The Surprising Way the ‘Uncut Gems’ Directors Used Jay-Z to Recruit Adam Sandler

One could argue that it was overdue for Adam Sandler to break out into a drama after years of being stereotyped as a zany big-screen comedian for almost 25 years. Perhaps he didn’t believe in himself initially to do such a thing or simply didn’t find the right script to make it happen.

Then the Safdie Brothers decided to make Uncut Gems. Though Sandler was undecided at first, he is now being applauded for the role. It is possible Sandler would have taken it based squarely on the script, but the Safdies put together a stronger marketing package for Sandler: They sent him a video of a video the brothers made for Jay-Z.

Based on the theme of this video, Sandler was moved enough to take on the movie. How did the two intersect, though, and is it the better way to woo a top actor to do something against type?

Josh and Benny Safdie wanted Sandler from the beginning

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Anyone who’s seen the Safdie brothers’ brilliant work knows they’re still underappreciated filmmakers within the indie film community. They’ve also tried their hand at directing one music video, namely the Marcy Me video for Jay-Z a couple of years ago. This was an emotionally charged video about racial injustice that resonated profoundly the music world.

Having the Safdies creating the visuals for the piece put them even more in the good graces of the world’s top creatives. Knowing Jay-Z already brings some major clout and prestige. However, using the rapper’s video as a recruiting tool may have set a new precedent in landing actors for specific roles.

When the Safdies sent Sandler the video as a way to showcase their directorial style, the latter was truly touched at the video’s message. With the stunning visuals no doubt being the factor, it persuaded Sandler to take on the role of the compulsive gambler Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems.

The power of visuals and storytelling really can work as an effective recruiting tool for just about anything. No doubt other filmmakers wanting to land big stars for their movies will be looking carefully at doing something similar.

Will Adam Sandler work with the Safdies again?

Had it not have been for this relatively simple recruiting process, Sandler might not have jumped at the chance to reinvent his acting persona. Sometimes it takes other things to get an artist in the right mindset to realize what they can do.

Thanks to the power of cinematography, it can do wonders in sending a rush of endorphins to place a viewer in a different frame of mind. That might be the answer to many filmmakers wanting to court other actors for their projects over sending a bland script.

For decades, the most common procedure was to mail an actor a script that might not have looked too enticing if prepared in the usual staid format. Having a video with prior proof of a director’s work is the best way to introduce the filmmaker to an actor.

Don’t be surprised to hear similar stories in the future after Uncut Gems places the Safdies into the bigtime after 12 years of making stellar indies. Most of their films have won nearly every award other than Oscars. Sandler may also make them his go-to directors for future dramas.

Let’s hope Adam Sandler is inspired enough to do more dramatic work

Adam Sandler
Adam Sandler | Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for IFP

Since Sandler still has a contract with Netflix to make comedies, it’s likely he’ll continue with that path in the immediate term. Should he be Oscar-nominated for his role as Howard Ratner, things might take a major turn in his acting direction.

It’s far from the only time a comedian actor turned more serious, though others are still waiting for the right invitation to do so. With names like Jack Black and others waiting for that dramatic transition, they may be inspired to go this direction by a visual sizzle reel.

Maybe it won’t be by Jay-Z, yet no one can deny his videos haven’t touched a million nerves in the themes he’s explored beyond the usual Hip-Hop subjects.