Punch-Drunk Love: Adam Sandler Was Insecure About His Dramatic Debut

Actor Adam Sander has largely stuck to his comedy roots since his days on Saturday Night Live for much of his film career. As much praise he had over his 2019 dramatic turn in Uncut Gems, he turned in another remarkable performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love (2002) in his dramatic debut as the neurotic novelty salesman Barry Egan, a part the actor didn't think he could initially pull off. Appearing on the SmartLess podcast (via Collider) to promote his Netflix film Hubie Halloween, Sandler opened up about how he fell into the romantic dramedy role.

Comedian Adam Sandler on stage at his Walk of Fame ceremony on February 1, 2011 in Hollywood, CA 2011. Editorial credit: RoidRanger / Shutterstock.com
Comedian Adam Sandler on stage at his Walk of Fame ceremony on February 1, 2011, in Hollywood, CA 2011. Editorial credit: RoidRanger / Shutterstock.com

"I met Tom Cruise when Nicole Kidman did SNL," Sandler 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?'" Cruise worked with Anderson on Magnoilia (1999), which earned the star an Oscar nomination. "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." Sandler recalled the director asking bluntly. "'Is it OK if I write you a movie?'"

Punch Drunk Love: Adam Sandler Was Insecure About His Dramatic Debut
Emily Watson as Lena Leonard and Adam Sandler as Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Why Adam Sandler Almost Didn't Take Lead in Punch-Drunk Love

Sandler saw Magnolia in a theatre when he became overwhelmed about what he might be getting into. "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,'" the actor continued. "It was sold out, and I was in the front row, and I was looking up at it, and I was f****** terrified, and I was going, 'Oh, this guy is f****** better than me. I don't want to be in this. I'm going to ruin his movie! Holy s***!'" Sandler tried to politely decline the offer to star in Punch-Drunk Love before Anderson came over to his home to change his mind.

"I always said I could do this, but this was too much. But he talked me through it, and he made me comfortable," Sandler reflected. The film, which co-starred Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Luis Guzmán, became critical but wasn't a commercial success. Sandler stars in Hubie Halloween, currently on Netflix. You can currently stream Punch-Drunk Love on HBO Max.

Although susceptible to violent outbursts, bathroom supply business owner Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a timid and shy man by disposition, leading a lonely, uneventful life — partly due to the constant berating he suffers from his seven sisters. However, several events transpire that shake up Egan's mundane existence, one of which is falling in love with one sister's co-worker, Lena Leonard (Emily Watson). But the romance is threatened when Egan falls victim to an extortionist.

About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangora. As a professional writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.

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