Even though the biggest actors often have to go through countless auditions for certain movies, on occasion, the film and its director hand pick their very own leading star. And that’s exactly what happened with Adam Sandler in 2002’s kooky black comedy Punch-Drunk Love.
Speaking recently on the SmartLess podcast, the award-winning 54 year-old – affectionately dubbed the Sandman by his fans – went into candid detail about the process of landing such a pivotal role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s heartwarming comedy-romance. And apparently, it all began with the one and only Tom Cruise.
“I met Tom Cruise when Nicole Kidman did SNL,” the actor said. “Cruise had a Yankee cap dipped down low, and he looked up, and I was, like, in love with him. 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?'”
“Paul was very nice, and he says, ‘Hey, I loved Billy Madison.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, thanks,’ but I didn’t know who he was,” said Sandler.
Indeed, the film Cruise is specifically referencing is 1999’s critical darling Magnolia. Not only did Anderson’s artistic drama epic boast a jaw-dropping, scene stealing turn from the Top Gun star, but it also went on to earn both Cruise and Anderson an Oscar nomination, too.
While speaking with Sandler, though, the director asked the actor bluntly, “is it ok if I write you a movie?” Eventually, he took him up on his offer, but wasn’t very familiar with the work of this young filmmaker. However, while Anderson wrote the script, Sandler saw the Cruise-starring Magnolia, and that’s when he realized that he may be in over his head.
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 fucking terrified, and I was going, ‘Oh this guy is fucking better than me. I don’t want to be in this. I’m going to ruin his movie! Holy shit!’
Interestingly, the Big Daddy star begged Anderson to choose someone else, but thankfully, the filmmaker drove over to the Sandman’s house to talk him through the script and convince him that he was perfect for the part. “I always said I could do this, but this was too much. But he talked me through it, and he made me comfortable,” explained the actor.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Punch-Drunk Love released to universal critical acclaim, and Sandler’s awkward-but-lovable turn as Barry Egan remains one of the pic’s most touching and resonant aspects of Anderson’s splendid artistic vision.