Long before Philly's golden boy was wearing a trash bag and working with the kind of directors that help get you on stage at the Oscars, Bradley Cooper was being slowly written off Alias, ditching an undisclosed drug habit, and thanking his stars for allowing him the opportunity to meet Sandra Bullock.

Fast forward to 2013 and he's got a star turn in one of the most anticipated films of the holiday season, David O. Russell's American Hustle, and he's traversing the gorgeous Hawaiian landscape to talk about growing up in Philly and then really growing up in Hollywood with a staff writer from GQ (who also happens to be from Philly).

The magazine's recent two-page profile of Cooper doesn't delve too far into Cooper's personal life, but does a wonderful job of sketching the silhouette of a man who's filling out his potential and searching for the best ways to discuss such a transformation without sounding like an insufferable asshat.

He manages to do so with ease.

Bradley Cooper isn't just Philly's biggest star, at the moment, he's a big draw in a town built for big draws. Take a few minutes and peek behind the curtain over at GQ to see what's pulling on those strings.

Aside from the drug-enhanced novelist/stockbroker/corporate raider he portrayed in Limitless, Cooper has probably never played a guy as smart as he is in real life. At Georgetown, where he graduated with honors, Cooper wrote his thesis on Nabokov's Lolita, remembers shedding actual tears in the campus library reading Romeo and Juliet, and still speaks with an eerie recall of and sincere affection for the other writers he read in the English program there. In the backyard of the café, I watch him, moved to something close to joy, recall his first encounter with Paradise Lost. 

"Milton, bro? Milton. F***in'—that was the end of it. Motherf***er's 57 or whatever, blind, dictating it to his f***ing daughter-nurse—Paradise Lost? I mean, I just couldn't… That poem f***ing killed me. Satan? That character was un-f***ing-believable. I could taste him in my mouth, dude, reading that. I really, really, for some reason, connected with that poem."

It probably helped that he was out of the Irish Catholic home he grew up in. His father, who died in 2011, was a stockbroker; his mother worked for the local NBC affiliate. Cooper's love of cinema comes from his dad, a guy who, if not for the place and time he came from, might have ended up a lot like his son did. "He had to carry a knife to f***ing school, so he just wanted to get the f*** out of there and make money," Cooper says. "In another world, my father would be doing the same thing I'm doing."

After Georgetown, he moved to New York and worked nights as a doorman at the Morgans Hotel while he studied acting at the New School with celebrity-whisperer James Lipton. He skipped his graduation to "get f***ed in the ass by Michael Ian Black" in 2001's Wet Hot American Summer—his first-ever film role—and, that same year, landed a supporting role on Alias as Will Tippin, a journalist but more fundamentally the best, most understanding friend and possible romantic interest that Jennifer Garner could ever have. [GQ]