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‘Magnolia’ Freaked Out Adam Sandler So Much He Nearly Turned Down ‘Punch-Drunk Love’

The making of "Punch-Drunk Love" starts with Tom Cruise, who connected Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler.

"Punch-Drunk Love"

“Punch-Drunk Love”

Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection.

The story of “Punch-Drunk Love” begins with “Saturday Night Live,” or at least that’s how Adam Sandler tells it on this week’s episode of the “SmartLess” podcast, hosted by Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes. Sandler remembered it was a fateful meeting between himself and Tom Cruise during a Nicole Kidman-hosted episode of the NBC sketch comedy series that led him to crossing paths with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Cruise and Sandler swapped numbers that evening, which came in handy once Cruise went into production on Anderson’s “Magnolia.”

“Tom called me up, and he says, ‘I’m doing a movie with my friend Paul, and he’s a great director and he’s interested in doing a movie with you. Can I put him on the phone?’” Sandler said. “Paul was very nice, and he’s going, ‘Hey, I loved Billy Madison.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, thanks,’ but I didn’t know who he was. He goes, ‘I just love your movies and your albums. Is it ok if I write you a movie?’ I said, ‘You can do whatever you want man.’ He was sweet. I could tell he was funny.'”

With Sandler’s blessing, Anderson began writing the script for what would become “Punch-Drunk Love.” Sandler decided to go to see “Magnolia” in theaters when it opened in order to get a first taste of Anderson’s work. The sprawling ensemble drama left the comedian so shellshocked, he doubted he could pull off whatever Anderson was cooking up for him to star in next.

“I went alone and it was sold out, and I was in the front row, and I was looking up at it, and I was fucking terrified,” Sandler said. “I was going, ‘Oh this guy is fucking better than me. I don’t want to fucking be in this. I’m going to ruin his movie! Holy shit!’ I called him up on the way home and was like, ‘Holy shit. I just saw your movie. Fuck. The frogs! So you’re writing that movie still?'”

Anderson eventually drove to Sandler’s house to hand-deliver the “Punch-Drunk Love” script. What was the comedian’s first reaction? “I was fucking scared,” Sandler said. “I always said I could do this, but this was too much. But he talked me through it, and he made me comfortable.”

The rest is history, as “Punch-Drunk Love” would go on to premiere at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and win Anderson the Best Director prize and earn Sandler the best reviews of his career. Click here to listen to Sandler’s full episode of the “SmartLess” podcast.

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