About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Home
December 2004
Spanglish: An Interview with Adam Sandler

Spanglish: An Interview with Adam Sandler

By Todd Gilchrist

Adam Sandler has never been a serious actor, but we've seen hints of it in his early work: you know, dancing with a penguin, beating Bob Barker senseless, sporting a mullet for melancholy renditions of Madonna's "Holiday." But his subtle and powerful turn in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love" notwithstanding, Sandler makes the greatest leap of his career with his new film "Spanglish", in which he plays a chef who finds himself torn between his wife (played by Tea Leoni) and his resourceful housekeeper (played by Paz Vega) after his family falls into dysfunction. In this recent interview with blackfilm.com, during which he was accompanied by the entire cast of the film, Sandler recounts the challenges of playing a character for pathos as much for laughs, and explains how he continues to move forward in Hollywood as both an actor and comedian.

Have you reached a stage in your career, at this particular age, in which you're looking for these kinds of roles, getting away from the comedies that established you as a big star?

Adam Sandler: I'm not looking to get away from anything. I like what I've done, I like what I get to do and I enjoy working with my friends, and I love those movies. But Jim Brooks, when I met him a long time ago, just a quick hello kind of thing, I've loved his movies, everyone he's done. So the fact that he wrote a movie and wanted me to be in it, I was extremely excited. But in my head, I didn't say, "I'm gonna run away from my other stuff." I was just like yeah, I'd love to do that, too.

Do you have any hang-ups about your successes like your character getting a four-star review?

A: Wow, what do you think Jim? I mean that's an incredible speech, I understand that speech. But I, man, I never really thought, to be honest with you, when I got into this, I never thought about reviews. I never thought about what people would say about me, I was just a young guy who was excited to become a comedian and an actor, and I just wanted to get to do what I got to do. The fact that my character is that aware of the consequences, I think that's pretty amazing. I wasn't like that in real life, no.

You have a history of playing characters who don't hold anything in and project their feelings out. How difficult is it to play a character where you have to really internalize everything?

A: I think it was, I mean Jim coached my through every scene and told me what he wanted. If I would be internalizing, that was in the writing and directing--but it never, I think the character just wants his family to make it, and he wants everybody to live in a house where you're not walking on egg shells. To lose it and snap and make people uncomfortable in the house would only add to that. So I think that he's just using his brain.

Does it get easier playing a father on the big screen? And do you have any aspirations to have kids yourself?

A: Ha, ha, ha. I just recently started trying, doing the best I can. Feels good to try. Playing a father, I'm getting a little older. I see that I am taking it more seriously and I do want that lifestyle. I do want children. I study dads more, I watch what they go through. I admire my father more than I ever did at my age, and my brother, and my sister, great dad. The thing I always think about with my parents, that I think John Klasky is similar to, is that when my parents would get a phone call, their friends would say, "We're going away to Bermuda this week, you wanna come?" And my parents would say, "Oh really?" And the other people would say, "Yeah, but we're not bringing the kids." And my parents would go, "Oh no, no kids? We can't go then." My father sacrificed, my mother sacrificed. They didn't do anything without the kids, and that, I feel, is a big part of John Klasky.

Do you look at your career in terms of building blocks, building a body of work that has different colors and textures to it? A Brooks film is different than a crazy comedy and you're building toward something.

A: I look back at it afterwards. When Jim offered this to me, I didn't say, "Ooh this would go perfectly with what I'm looking to do. And just imagine looking back at my career in that year to say this happened. I do love the movies I've done in the past. I work hard on my movies. I work hard and my friends work hard, and we're trying to make people laugh and I'm very proud of that. Looking back at my career, when I end up having kids and I say, "Throw in that ŒSpanglish,' let's take a look at that," I know I'm gonna be very proud.

Do you see your character as a girly man?

A: Honestly, it feel so much like my brother, this character. He has two children, he has a wife, he works with me, he chooses to stay in New Hampshire because he wants his kids to grow up in the school they started with, he doesn't wanna lose friends, he is his family's hero. When I was in Florida when we had Thanksgiving, the last image I saw was my brother with his two kids and his wife was hanging out on the beach and they were swimming in the water. And they reminded me of "Spanglish" with just the fact that this guy, he gave me a wave, he said love ya, but it was like these are my kids and I wanna make sure they have a great day in Florida. I admire that. It's how I got to grow up and it's how I plan on raising my kids.

He's not a girly man?

A: Nah, nah, he's a great man.

How are your own culinary skills at home, and do you speak Spanglish?

A: Nah, how do I speak Spanish, probably not too well.

PAZ: I teach you some words.

ADAM: Yeah, she taught me a few words. If people weren't nice to me, I could say a few things.

Any cooking skills?

A: I got to study with Thomas Keller, who we all love as a guy. He's one of the nicest guys ever. Thomas Keller really did go out of his way to have us work in his kitchen at the French Laundry, and his whole staff taught me and gave me their time. Most of all, I needed confidence, and the more I worked--I worked with another kid, Albert Blair, my buddy. And at home, we just practiced over and over making that BLT and a bunch of other stuff that in my life, I must say, I probably have never eaten.

Do you have a specialty?

A: No, I'm excited about the BLT, people are bored with it in my life. I keep staring at visitors at my home and say BLT?

Did your parents ever give you words to live by?

A: Never had a speech like that from my father, "This is what you should or shouldn't do," I just, learning to just, he led by example. My father wasn't perfect. He had a temper. I took some of that. He would snap. The older he got, he started calming down. He learned about life also. But the thing that he taught my whole family was just that family was the most important thing no matter what. Through our life, if a family member needs you, you go and help out and get there. I think that's what he just made us feel comfortable. And that's my mother also. Just made our family feel comfortable and respectful to other families.

Did you get your sense of humor from him?

A: My father having a temper led me to developing a sense of humor, trying to calm the old man down.

What do you think audiences want from a picture?

A: I don't know. I don't know any formulas, but I do know that, I don't know. I watch this movie. I gotta say, when I first saw "Spanglish," I had no idea the audience was going to laugh as much as they did. I read the script and I laughed, but I didn't know it was this funny and I didn't know it was gonna be an experience for an audience to be kind of a roller coaster, laughing and emotional. So I can't tell you what works and doesn't work. But it's nice to see a crowd of people having an experience like that.

How was it not to get all the big laughs?

A: I don't know. I didn't think of it. I just loved the movie.

Can you talk about each of your female co-stars?

A: I like hanging out with them. I love seeing them on the set. Just good people. Cloris, you know, what can you say? Just incredibly funny and alive--and the fact that Paz didn't speak English that well and was laughing every time Cloris just would walk on the set. I like Debra, Tea's character, we had a back story. We were in love since we were young, and we fell in love for a reason. We connected, and we happened to be at a place right now where Tea's character is just off, and my character wants to get her back on track. She's a strong, smart woman who's just not feeling right right now. I've seen people go through this, I think that she's just looking for answers. Her mother, and Flor and her children, that's what great about the script, everybody's characters are affecting everyone else's characters and learning about themselves. And the fact that Cloris' line, "It's not the worst thing in the world to find out you love your husband," that's an amazing line that makes Tea's character realize that I wanna get back on track and get my family back.

What about the love scene between you and Tea, did you get clawed up?

A: I was hurting. I was hurting. My chest, that was a lot of takes. The camera kept rolling and Tea kept whacking. It did hurt my chest, Tea. Put it this way, my makeup girl would have to run in between takes and put the flesh color back on my chest.

Do you think that inside every great comedian there's a great dramatic actor?

A: I enjoyed when Cloris tackled Tea. I was just thinking about the physical comedy in the movie. I don't know, I think, I really don't have a good answer.

Is it the same skill set?

A: As a comedian in this movie, I tried to just play the role. I didn't think about I'm a comedian playing an actor. I just thought about I'm a guy getting to say lines in a movie that are pretty incredible.

You ever think about winning an Oscar or getting a nomination?

A: No, I don't think about that. I wasn't a kid growing up saying, "One day I'll get an Oscar and make a speech." That wasn't on my mind. I just wanna do the best work I can do, and that's what I try to do.

Creatively, would you say this is one of the richest periods of your career? And what can we expect next from you?

A: I'm not sure, but I did on this movie learn the most I've ever learned about making a movie, from Jim. I always thought I worked hard and my friends worked hard, but I've never seen anybody like Jim go from start to finish. Before we started shooting, it was the most amount of work I ever did in pre-production, and just establishing relationships and rehearsing and just becoming comfortable with each other. Jim's process from start to finish is the most concentrated experience I've ever seen. Jim never stopped, never gave up, I've never seen anybody with that much discipline. So I've learned that I'm not as hard-working as I thought I was.

How intuitive of an actor are you? Particularly in the scene where Tea expresses her infidelity. How much did you have to think about how you'd react?

A: That's the first time I can--well one time in "Punch Drunk Love" I did this also, this was the first time ever as an actor I went into - before we started rolling and shooting, I was in another part of the house and I was getting ready for it hours at a time, trying to just be in that scene as much as I could. Because when I read the scene for the first time, I said that's the most original take I've ever seen on a confession scene, on an infidelity scene, the fact that my character is not enraged. I'm sure if I was writing the movie, I would've snapped. But this was just, when I read it, I said it's incredibly real, and that, as an actor, is how I tried to play it.

What was it about Flor that makes your character fall in love with her?

A: I think ultimately, it's the fact that she's so dedicated to her child, just a good person. That's a lot of what the movie's saying, just how we feel about our children and the sacrifices we make for our children and how attractive that could be.

Any plans to direct anytime soon?

A: Nah, I don't think so. I just, maybe when I'm finally, I reach 300, 320 [pounds?] because my family tends to eat. So when that day comes, maybe I'll just sit in a chair and direct. Until then, I don't have the discipline. I can't concentrate that long. My mind wanders and that's why I needed Jim Brooks in my life.

In "Punch Drunk Love," you played an angry guy, in this you play a lovable guy. Those are the two sides you play. How much were you able to glean from your earlier movies into your more grown-up films?

A: Good question, I don't have a great answer for that. Really, I just did what, in this movie, it was written so well and it was directed so well that I just hate to say it but I did what the man told me to do. I learn from it, and how I'm going to apply it to my own movies? I just want to, I guess I'll try even harder. That's what I'll take from it.

Will you be doing any guest hosting on SNL, and what do you think of Jimmy Fallon's impersonation of you?

A: Pretty good, does it great. I've known Jimmy since he's a young kid. He used to hang out with us when I would go on tour. Jimmy would hang around with us. He's a good kid. Does a great--definitely gets the nuance of the dummy. I'm not hosting anytime soon, maybe down the line though.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy