BEVERLY HILLS, California — There aren’t many actors out there who can capture both the heartbreak of a social outcast and the thrills of discovery on nudie-magazine day.
Over the years, Adam Sandler has tussled with the thorny issue of Mexican immigration and Bob Barker’s right hook. And don’t look now, but the gibberish-spewing former Canteen Boy is actually carving out an impressive, two-pronged career.
“Click” (arriving in theaters June 23) includes lowbrow jokes about Sandler’s small penis and enough emotional power to make co-star Kate Beckinsale’s daughter cry at an early screening (see “Adam Sandler’s Big Wish: Go Back In Time, ’Slow Down’ His Penis” ). It’s his most honest attempt yet to cross the two wires that have so far defined his career: the silliness of “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” and the thematic heft of “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Spanglish.”
Offering a preview of his post-“Click” game plan, Sandler revealed that he’d be getting more serious, and more silly, back-to-back.
First up is a 9/11 drama, directed by Mike Binder, who made an impression with last year’s “The Upside of Anger.” “We’ve shot that, me and Don Cheadle,” Sandler said of the film. “I don’t know if it’s going to be called ’Empty City’ or ’Reign O’er Me.’ ”
The latter was the original title of the script, which tells the story of a man grieving his 9/11 losses while rekindling a friendship with an old college roommate (Cheadle). It’s a reference to the Who, a band whose music features prominently in the flick. “The great Who song ’Love, Reign O’er Me’ has a big part in the movie,” Sandler said. “It’s a heavy, heavy-duty movie.
“It’s about two guys,” he continued. “My character lost his family — they were on one of the airplanes that flew into the World Trade Center — so it’s about life after 9/11 for this guy and how he’s dealing and coping.”
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In the film, Sandler and Cheadle find common ground through their shared love of rock music. “I play drums in it, and he plays guitar, and we have a little jam sesh in there. He plays the bass great — he’s ridiculous,” Sandler said of Cheadle. “He’s a stud. I love him as a guy — he’s great at everything. Great actor, great golfer, great drummer. Everything I did, he was like, ’Oh, I can do that.’ ”
Sandler, Cheadle and co-stars Liv Tyler, Jada Pinkett Smith and Donald Sutherland found themselves bonding over a shared sense of duty while on the set.
“9/11 touched every one of us,” Sandler said. “Making this movie, I knew how important it was to be as good as I could ever be in anything. I worked my ass off to try, because I wanted to make sure that it worked for people it did affect even closer than it did for the rest of America. [I was thinking about] people who actually lost family members, dads and moms and wives and kids. I wanted to make sure that when they see it they say, ’Yeah, they captured the feeling of loss.’ That’s what the movie deals with: losing somebody and how to cope with it.”
When the topic of the recent #1 opening for “United 93” comes up, Sandler said that warm reception was great, but it wasn’t the reason he signed on to Binder’s drama. “I’m not worried about it — all my money I’m donating,” he said. “That’s not why we did the movie, to make money.”
On that note, it’s hard to imagine a more diverse back-to-back production slate than the film Sandler will tackle next: a gay-marriage comedy called “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” (see “Adam Sandler Becomes A Big Daddy, Plans To Marry Kevin James” ).
“It’s me and Kevin James,” Sandler said. “He’s a fireman who doesn’t have a wife and has some sort of insurance policy that says that if he died, his kids wouldn’t get the money unless he was married.”
Written by “Sideways” masterminds Alexander Payne and James Taylor, the comedy has Sandler and James posing as a married couple in an attempt to exploit the concept of domestic-partner benefits.
“James doesn’t trust anybody to marry — he thinks that they would take his money away from his kids. The only guy he trusts is his best friend, and that’s me.
“So we have a gay marriage,” he laughed, “to keep the money.”
“Chuck and Larry” is scheduled to start shooting in September, while Sandler’s 9/11 drama is currently in post-production and expected in theaters near the end of this year.
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