Adam Sandler insists his decision to portray a salesman given to fits of rage in Paul Thomas Anderson's critically acclaimed new film, "Punch-Drunk Love," does not mean he has given up playing big-hearted "doofuses."
"I think 'departure' means I'm moving on from something," explains the star of "Big Daddy" and "Mr. Deeds."
"I did a movie with a guy I think is an incredible filmmaker, and I played a role he wrote for me that I thought was a great part. And I thought it would be a challenge for me to do it. In no way do I want to say I'm giving up making a certain kind of movie I've done in the past, but also this experiment was incredible, and I want to continue challenging myself. And I'd love to challenge myself with this man. We're planning on doing stuff down the line. I'm 36 years old, I made a movie when I was 26 'Billy Madison' and had a great time doing that. Every movie I've done since I've tried making it as good as it could be, but I definitely want to test myself in any way I could," he says.
Asked why he wrote the role of Barry Egan in his off-beat romantic comedy specifically for the boyishly handsome comedian, Anderson ("Magnolia," "Boogie Nights") replies: "Why, I've always through he was a hell of an actor. I've always loved seeing him in movies. You think 'Who do you want to be around?' So I made my dream come true."
The film requires Sandler to behave more violently than audiences have ever seen him before. To prepare for those scenes, the Brooklyn native says he recalled some real-life experiences he had with anger.
"In my personal life, I've had the rage, that's a fact," he admits. "What I love about the bathroom scene, I've never gone in a public bathroom and tore it apart, but I have smashed telephones. ... My big move when I was growing up with the rage, I'd have a little snap. Screaming and whatever, than I'd run into the blue bedroom in the house and shut the door and I'd be crying and look in the mirror and I'd stare at my eyes, my eyes are kinda green when I cry. So even though I was having my tantrum I was preparing myself for acting roles in the future. It looks good when I tear up..."
Noting that some test audiences laughed in the scene where Sandler loses his cool, Anderson explains the act as a typical nervous human reaction: "Things were so scary you couldn't help but laugh, but you're usually too embarrassed to laugh out of respect for someone going through something rough, and then maybe you feel guilty for laughing. I probably got my confusion out when I was writing the script. Adam's very funny, so you kinda laugh at anything he does, he can make it funny pretty fast. When he gets mad it's so honest that's its scary and maybe funny, too. I think it's funny when he beats up the bathrooms. It's scary, but also funny."
"Punch-Drunk Love" has earned Sandler some of the best reviews of his career, but the media-shy actor insists he does not allow the notices to sway his attitude or career choices.
"Actually when I made 'Billy Madison,' I remember... thinking, 'It's going to be fun when it comes out and they actually write stuff about you and my parents will read it,'" Sandler recalls. "This is incredible. The last time I was in the paper was when I was in eighth grade and made the honor role. And all of a sudden I woke up that morning. I didn't know they were going to come at me and hate me and what I was doing. It kinda shook me up that day. And then I remember calling up my friends and going, 'What are they writing in your home town? Aah, them too, huh?'
"Like I said, I'm 36 now I kinda grew up doing this ... I've been making movies for 10 years. I've been doing stand-up. I got rejected by stand-up crowds since I'm 17. I've been hit a bunch of times and I'm all right with that. I know in my heart I've always worked hard and tried to make funny movies. And I believe in my movies, and critically I know a lot of critics object to what I do. But it can't hurt me that much if in my head I realize I wasn't making a movie. ... When I was 17 getting into this I didn't say, 'I want to make movies one day that the critics will say, 'This guy is incredible.'' I wanted to make movies like what Eddie Murphy did for me when I was growing up," Sandler says.
"Now doing a movie with Paul, a different type of movie, I realize that people have written nice stuff and it's a new thing and I'm glad my father can read something and say, 'Hey all right!' But it wasn't my goal, I just wanted to make a great movie with Paul, but I didn't say, 'Okay, now I'll show them.'"
"Punch-Drunk Love" is in theaters now. Sandler's next project is "Eight Crazy Nights," an animated film based on his popular "Hanukah Song" due out this holiday season. He is currently filming "Anger Management" opposite Jack Nicholson and Marisa Tomei.