Adam Sandler Talks About Bringing His Passion For Hoops And Heart To Basketball Drama Hustle

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Adam Sandler is playing a different game Rush† This is not a Happy Gilmore Before Basketball: The Netflix film stars the comedian — and sometimes acclaimed dramatic actor — in an emotionally charged story set against the backdrop of the NBA.

“I knew this movie had a different feel to me,” admits the 55-year-old Sandler, “but it’s kind of a combination of things I’ve done in the past and a newer version of who I am.”

Directed by Jeremiah Zagar (who recruited Sandler to the project after seeing his critically acclaimed 2018 indie we the animals), produced by LeBron James, and packed with cameos from NBA players and coaches, Rush marks Sandler’s return to dramatic territory and a basketball environment, after the nerve-wracking thriller of 2019 Uncut Gemstones† The actor plays Stanley Sugerman, a hapless scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who stumbles upon an undiscovered talent while abroad in Spain, Bo Cruz (played by Utah Jazz striker Juancho Hernangómez). Without his team’s approval, Stanley decides to help the untested player take his chance at turning pro, in hopes of reviving his own career. In basketball terms, he tries to sink a half-court shot when the clock runs out.


Scott Yamano/Netflix

“It is very much a rocky story,” says Sandler. “And I’m not Mickey in it—there’s never going to be another Mickey—but I like being a man like that, talking to a young man and getting him excited.”

forward Rush‘s debut on Netflix on June 8, Sandler spoke exclusively with EW about bringing his love of basketball to the project, putting up (and shooting hoops) with professional athletes on set, and why he can no longer publicly advocate for it. an NBA team.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re obviously very passionate about basketball and your movies have integrated it before, but this is the first time you’ve made a real basketball movie. Why was this the right project to finally do that?

ADAM SANDLER: LeBron’s company and [producer] Joe Roth sent the script and I was like, “Wow, this is definitely something I can get excited about.” I loved the feel of it, the father-son relationship that comes out of it, and I connected with a lot of things in it, [like how] having to hit the road and miss your family hurts. And some of the advice my character Bo Cruz gives in the movie is, “When you go after it, that’s what you most think about. You can’t stop thinking about it.” When I was younger and emerging into the comedy world, that was kind of my thought process at the time. If you love to do something, that should be the focus, and you probably shouldn’t think about too many other things.

How did Juancho get into the movie?

The whole process of finding Bo Cruz took place during the quarantine. Me and Jeremiah and [writer Will Fetters] would be on Zoom, working on the script and getting videotapes of basketball players auditioning. We saw a lot of great players and also a lot of guys who were good at acting. Juancho, I don’t think it was his dream [to act]† I just think he had some time to himself when he hung out like everyone else, and he made a band. We were like, “Boy, this guy is a natural.” And the fact that he was a great player, and a young guy, and still passionate about making a name for himself – it was all connected.

I became really close with Juancho, and I really feel like family with that man. I couldn’t believe what a good actor the man was, and how effortless he was, and how little it meant to him. At the end of the day I said to him, “Man, that was good stuff!” He’d go, “Oh, that was it? Okay, great, thanks, man.” And then he would just move on. He didn’t want to talk about it. It wasn’t his first passion, you know? He just says, “I gotta go play basketball, man. I gotta get out of here.” I think it helps a lot not to have that part of your brain that says, “Oh my gosh, I hope I’m doing this right.” [Acting] is not his life, so that put him more at ease.



Scott Yamano/Netflix

How did this role compare to other dramatic work you’ve done in the past?

It had a lot of deep scenes that connected to me, playing a guy who just worked hard all his life and didn’t get exactly what his goal was, being overlooked and people at work standing in his way. Many people have dealt with this in their lives. I knew this movie had a different feel to me, but it’s kind of a combination of things I’ve done in the past and a newer version of who I am.

How many times did you shoot hoops with Juancho and the other NBA players on set?

Oh my God it was so many great moments for a man like me watching these guys. I played a little bit – they slowed the game down by 90 percent so I could really play with them. But I loved talking to the boys. I’ve met a lot of coaches and talked a lot about hoop. I know hoop, but I don’t know it like these guys. They know every historical moment and everything that is going on. And now when I look at the games, I literally have 15 teams that I can pull for because we’ve all become friends.

The cameos inside Rush are insane – it’s a feast for fans, both in terms of current and legendary players. Were there any players who worked on the film that you were eager to meet?

All the guys have done us such favors so I don’t want to pick anyone out but I’m sure they all agree [working with] Julius Erving, with what he’s done for the game and what he’s done for all of us, it’s been a real honor. Shaking the man’s hand, talking to him and laughing with him was something that would have amazed my father. We have a lot about Dr. J talked in my house, and I had a poster of him in my room when I was growing up. He was a sweetheart, and I can’t thank him enough.

And honestly, I can’t thank everyone who was in the movie enough. They did these long days, and there wasn’t a part of them that said, “Let’s hurry up and get this over with.” We all just hung out and had a great time chatting. A lot of them talked about making movies, and a lot of the guys who helped put the movie together were huge hoop fans, so we talked hoops to them. It was just a huge hang. It will be hard to ever have a set that feels like this in my life again.

Who are you rooting for in the NBA playoffs right now?

That is a good question. I can’t tell you who I’m pulling for. Now that I’m buddies with everyone, I’m happy for them all. I text all the guys after the games, and if I said one team there would be 14 guys willing to kick my ass. So I can’t say anything. [Laughs]

This interview has been edited and shortened for length and clarity.

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