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January 19, 2004

Okay, I feel it's safe to assume that a bunch of you guys just saw the pictures of this week's Boyfriend, Chris Cooper, and are thinking it's finally happened. Meg's run out of cute guys to write about and she's down to scraping the dregs out of the bottom of the Boyfriend barrel. I mean, and you thought Tommy Lee Jones was a stretch, take a look at this guy! He's wrinkly, he's got a big schnozz, he's often found sporting extremely unflattering hair styles. What the heck is Meg thinking? She can't really be thinking this guy is CUTE, can she?

Well, hey, I sure can. And when I tell you why, I won't even have to resort to that lame old crappola line about beauty being on the inside. Because what's cute about Chris Cooper is alllllll over the man. He's practically dripping with it. And this It to which I refer? It can be summed up with a single word. And that word is cowboy.

I'm pretty sure that's all I actually have to say, too. Because every American girl (and a bunch of the rest of the world's girls too, I bet) is in love with cowboys. Am I right or am I right? I mean, not the redneck-drunken-bastard kinda cowboy. I'm talking about the Jack Palance kinda cowboy. The Sam Shepard kinda cowboy. The "Come back, Shaaaaane" kinda cowboy. The Sam Elliot cowboy. The Outlaw Josey Wales cowboy (well, okay, Josey wasn't really a cowboy, but man that Clint Eastwood sure can swagger on a horse). The. . .well, the Chris Cooper in "The Horse Whisperer" or "Seabiscuit" cowboy. And while yes, 'tis true that Chris Cooper is not actually actively pursuing a career in cattle wrangling, the main point to take away here is that if he wanted to, HE COULD. He's got the right body for it. The right kind of patience and grit. The right kind of character. The right look. The right calm.

The right cool.

And hey, cowboys not your thing? Well, never fear, because when Chris Cooper isn't playing a cowboy, he's almost always playing the other great American hero -- the struggling, blue-collar worker with the heart of gold and the perseverance, strength, and courage of. . . uh, something very dedicated, muscular, and brave. A Marine, maybe? Except he's only played career military once (in "American Beauty") and it actually wasn't all that pretty. So, let's just say it's the kind of man who will work his fingers to the bone for his family. Who will risk his life for his friends, or forsake everything for a dream.

Chris Cooper -- he covers every base. Every base of every thing that is good. And, okay, a few of the bases of many things that are bad. But only a very, very few. And we won't hold that against him here.

Cases in point, then. Here are five movies you should rent if you want to see Chris Cooper at his absolute best. Please note that I've seen almost all of Chris Cooper's movies (except for the really obscure or really bad ones -- not that there are any bad Chris Cooper movies, of course. I, uh, well, um.), so you can email to tell me about your favorite, but chances are good I've seen it already and it just didn't make my top five (it's probably number 6, though, which is definitely not bad). Okay, here goes:

First of all, you can't expect to get anywhere in Chris-Cooperstown unless you get your hands on a copy of his first movie, the extremely great and extremely depressing "Matewan." "Matewan" is about a small coal mining town in 1920's West Virginia, where the company owns practically everything and the people work themselves into the graves for practically nothing. When the miners decide it's time to unionize, Joe Kenehan (Cooper) is sent in to help the workers organize. Kenehan is sort of Matewan's Joe Hill, if that helps you any with the history, and his efforts succeed not only in uniting the townspeople, but the black and Italian scabs the company brings in to replace them. Despite racial tensions, the men become a unit -- a union -- and it's pretty spectacular to watch them do it.

Of course, if you're familiar with American history, the moment I said "coal miners," "1920's West Virginia" and "Joe Hill" you should've had a clue that this movie is not going to end pretty. And indeed, it's one of the most depressing endings of all time. But don't let that scare you away because this film is incredible. It's got a wonderful, almost documentary look and feel to it -- a darkness and graininess (though part of that was the bad quality of the DVD, I'm sure) that all by itself creates a feeling of being underground and miserable. The dust, the grime, the danger, the tension -- it's all bleeding out of every pore of every character. It's masterful. And that's not something I say very often. Also, it co-stars ex-Boyfriend David Strathairn, who rules, and future Boyfriend James Earl Jones, also known as "Darth Vader." How can you go wrong?

My next favorite of Coop's pictures (I love calling him "Coop," by the way -- it's how I think of him in my head) is a film in which he plays another coal miner, oddly enough. This one is "October Sky," the true story of NASA engineer Homer Hickam's childhood in the small mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia. Homer's played by ex-Boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal and Coop plays his father, a hard-working, stubborn man who only wants what's best for his son, he just can't seem to see what that actually is at first. The plot centers around Homer's attempts to build a rocket, and the scenes of him and his friends and their various mishaps with explosives are hilarious and fun. But it's really the storyline about Homer's relationship with his father that will stick with you for a long time afterwards. Just, easily, one of my favorite movies of all time. And it has a happy ending, which makes it a good follow-up to your screening of "Matewan."

Third up is one of Coop's newer films, "Seabiscuit," in which he plays a horse trainer. You've undoubtedly seen this one already, so I probably shouldn't waste too much time talking about it. Suffice it to say that even though this is a movie about a horse, it's not really a movie about a horse. It's good. Rent it. Chris looks about 15 years older than usual, but I actually like getting a glimpse of how my Boyfriends are going to look when I'm 45, so I didn't mind this one bit.

Okay, so fourth we have another little John Sayles picture called "Lone Star" about a modern day Texas sheriff (Chris) who solves a mystery and, in doing so, finally comes to grips with his relationship with his dead father (former sheriff of the same town, and played in flashbacks here by ex-Boyfriend Matthew McConaughey. Notice any trends here, by the way? There's an ex-Boyfriend in every one of these movies! It's uncanny!). This is an extremely clever and original movie -- very tightly put together and riveting. And Chris plays a gentle, good kind of guy, struggling with some very intense emotions and a heavy past. In short, it rules.

Finally, a movie you probably haven't seen, and one that doesn't really feature Chris as a very nice guy (though he is trying hard to do the right thing all through). This one is called "My House in Umbria" and it's actually a movie made for television, but you can get it on DVD through It's a movie about an eclectic group of people, all injured in a bombing on a train. Four of the survivors, asked not to leave town while the police investigate the bombing, all move into the home of the fifth survivor, an elderly woman named Emily. Chris Cooper plays the uncle of the little girl survivor (her mother was killed in the blast) and when he finally shows up to take her home, he sort of throws the rest of the household into turmoil. Even more disturbing is the growing evidence that the bomber is actually among them. This was a really unusual, funny, sweet, and suspenseful film, and I greatly enjoyed it. And while Chris's character is a bit of a stodge, he redeems himself nicely in the end. And he looks real good doin' it, too.

Other movies I enjoyed, all tied for sixth place, I assure you, include: "The Disappearance of Elaine" (which you can find on Lifetime every now and then), "Adaptation" (weird but good), "The Bourne Identity," The Patriot," "American Beauty," "A Time to Kill," and "This Boy's Life." And, for the record, I did try to watch "Lonesome Dove," but I didn't get all the way through it. I found Tommy Lee Jones's hair too distracting. And besides, if I'd spent six more hours on Boyfriend research, you guys would've really started to get antsy. I'll try it again soon, I promise.

Okay, let's bio this Boy and get the heck out of here. Christopher W. Cooper was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 9, 1949. His father was a cattleman and Chris grew up lending a hand on the family ranch. So, you see, I was not kidding about that whole "quit yer day job and become a cowboy" thing. This is a man who knows what he's doing.

Admittedly a shy boy, Chris studied ballet (of all things) to combat his stage fright and spent his first years in theater as a set constructer. Immediately after high school, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves and later matriculated at the University of Missouri to study drama.

While at U of M, he made his acting debut as the understudy for a sick Tom Berenger. After graduating in 1976, he began a solid career on stage, moving to New York to continue his studies. In 1979, he met actress Marianne Leone in an acting class, and the two started to date. They married in 1983, and are still married and in love to this day.

Sigh. Don't you just love that? What a guy.

Coop's film career started in 1987 with John Sayles's "Matewan." Sayles was so impressed with Coop's talent that he later cast him in two more of his movies, "City of Hope" in 1991 and "Lone Star" in 1996. Between "Matewan" and "Adaptation," for which Coop won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, by the way, Chris has had pretty steady work in the movie world. But it wasn't until just recently that I feel he's really been getting the attention he's due.

I blame you guys for this. Go rent "Matewan" and "October Sky" right now, damn you, and don't make me have to tell you a third time! Or else!

But, with the success of "Adaptation," you'd better believe Chris Cooper is finally where he belongs -- at the tops of everybody's lists. In 2004, he'll be appearing in two films -- "Silver City," another John Sayles movie about a murder in a small town, and "Miller," about which I know nothing. Watch for him. Love him. Make him your own. But don't forget to return him when you're done, okay?

MacGyver Factor Score: 93.279%. Points off for this hair. Yee-gods, that's just plain awful, Coop!

Boyfriend-Related Links
Coop's IMDB Page
Daryn's Chris Cooper page
Yahoo's Chris Cooper page
A Touch of Texas (a Coop fan site)

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