Jonathan Loughran was living in Los Angeles in the early 1990s and taking acting classes with hopes of breaking into show business after moving from Northeast Philadelphia. But his career — the one that started with a movie that bombed so badly that he didn’t even get paid — seemed more likely to lead him home to Parkwood than keep Loughran in Hollywood for another 30 years.
Then he got his break.
A friend from acting class helped Loughran land a job as a waiter at the Improv, Hollywood’s famed comedy club. He became friends there with Allen Covert, who would soon introduce him to Adam Sandler. They bonded over basketball, then Loughran became the star’s assistant, and Sandler began casting his friend from Philly in nearly all of his movies.
Loughran, who graduated from Archbishop Ryan in 1984, carved his place in Hollywood. He has traveled the world with Sandler, found his way into more than 40 movies, and has lived in California longer than Philadelphia.
“It’s amazing,” Loughran said. “It just kind of happened. If someone didn’t help me get a job at the Improv, then it would have never happened. I probably would have moved back to Philly and who knows what I would have done.”
Loughran, who is credited as a producer on Sandler’s recently-released, Philly-focused film Hustle, was the linebacker in The Waterboy, Sandler’s college buddy in Big Daddy, and one of the foils in both Grown Ups flicks.
Sandler’s movies are known for casting many of the same actors, and Loughran is a part of that crowd.
“I don’t know why he decided to put me in one day,” said Loughran, whose first Sandler movie was Bulletproof in 1996. “He was doing an album a long time ago, asked me if I wanted to do a voice on the album, and that was it.”
“It’s pretty cool, I have to say. We travel around and I always say, ‘I’m semi-famous.’ A lot of times Adam is signing autographs, someone will ask me for an autograph, and someone will say ‘Who is that guy?’ They have no idea who I am. But it seems like there’s a lot of people who watch Adam’s movies and they watch them over and over again and they come to like the guys he puts in.”
Loughran was a football and basketball player at Ryan. His father was a car salesman and a bookie and his mother was a stay-at-home mom and a bartender. He grew up in a rowhouse, attended Catholic schools, and was raised in a middle-class neighborhood.
“Growing up in the Northeast shaped me,” Loughran said. “I played sports every day. That was my passion. Northeast Philly was a unique place growing up and I carry that with me everywhere. I wasn’t the toughest guy, but I think growing up there gave me a toughness that I’ve been able to deal with a lot of things thrown my way in this business and life and be able to shake things off.
“I also learned a lot about sarcasm.”
A Philly diehard
Loughran’s years in California have helped him almost shake his Philly accent — Sandler teases him for the way he says “bagel” and Loughran has to think before saying “water” — but he has not lost his devotion to the teams he grew up rooting for.
He loved Steve Carlton, Jerome Brown, and Moses Malone. He shook Dr. J’s hand after scoring 22 points in a CYO game at the Spectrum and celebrated the Sixers’ 1983 title by running onto Roosevelt Boulevard with his buddies.
Loughran watched the Eagles win the Super Bowl in the darkness of his California bedroom, needing to retreat from the party his wife threw as the nerves set in. Paparazzi photos of Sandler often feature Loughran in the background wearing an Eagles hat.
His preferred pair of dress socks features a caricature of Allen Iverson and he recently had the chance on a Zoom call to tell A.I. how loud the arena was when the 76ers won the Eastern Conference title in 2001.
“I’ve met so many people with Adam and everybody wants a picture with Adam, so I’ve seen that and I’ve learned to not really bother anyone or ask for pictures with anyone,” Loughran said. “But Allen Iverson would be one of them. I worship that guy. That was incredible to talk to him and that he knew who I was.”
No matter where he is, Loughran calls his mother, Helen, before kickoff of each Birds game. He bonded over sports with his father, Jim, who died in 2017 and rooted against the Eagles each week since all his bettors had their money on the home team.
“My dad was a tough guy and known for it,” said Loughran as his father played football at Roman Catholic and was related to boxing Hall of Famer and world champion Tommy Loughran from South Philly. “He gave me a love of sports and was the type of guy who would see a celebrity and I’d get excited and he’d say ‘Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t look out the window if he was in our backyard.’”
A loss often made Loughran so irate that Sandler wrote a role for him in 2003′s Anger Management as a crazed Philly sports fan.
Loughran’s character wore an Iverson jersey and listened to a Sixers broadcast during group therapy before being calmed down by Jack Nicholson. He was practically playing himself, but that still didn’t make the guy whose career almost never began not feel nervous about being on set with Nicholson.
“It was incredible,” Loughran said. “I mean, look at the list of people who I’ve been able to be in scenes with or in movies with. It’s pretty cool. Even if I’m not acting in the movie, just hanging on set with these legendary people has been pretty cool.”
Loughran came off the bench in seventh grade for his St. Anselm’s basketball team that won a CYO state title and his Far Northeast team that won the city championship. He was a role player — almost like his place in a Sandler movie, Loughran said — but those teams coached by neighborhood stalwarts Neil Brassell and Al Panebianco created memories to make a childhood.
He was an All-Catholic and All-City defensive back at Ryan and was elected to the school’s football Hall of Fame. But Loughran downplays his football career, crediting a sportswriter for helping him appear better than he was.
“There was a guy named Ted Silary; he was a legend,” said Loughran of the longtime Daily News high school sportswriter. “For some reason, he liked me. I had a couple big plays that I think had him take notice of me. One was against Bishop Egan when I hit a guy in the backfield on a fourth-and-1 and helped win the game.”
The other play Silary loved was an interception that Loughran returned for a touchdown in a loss to Central Bucks West. Loughran picked off the pass and ran 45 yards for the score. Afterward, Loughran told Silary that the opposing quarterback was a really good player but “runs like he’s afraid to get hit.”
That explains why Silary described Loughran two months later as having a “riverboat gambler’s temperament” when he listed him among the city’s top football recruits.
Ryan lost that game by eight points, but it still provided Loughran something to brag about 30 years later on a movie set.
Rex Ryan, then the head coach of the New York Jets, had a role in a Sandler movie. And Mike Pettine Jr., the QB that day for Central Bucks West, was the Jets’ new defensive coordinator. Loughran was sure to let Ryan know about that interception.
“He said he would ask him and confirm it with him,” Loughran said.
Loughran wasn’t in school plays at Ryan and acting wasn’t on his mind when he attended West Chester University for three years. But he always loved movies, ever since his mother took him to a theater in Somerton when he was 10 years old.
“My mom said, ‘Let’s go see this movie.’ I looked at it and it was a picture of a guy and a girl hugging. I didn’t understand. I was like, that looks stupid, Mom. It looks like a love story,” Loughran said. “It was Rocky. I went with her and, of course, I loved Rocky more than anything. I saw it 15½ times in the movies because one time I went and the time was wrong so I watched half of it and then stayed for when it started again.”
Loughran had the bug for Hollywood, so it was worth a shot to try acting when he moved to L.A. when he was 21 to live with his half-brother. He didn’t know then where his life was headed, but eventually he met Sandler and everything changed.
“He’s a great guy. Very loyal and a great friend,” Loughran said. “We have a great relationship. It’s all him. We all add to it with what we can, but he’s really driven. They’re all Adam Sandler movies. No one works harder in Hollywood than that guy. It’s like athletes, you hear them say, ‘Work hard, work hard, work hard.’ That’s him in show business. People don’t realize how smart he is. He works harder than anyone, he’s smart, and he’s really good with people. He combines all that.”
Sandler not only dropped Loughran into his own movies but campaigned for him to get other roles. While shooting Little Nicky, Sandler talked up Loughran to filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, who was an actor in the film.
Sandler told him his buddy from Philly is more than a comedy actor. A year later, Loughran received a call that Tarantino wanted him to be in Kill Bill.
» READ MORE: The reviews for ‘Hustle,’ filmed in Philly, are in
“I said, ‘Are you calling for me or calling for Adam? They said, we’re calling for you,’” Loughran said. “That’s what Adam does. He goes out of his way to make others around him look good and talks really good about them and helps them.”
Loughran said Sandler made him a producer on Hustle — which stars Sandler as a Sixers scout searching for the next great basketball star — because that was the sport that brought them together. They play basketball wherever they go, from Duke’s gym to Sandler’s house where John Salley dunked on Loughran to playing with Shaquille O’Neal on the set of Grown Ups.
Hustle was shot all over the city as it took Sandler to Geno’s Steaks, the Palestra, Broad Street, Fairmount Park, and the Italian Market. But Sandler’s first stop in town was in the Far Northeast. He wanted to see where Loughran went to high school.
They drove around Ryan’s parking lot off Academy Road, but there wasn’t much action as school was closed by the pandemic.
“Then we saw a maintenance man, Adam was trying to tell him that I went to Ryan and this and that about me,” Loughran said. “He had no idea. He could care less. He was like, ‘What? You need help?’ I said, ‘No, forget it.’”
And that is what it’s like to be “semi-famous.” Loughran said he’ll get recognized in a Santa Fe, N.M., Wal-Mart but not his old neighborhood. It’s been a wild journey from Parkwood to Hollywood and it happened by chance.
“It’s been a pretty amazing ride,” Loughran said. “I got to go around the world and stay in nice hotels and work on great movies and meet people who I would never meet. It’s just been quite a ride. All because of him.”