SAG Awards nominee profile: Adam Sandler (‘Hustle’) turns serious

Since making his screen acting debut on “The Cosby Show” at age 21, Adam Sandler has built a reputation as a timelessly popular comedic performer with such resume highlights as “Happy Gilmore,” “50 First Dates,” and “Grown Ups,” not to mention his successful five-season stint on “Saturday Night Live.” He has also continually proven his dramatic chops over the past two decades as the star of “Punch-Drunk Love,” “Reign Over Me,” and “Uncut Gems,” the last of which brought him the most positive notices of his career just three years ago. Now, he is in the running for his first Screen Actors Guild Award based on his work in the sports drama film “Hustle.”

For the first time since 2015, all five of this year’s Best Film Actor SAG Award nominees are new to the category. Sandler and concurrent Best Ensemble contender Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) are the only ones in the bunch who had never before achieved acting guild recognition at all, while Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”), and Bill Nighy (“Living”) had previously earned one film ensemble bid apiece. Fraser prevailed as a “Crash” cast member in 2006, but Nighy and Butler and their respective “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2013) and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2020) costars came up short against the teams from “Argo” and “Parasite.”

In “Hustle,” Sandler plays Stanley Sugerman, an international Philadelphia 76ers scout whose desire to settle into a coaching position in his middle age is thwarted by the NBA team’s prickly owner. The plot is primarily built upon the development of his advisory relationship with talented yet emotionally sensitive Spanish hoopster Bo Cruz (Toronto Raptors player Juancho Hernangómez), whose good-hearted nature inspires Sugerman to never give up on him nor either of their dreams.

Sandler’s chances at a SAG Award win are bolstered by the fact that Will Smith just claimed last year’s Best Actor trophy for playing self-taught tennis coach Richard Williams in “King Richard.” Others who have been nominated in the category for portraying sports figures include Christian Bale as race car driver Ken Miles in “Ford v Ferrari” (2020), Steve Carell as wrestling coach John du Pont in “Foxcatcher” (2015), and Brad Pitt as MLB manager Billy Beane in “Moneyball” (2012).

At 56, Sandler would be the fifth oldest Best Actor winner in SAG Awards history, after Denzel Washington (62, “Fences,” 2017), Jack Nicholson (60, “As Good As It Gets,” 1998), Jeff Bridges (60, “Crazy Heart,” 2010), and Gary Oldman (59, “Darkest Hour,” 2018). He would also follow Nicholson as the second oldest man to take this prize on his overall first SAG Award bid.

This article is a part of Gold Derby’s “SAG Awards nominee profile” series spotlighting the 2023 contenders in film and TV.

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