tracy bennett/columbia pictures
He assaulted a giant imaginary penguin in Billy Madison, verbally abused party guests in a drunken stupor for The Wedding Singer and high-fived a vomiting walrus in 50 First Dates.
So why was Adam Sandler cast as a man who lost his wife and three daughters in the 9/11 terrorist attacks for Reign Over Me?
“I like how vulnerable Adam is,” says the film’s writer and director, Mike Binder. “Even in his craziness, there’s something about him. There’s a humanity to this guy and you can smell it, and see it, coming off the film.”
At first, Sandler didn’t think so. He initially turned down the role, saying he was “scared of it,” but finding the script by his bed about a month later, he read it over again.
“I can’t articulate why I liked it so much,” he says, “but it hurt my heart when I read it.”
“I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I wanted to challenge myself,” Sandler continues, explaining his ultimate decision to play Charlie Fineman, the film’s widower whose life is crippled by the tragedy. “I was terrified when I agreed to do it, I was the most scared I’ve ever been.”
Sandler, to flesh out the role, completed his research in therapy sessions with real-life survivors and family members. On set, the often goofy and occasionally crude funnyman found himself painfully sombre.
“It wasn’t like movies I’ve done in the past where I’m just laughing and having a great time on the set — there was definitely a heavier feeling for it,” he says. “I had a headache almost every day.”
Don Cheadle, whose character Alan Johnson balances out the other half of the film, says his decision to take the part was really quite simple. “As soon as I met (Sandler,) I said I want to do it,” he says. “There was an immediate friendship that just kicked off.”
Cheadle says, however, he also struggled with his role — not because he felt challenged by portraying Alan, but instead he couldn’t quite figure out who Alan was.
“It was frustrating as an actor,” he says, admitting he couldn’t quite grasp Alan’s restlessness with a seemingly perfect life. And figuring that out meant regularly checking in with the man behind the movie, Binder. “(Binder) said, ‘I’m not really sure what’s going on with this guy, I’m not really sure what the problem is, but I don’t know that I really want to define it either.’ ”
Looking back, Cheadle accepts that the process of unravelling his character probably comes closest to real life.
“Because you don’t always know,” he says. “There is something nebulous, sometimes, that’s just always there.”