"Big Fan" actor talks about Philly fans

In the new movie "Big Fan," Patton Oswalt plays an obsessive New York Giants fan. It's from the writer of "The Wrestler."
In the new movie "Big Fan," Patton Oswalt plays an obsessive New York Giants fan. It's from the writer of "The Wrestler."
Posted: September 04, 2009

Robert Siegel has a twisted sense of humor. Who else would cast a New Yorker as an Eagles fan?

The writer and director's latest movie, Big Fan, opened to critical acclaim last week. (Siegel also wrote The Wrestler.) The film - a smart commentary about how our collective obsession with sports can sometimes turn ugly - focuses on a hyper-intense New York Giants fan played by Patton Oswalt from King of Queens. Oswalt's character frequently calls a sports talk-radio station to argue with his nemesis, a guy named "Philadelphia Phil." Ironically, Phil is played by Michael Rapaport - a native New Yorker and a devotee of the teams there.

Rapaport talked to Page 2 about the country's often unhealthy fixation on sports, his take on Michael Vick, and why New Yorkers and Philadelphians aren't so different after all.

You're a New Yorker playing a Philadelphia fan. Is that constitutionally legal? I thought there was an amendment banning that kind of thing.

There's a part of me that says it's not right. Internally, it caused a lot of strife for me. I definitely gave it a second thought. But we're fundamentally the same type of people when you think about it. Working class. Very, very passionate about where we come from and who we are. Very passionate about our teams. We have a similar sensibility. It's just a different backdrop. I like Philly fans. You guys are totally crazy.

Nah. We're really just a bunch of misunderstood pussycats. Did you do any research for your role? What did you learn about Philly fans?

I've been to lots of games down there. My most memorable moment at a Philly sporting event: I went to the NBA All-Star Game and they started booing Kobe Bryant. That sealed the deal for me about how crazy Philly fans are. I've never heard any booing at any all-star event. For them to boo him so vehemently after the game was really nuts.

You know why that was, right? He's from here, but when the Sixers played the Lakers in the NBA Finals, he said he wanted to cut our hearts out.

Oh, I know. I totally get it. And I liked it. I respected it. Philly fans are the real deal. I've watched you through the years. I know how you guys operate.

Your character, Philadelphia Phil, argues with Patton Oswalt's character on the radio. Do you listen much to sports talk radio?

I like sports radio. I've always gotten a kick out of it. Sometimes it can be a little much, though.

Sometimes there's civil debate and discourse. Other times it's closer to vomiting emotion into the phone.

Yeah. If they're talking about a subject that's interesting to me, I'll stay with it. But it can be too nuts and uneducated at times. The screaming and yelling gets to me.

The Michael Vick signing has obviously created a huge, made-for-talk-radio controversy here in Philly and nationally. What would Philadelphia Phil have to say about all the commotion?

He would probably say the guy did his time and people have done way more than what Vick did and didn't do as much jail time for it. He's an Eagle now and we embrace him wholeheartedly. We're behind him as fans.

Philadelphia Phil is clearly a parody of fans in general, but what you just said is a sentiment I've heard expressed by real fans here. Are the lines that blurred now between fiction and reality? Has sports fandom gotten out of control?

It has. But the athletes have gotten out of control, too, and all of that goes together. Athletes think they're above the law and they can get away with things. And not just athletes. That goes for celebrities in general. And the people who are into all of that can get carried away as well.

You're a big sports fan. Care to break down the NFC East? Who do you like this year?

I'm rooting for Philadelphia. I like them and what they've done with Vick. He's sort of the underdog. I took him on my fantasy team.

Wait. You took him on your fantasy team even though he's going to miss a couple of games? That's a really dubious fantasy decision.

I know, I know. I was making a statement.

That's hilarious. You're sort of the Jeffrey Lurie of fantasy football owners that way.

Thanks. That's what I was going for.

You've played a lot of crazy - some might say intellectually incurious - characters. I read that you once said "it takes a genius to play a fool." How's that working out for you? I've been telling my readers that very thing for a year now.

Some days people get it. Other days they're not buying the act.

Tell me about it.

The Wall Street Journal - presumably because it has time to kill - listened to all the play-by-play men in baseball and estimated their "chattiness" - that is, the number of words spoken per minute. Tom McCarthy was 11th on the list at 82.97. Legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully came in first at 143.51. . . . The Dave Matthews Band is the "official band" of ESPN's college football coverage? Seriously? What year is this? When did it become 1998 again? Were Hootie and the Blowfish not available? And when will I stop asking questions and start writing declarative sentences again? . . . In a recent survey, 40 percent of sports reporters admitted that they bet on sports. That seems like an awfully low line. I'll take the over.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.

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