'Uncut Gems' directors reveal how the movie would've changed without Adam Sandler (exclusive)

Tom BeasleyContributor

Directing duo Josh and Benny Safdie say Uncut Gems was a very different movie before they were able to secure Adam Sandler to portray the lead role.

The Safdies say that Sandler “totally wanted to disappear” into the film and was “excited” to enter the world.

The 53-year-old comedy star was the Safdies’ first choice to play jewellery dealer Howard Ratner, who the film follows as he races to repay his many gambling debts, but he turned it down a decade ago.

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Read more: Uncut Gems trailer reveals dramatic Sandler

Josh Safdie tells Yahoo Movies UK that the message came from Sandler’s team rather than the actor directly.

“It didn't even get past the moat of celebrity,” Safdie says. “It didn't even reach him. We just got a pass.”

Adam Sandler in 'Uncut Gems'. (Credit: Netflix)
Adam Sandler in 'Uncut Gems'. (Credit: Netflix)

The Safdies approached Sandler again in 2015, around the same time they were trying to work with Sacha Baron Cohen, but received “an indefinite unavailable” from his team once again.

Jonah Hill was eventually attached to the project after the Safdies changed tack, convinced that Sandler was not going to be involved.

Read more: Sandler says he loves every film he’s made

Josh Safdie says it was “very difficult” to reshape Uncut Gems around the new casting, with Benny adding that the character of Howard had to be “much younger” as Hill is 17 years Sandler’s junior.

“We had a hard time figuring out how to age the character down and we kept struggling with that,” Josh says.

Jonah Hill attends the "Mid 90's" press conference during the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
Jonah Hill attends the "Mid 90's" press conference during the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

He adds: “You found that the character became less sympathetic because he was younger and there were certain things we were trying to force in.

“It just became difficult and then, when Jonah became unavailable because of his schedule, it was kismet because we were able to go back to the person we originally saw being the character.”

Read more: Sandler threatens to make bad movie if he loses Oscar race

It was two years after their previous approach that the directors were finally able to get past the deadlock and secure a meeting with Sandler.

Josh says: “It took when we were in Cannes with Good Time and he was there with The Meyerowitz Stories, to finally break the barrier.

“We couldn't meet with him there, but he ended up seeing the movie and that was the thing that ended up reaching him.

“The ironic part is that one of his favourite movies of ours is the movie we made 10 years ago that we tried to get him afterwards.”

Josh Safdie, Adam Sandler and Benny Safdie attend the 2019 IFP Gotham Awards on December 02, 2019. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for FIJI Water)
Josh Safdie, Adam Sandler and Benny Safdie attend the 2019 IFP Gotham Awards on December 02, 2019. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for FIJI Water)

Josh says the duo are both huge fans of Sandler’s comedy oeuvre over the years, from his routes in stand-up and on Saturday Night Live through to his big screen stardom.

He adds: “We were such big fans of everything he's done, starting when we were kids with the comedy records and going to the movies. He's the only person who could make those movies work.”

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The brothers say that Sandler doesn’t “pay much attention” to his reputation as a purveyor of terrible movies and that this doesn’t affect his work.

Josh says: “I'm sure the noise kind of reaches him, but I don't think that's something that fuels his performances.

“His performances are fuelled by something inside of him and inside the character.”

'Uncut Gems'. (Credit: Netflix)
'Uncut Gems'. (Credit: Netflix)

Uncut Gems also stars Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield and basketball player Kevin Garnett as himself.

The film has achieved box office success in the United States, earning $5.9m (£4.5m) on the first day of its release — the highest single day total for distributor A24.

Sandler won the National Board of Review award for Best Actor and is being tipped for a potential Oscar run.

Uncut Gems is available in UK cinemas from 10 January and on Netflix from 31 January.

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