What a lot of people may not realize about Hubie Halloween star Adam Sandler — while expressing surprise when he appears in the occasional dramatic role, as he did is in last year’s Safdie Brothers’ film, Uncut Gems — is that he actually graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. That is arguably the most famous film school in America, where directors like Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, and the Coen Bbothers graduated, as well as actors like Mahershala Ali, Donald Glover and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who graduated the year after Adam Sandler. Indeed, Sandler was trained as a legit actor before he was cast in Saturday Night Live, so Sandler’s dramatic roles are less of a departure than many may think.
Still, it came as a big surprise when Sandler turned in a remarkable, Oscar-worthy performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, especially coming on the heels of movies like Waterboy, Happy Gilmore, and Big Daddy. Who would even get the idea of casting Robbie Hart from The Wedding Singer as the psychologically troubled lead in a prestige awards film alongside Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as well as two-time Oscar nominee Emily Watson?
What many may not know is that the role was actually written for Adam Sandler by the writer/director himself, Paul Thomas Anderson, who was connected to Adam Sandler through Tom Cruise, of all people. “I met Tom Cruise when [Cruise’s ex-wife] Nicole Kidman did SNL,” Sandler said this week on the SmartLess podcast. “Cruise had a Yankee cap dipped down low, and he looked up, and I was like in love with him,” Sandler beamed.
“Anyway,” Sandler continued, “Tom called me up, and he says, ‘I’m doing a movie with my friend Paul, and he’s interested in doing a movie with you. Can I put him on the phone?”
Sander said sure, but at the time, he only agreed because it was Tom Cruise who wanted to put them together. “Paul was very nice,” Sandler said, “and he says, ‘Hey, I loved Billy Madison.’ And I was like, ‘OK, thanks,’ but I didn’t know who he was.’”
“‘I just love your movies and your albums,’” Anderson added. “‘Is it OK if I write you a movie?’”
Sandler agreed to allow Anderson to write him a film, but he didn’t think much of it. “That’s great. You can do whatever you want, man,” Sandler said to him, dismissively. “He was sweet, and I could tell he was funny,” but Sandler really didn’t put much stock in the offer.
“But then, honest to God, it was like 11 in the morning, and I had nothing to do, and Magnolia just came out, and I said, ‘I think this is that kid’s movie. I’m going to go see that.’ It was sold out, and I was in the front row, and I was looking up at it, and I was f*cking terrified, and I was going, ‘Oh this guy is f*cking better than me. I don’t want to be in his this. I’m going to ruin his movie! Holy sh*t!”
After the movie, Sandler called up Paul Thomas Anderson and told him that he’d just seen his movie, and by that time, Sandler could hardly contain his excitement. “Are you still writing that movie for me?” he asked. A little while later, Anderson drove the script over to Sandler, left it with him to read, and when he came back, Sandler was “f*cking scared. I always said I could do this, but this was too much. But he talked me through it, and he made me comfortable.” And that is eventually how Adam Sandler’s first dramatic role came to fruition.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing public about how Paul Thomas Anderson and his wife, Maya Rudolph, met, but I like to think that they found each other through the mutual friend Adam Sandler since the two reportedly began dating a few months before the Punch Drunk Love premiere.