Comedian, actor, writer and producer, musician, as well as former Saturday Night Live cast member, Adam Sandler forayed into films, found considerable success as a comedian, and became the man behind a genre of comedy blockbusters.
There’s a faction out there that likes Adam Sandler the comedian, but also loves when he steps out of that raw comedy and they like Punch Drunk Love (2002) and they are going to love Uncut Gems (2019). Can I have some of your thoughts on that, on when you take on dramatic roles and experiment with great success?
I’ll tell you, I don’t know what the answer is. In my life, I have been getting to do movies for almost 30 years. My main goal to moving out here to LA and my dream was to be a comedian and make funny movies and I got to do that. And then in the course of my career, some of the best directors have come up to me and said I have a movie for you, would you want to do it? And I studied acting, I went to NYU, I studied at Strasberg, I did all that stuff that helps you prepare. But it wasn’t my main goal, comedy was. But I’ll tell you, after doing The Meyerowitz Stories (2017), I got to be with Dustin Hoffman, and I got to be with Ben Stiller, and I had an amazing time making that movie with that cast.
And then these guys, with Uncut Gems and that character and as an actor when you are reading every scene saying “Oh my God, there’s massive range and massive emotion and just so much going on,” this is a new kind of excitement I don’t think I felt. And I did it and I loved doing it, and I was so in it and so prepared and feeling so creative with every cast member and we all knew we were doing something that was kind of interesting to all of us. It has made my head spin a little bit about what am I doing, what am I doing next, what am I supposed to do. I do love comedy, I don’t want to stop doing comedy. But after doing Uncut Gems, I don’t know what movie I could get presented.
The movie is about the power of money and, of course, gemstones. What did you learn about not just business basically, but the transaction of money and the evaluation of gemstones from the district where you spent time filming?
It was not on my mind before doing the movie. But the more I was on the block, the more I learned, the more I saw stones, why certain things were worth more, it did get exciting, and I needed to see why a rare stone is so incredible. The backstory at the beginning of the movie, talking about where this stone came from and in thinking about that, this was just a whole other way to look at it that I never knew before. And just knowing how much it means to certain people, I get it, I get it now, I get why, even in character. It is neat to talk about the backstory of the stone, where it came from and the guy who made it. Just getting to see that process made me appreciate jewelry a lot more.
I know you are a huge basketball fan and I believe you play and you are a competitive player.
Yes. I’m not great, but I am competitive.
You are working with Kevin Garnett in Uncut Gems. Can you talk to us about the experience?
As an actor, the guy was amazing. He was very present, he was right in on it, he stayed focused as an actor. I’ve never seen a guy who had never acted before be so available and open and looking into each other’s eyes and doing the scenes as if we were in another world doing our scenes together, believing what each other was saying. And I really got to know Kevin, he’s just a smart, worldly guy and he commands every room he goes in -everyone just turns and listens, and he has these stories about the NBA, and he has his stories about growing up, and he just has so much to offer as a person.
How much do you think the physical transformation was important to embody a character in Uncut Gems?
It helped a lot. The wardrobe, the look of my character, my mouth, my teeth, all those extra moles, that hair, everything made me feel different and more Howard.
Was it only the director’s guidance or did you actually see somebody in particular that you wanted to follow and you recreated that person?
The look itself was the director’s. We did a lot of fitting and a lot of moves on the hair and moves on the face and what I should look like, and I had a little facial hair and all that stuff. They had an idea that he should want to be fashionable and that’s why he went with his clothes and that belt and his shoes were important to him. But I did shadow a lot of people on the block who work on 47th Street (jewelers) and they let me into their lives. And I got to work with them, I got to see them with their families and see them making sales and I got to be in that world, they let me into their world.
Obviously you are very proud of this film. Is this the best time of your career? Is this a good time in your life?
It is a great time in my life. Career-wise, I’ve believed in everything I have been a part of and I’ve committed as hard as I can in my head -I feel this way. But I am excited at 53 to be part of a different character that I haven’t done before and a different style of filmmaking, where it was just really, it was a high to say “okay, let me try this move and that move and that thinking process” and I felt lucky, and I don’t know when opportunities like this come around, you just don’t know. Family-wise, as adults, this is a great thing and your career is one thing, but, most of all, my kids are happy and my wife feels solid and everyone is healthy in my family and that’s the best for me.
I’m glad you mentioned family. You have children and you have been a son. What wisdom was imparted to you that you now feel is important to impart to your son and your children? Was there anything that you got from your parents?
Yeah, one of the nicest things my father told me that I sometimes tell my kids, and my wife -we say this together, we try to do stuff together as much as possible- I used to say “I’m not happy daddy.” When I told my dad that something was bothering me and I was depressed and rocked and not feeling right, my father said you are not supposed to always be happy, I don’t know what you are expecting, but nobody can be happy all the time. And when my kids are upset and I say that, it gives you a relief; these hits of sadness or when you are down, it’s just going to happen, and it makes the times when you are up such that you can enjoy them. And no one can control their emotions all day long and it just gives me some relief when my dad told me that, that was 25 years ago. And I don’t always go to that moment and say, “Well, dad said this,” but when I do, it feels right.
In which way is money relevant to you or in which way has it changed you?
Of course having money and getting paid over all the years of doing this helps live in a way that I can be less tense about many things. But the best part of it is the opportunities I can give my family and also helping other family members out and helping them if they need help -that’s the greatest thing about it. I guess I didn’t come from a family that had money like this, so I know what it’s like to see my father be nervous about not having a job for almost a year at one time when I was growing up. I don’t have that burden on me. And my family doesn’t have it, so that is the most helpful part about it. And, of course, I get to have stuff I never dreamed of having.
If a student came to you and said they wanted to study film, which five films would you recommend that you think they should watch to get a better understanding of cinema?
I never say the ones that I mean, this won’t be the thing, when I walk out of here, I won’t say “hey I got those, those were definitely the five.” When I think right now, I can’t give you, I don’t know, I just showed my kids Buster Keaton, on the Internet there was a ten-minute short on all his greatest stunts. West Side Story (1961) -it’s important to show my kids that one. I love Son of the Bride (2001), that was an amazing movie. I’ll tell you, Paul Thomas Anderson, his stuff, that’s just great filmmaking. And I don’t know, I can’t pick any.