Writer-directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie hung around the diamond district of New York City for 10 years. So they knew for a long time that they were going to make “Uncut Gems.” They just didn’t know exactly when. At a screening and Q&A for press and industry on October 2 at New York City’s DGA Theater, the pair revealed that they knew the time was right when Adam Sandler agreed to play jewelry broker — and degenerate gambler — Howard Ratner. The character may be a loser, but he’s a charismatic one. Watch their Q&A above.
“What I love about Howard is he’s a ‘partner-guy.’ At any moment he can take anyone on as a partner. He says, ‘We’re going to defeat the world. We’re going to do it against all odds,'” revealed Josh Safdie. The filmmakers knew Sandler could bring life to this particular role from their lifetime of listening to the comedian’s records, and from seeing him work the room during his recent Netflix special “100% Fresh.”
Sandler was relaxed, funny and seemed gratified by the enthusiastic reaction to the 134-minute film. The actor loved that there were no “throwaway scenes” despite the film’s length. Everything they shot counted. He also talked about his process, something he probably didn’t do as much of when promoting, say, “Happy Gilmore.” For a dramatic turn like this, it’s about research.
“We did a lot of backstory,” Sandler said. “The boys talked about Howard being a dreamer. When I first read the script I was like, ‘Oh man there’s a lot of bad things this guy does.’ He’s conniving. Sacrifices a lot. He’s not thinking everything through. So I was nervous about whether we were seeing the same guy. Because I don’t know how you can 100-percent love this guy.”
I’ve never used the term “Oscar nominee” and “Adam Sandler” in the same sentence, but several Gold Derby contributors have him on their short list and I can see why. It could happen. Sandler didn’t mention awards, but he did say he knew this film was important: “We knew we were making something very different, very powerful,” he explained. So he wanted to “go as far as we can.”
The storyline concerns a giant opal cluster that may be worth a fortune. Sandler’s character shows it to basketball star Kevin Garnett, which sets off a chaotic chain of events. Garnett plays himself in the film, and he told the crowd the role came easily. “I figured if I couldn’t play myself I don’t need to be acting, right?” he joked about getting into character. “It didn’t feel like acting. It just felt like a conversation. I’ve been in jewelers’ before, and I’ve bought jewelry before.”
Other stars on the stage included Judd Hirsch, Eric Bogosian and Sandler’s on-screen mistress and partner in crime Julia Fox. She saw the pair as a “kind of Bonnie and Clyde” and admitted her character “uses her sexuality as both a tool and a weapon.”
“Uncut” was shot on 47th Street in Manhattan, home to hundreds of stalls and merchants that make up the Diamond District. Sandler admitted that they couldn’t have done it without them: “These guys let us into their lives on 47th Street. We would sit and watch them work and they would let us in on not only their craft and their profession, but also their family life. All of 47th Street was pulling for this movie. They were there every day we shot. And everybody was out on the block watching.”
They’ll be watching when “Uncut Gems” opens in theaters on December 13.
Be sure to make your Oscar nominee predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on January 13. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.