooler than that?”

Likewise, Cooper is equally happy about his involvement with the film. He says it was quite simple, really: “My friends … asked me if I wanted to play Rory. I said, ‘Of course,’ and that was it; we just tried to find a date. Sharing this triumph with my family and friends is like a dream; I keep waiting to wake up.”

Today, the three friends are just a text, email or cellphone call away. Has success changed them? “Not a bit,” insists Klugman’s mother, Helen. “They are really kind and considerate of each other and everyone else in their lives. I am not just saying that because they are mine.”

Helen Klugman remembers her son starting to write poetry and short stories at an early age. “It was always his dream to be a writer,” she says. “He enjoys acting; but writing was his first love.” When he left Philadelphia and absconded to Los Angeles after college, his parents had some concerns. “This is a scary business, and Brian was very young when he left,” she says. “But he was a very determined kid. He worked hard, and he deserves this success.”

Bret Levy, who grew up down the block from the Klugman house, has been at both of his friend’s film openings. Also, he and his wife, Kristy, were extras in “The Words.” To Levy, co-owner of Benny the Bum’s restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia, Klugman’s success comes as no surprise. “Brian was always super intelligent, super passionate and super talented,” Levy says. “His success took a while, but we all knew it would eventually happen for him because he has worked so hard for it. I believe that good things happen to truly good people.”

‘The Best Job in the World’
Klugman’s next project is “Baby, Baby, Baby,” a film he wrote, directed and starred in. The quirky yet heartfelt romantic comedy, which was shot in 22 days, follows the relationship of Sydney and Sunny from beginning to end. Sydney is a writer, like Klugman, whose life experiences filter directly into writing through his wit, humor and a heavy dose of neurosis.

When he set out to write and direct a movie about “the dating wars” of Los Angeles, he had one rule for himself, he says: “to be as an honest and truthful as possible about love, loss, hope, pain and all the other elements that make these things we call relationships.”

Besides himself, “Baby, Baby, Baby” stars Klugman and Adrianne Palicki (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Red Dawn”). The film also features cameos from some of Klugman’s friends and colleagues—namely, Jessica Alba, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Haysbert, Cloris Leachman, William Shatner and Jonathan Silverman. “Baby, Baby, Baby,” which is currently seeking a distributor, has fared well on the film festival circuit. It enjoyed a sold-out screening at the 24th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival in late 2015, and it also won a Jury Award at the 2015 Austin Film Festival.

When Klugman became an actor at the tender age of 10, his red hair and freckles made him a perfect choice for many roles. So far, he has enjoyed roles in “Frasier,” “Joan of Arcadia,” “Castle,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “House M.D.,” “NYPD Blue,” “Without a Trace,” and, most recently, the recurring role of Dr. Oliver Wells on the series “Bones.” He was also in the 2008 horror film “Cloverfield.”

He remains focused primarily on writing and directing, but he says he will happily grab a good acting part when and if it comes along. “Going to work as an actor is the best job in the world,” he says. “You get to meet amazing people, and it’s so fun and playful.”

For Klugman, though, making movies is his true passion. “Every day I go to the set I am a happy camper,” he explains. “Every day working with people I admire is better than the one before. I could not have hoped to work with more incredible people and more inspiring artists. I am grateful and honored to have been allowed to tell this story.”

Despite his past successes and many industry connections, Klugman is a realist. He knows having a door opened in Hollywood is never a breeze. “It doesn’t get easier to get my calls answered,” he says. “It’s a fact that you always have to hustle to make movies.”

While he can’t divulge any details yet, Klugman and Sternthal are currently working on their next movie and waiting for all the stars to align.

Klugman’s hectic schedule doesn’t allow him much free time, but when he does slow down he throws a ball for his dog, heads outdoors and catches up on movies and books. His favorite authors include John Steinbeck and “Lonesome Dove” screenwriter Larry McMurtry, and he is currently reading the novel “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter. As a writer, he believes in practicing his craft by reading as often as possible.

Klugman’s advice to aspiring actors and directors: “If you can do anything else, do it. But if this is what you truly want to do, then go after it as hard as you can and hold on tightly.”