In a long and distinguished career, filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson has worked with the likes of Tom Cruise, Joaquin Phoenix, and Daniel Day-Lewis on Oscar-nominated movies. That was why more than a few cinephile eyebrows were raised when Anderson announced he would be teaming up with veteran funnyman Adam Sandler for 2002's Punch-Drunk Love, including Sandler's eyebrows since he was afraid he would mess up the role. In an interview with Collider, Sandler revealed it was Cruise who first put him in touch with Anderson for the part.
"I met Tom Cruise when Nicole Kidman did SNL. 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?'"
At the time, Adam Sandler was far removed from the world of drama films where Anderson had been making a name for himself. Still, you don't ignore a request from Tom Cruise, and Sandler soon found himself on the phone with his future director.
"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. [Paul said] Is it OK if I write you a movie?'"
Sandler agreed to act in whatever movie Paul Thomas Anderson wrote for him, without really thinking about the interaction much. But things changed when he happened to come across Magnolia one day, the movie by the director featuring Tom Cruise that was one of the most highly-acclaimed films of 1999.
"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.' It was sold out, and I was in the front row, and I was looking up at it, and I was fucking terrified, and I was going, 'Oh this guy is fucking better than me. I don't want to be in this. I'm going to ruin his movie! Holy shit!'"
Fortunately, Sandler was able to get over his nerves and starred in Punch Drunk Love, which introduced the comedian's fans to his dramatic range like never before. Sandler played the role of Barry Egan, a lonely salesman who finds himself on an unexpectedly dark path to finding love. The film had critics going wild for the lead actor's performance, and imploring Sandler to move away from brain dead comedies to do more serious dramatic work.
While the actor continued to make comedies, he did dip his toes in drama from time to time after that, most recently in the critically-acclaimed Uncut Gems in the role of Howard Ratner, a Jewish-American Diamond District jeweler with an addiction to gambling, that had critics calling Sandler one of the finest actors of his generation. And to think there was a time when he was almost too afraid to try his luck in serious movies because he was intimidated by just how good Paul Thomas Anderson was at his craft. This news originated at Collider.