Jim Belushi has played a lot of characters in his life. On most occasions, the actor studies his subject in depth to understand exactly how he must portray the character. This is standard procedure in drama.
In The Secret Lives of Dorks, which hit theaters Sept. 27, Belushi did not have to worry much about psyching himself into his character. Belushi plays Bronko, an obsessive Chicago Bears fan. Belushi, himself, is an obsessive Bears fan.
"It's very well-known I like cigars and it's very well-known that I'm a Chicago Bears fan," Belushi says. "When this script came across my agent's desk, he goes 'You're going to love the script. It's about the Bears and it's about [Mike] Ditka.' It was a natural marriage."
Although he says he ad-libs a little bit in all roles, Belushi says the vast majority of Bronko's Bears fandom was already written into the script. Belushi is one the most vocal Chicago sports fan celebrities with his allegiances tied to the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks and Cubs in no particular order.
"It's kind of like your fingers. I love all four of them. Like my children, I love them all. I never put things that I love in competition."
Belushi and Bronko almost matched up on all cylinders with the exception of one glaring characteristic: flirtatiousness.
"The only thing that was uncomfortable was doing the scene with the girl because my character was very nervous around girls–kind of a dork himself. Like father like son. The son's a dork. The father's a dork," he said.
Belushi may be one of the more naturally loud actors in the business today. It took some hard work to hide his social comfort. Belushi took his medicine in the form of Bronko's love interest, Ms. Stewart.
"I'm a pretty outgoing guy, not really shy, so I really had to search for a way to be shy with her," he said. "Jennifer Tilly is a magnificent actress, and she's beautiful, and she's a poker champion–her boyfriend is the Unabomber. I allowed those three things to intimidate me and that helped me do the shyness with her."
Tilly has both a World Series of Poker bracelet in Ladies' No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Bullets over Broadway (1994). Her boyfriend, the "Unabomber", is poker star Phil Laak, who recently filmed a cameo for Runner Runner, the thriller starring Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck and Gemma Arterton.
While Belushi got butterflies working with Tilly, he was not intimidated by a much more haughty physical presence. Belushi felt no stress acting alongside his friend Mike Ditka.
"I've known Mike for 25 years," he says. "We've spent time together at different benefits and dinners. He was on 'According to Jim.' Brian Urlacher was on 'According to Jim.' In this movie, it was just like another reunion. He's very funny and he's very commanding on the set. He's got incredible comic timing for a football player. He gets it."
Belushi played a Chicago sports fan on his long-running sitcom, 'According to Jim.' His Bears experiences prove he is a die-hard fan. Belushi tries to attend at least one game every year, although that number was higher once upon a time.
"When I play Chicago sports fans, I don't have to dig too deep into who I am. It really allows me to be myself. I'm a Chicago guy, I'm a Chicago sports fan and I still feel like the Super Bowl in New Orleans in 1985 was just three years ago," he chuckles. "It feels so close, to me. The Super Bowl season, I went to every home game."
As is the case for most Chicagoans, Belushi is hyped up about the 2013 team. The Bears are currently 3-0 with quality wins over the Bengals, Vikings and Steelers.
"I like them," Belushi said after Week 2 of the NFL season. "They're winning. I'm happy for [Jay] Cutler that he's got some wide receivers he can throw to."
One problem the 2013 version of Belushi is having that 1985 Belushi did not have to deal with is fantasy allegiances.
"I have Brandon Marshall on my team and when [Cutler] threw to [Martellus] Bennett to win the game last week, I'm screaming 'Marshall was open! Marshall was open!' It's very confusing to have fantasy balancing with your loyalty."
In terms of family history, Belushi's late older brother John (Animal House, "Saturday Night Live") was a noted football fan and held various football-related roles on "SNL". Both John and Jim played football before their acting careers.
"It was all about Butkus. Butkus, Butkus, Butkus. We had posters of Butkus," Jim says. "[John] was a linebacker. I was a lineman. Defense was our realm."
Although Belushi played a role for his team using his powerful body on the line, he eventually got tired of crouching down for every play. The socialite wanted a better reputation outside of football.
"When I was in high school, I realized that the lineman didn't get laid," he says. "It was always the quarterback, running back, wide receivers–anyone who touched the ball got a girl. It's not the like the high school girls were walking down the hall with the girlfriends and saying, 'That's him. I was sleeping with the tackle!' I went into drama too. That was better because there were like 18 girls and five guys, so I liked the numbers. My numbers were better in drama than they were in football."
Belushi also related to Bronko as a father. However, Belushi believes he is a bit harder of a father than his character. He goes as far as to compare himself to a certain former Bears coach.
"It's a different kind of father than I am," he says. "I'm a little bit more like Ditka would be. I'm a little tougher. This guy was very vulnerable and very nice to his kids. His only loves were his children and the Bears. Jennifer Tilly opens him up to a new realm of love. It's a nice story."
In the real world, Belushi got to test out the movie with his real-life family as an audience. He was satisfied with the response he got from the gallery, and he did not need to be tough on anybody.
"What really excited me was watching it with my wife and my two children," he said. "I'm familiar with it, so I'm not laughing as much, but to see them laughing at the jokes with these little smiles. You know when kids watch movies and they're smiling with their eyes wide open because they're so into the story. It was really joyful for me. When the movie was over, they said that's a good movie dad. That was really funny. I know for all the guys out there with kids, this is great thing to do on a weekend."
The Secret Lives of Dorks premiers in theaters Sept. 27. Belushi believes attending the movie can only brighten your day.
"You're going to walk in with your head down, but you're going to walk out with your head up," he says. "This is a great family movie, especially for teens and preteens. It's fun, enjoyable and safe."
If you are a Bears' fan, Bronko's passion will serve as an extra treat.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.