‘Punch-Drunk Love’ Producer Looks Back at Casting Adam Sandler: ‘I Was Just Befuddled’

Paul Thomas Anderson wrote his 2002 romance “Punch-Drunk Love” as a star vehicle for Adam Sandler, who at that point was best known for broad comedies like “The Waterboy,” “Big Daddy,” and “Little Nicky.” Anderson was confident Sandler could pull off the more dramatic overtones of the “Punch-Drunk Love” script, but the filmmaker’s longtime producer JoAnne Sellar was less sure at first. Sellar admits in Adam Nayman’s book “Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterclass” that casting Sandler originally confused her.

“After ‘Magnolia’ [Paul] wanted to make a really short movie,” Sellar said. “That was the first thing I remember him saying. But yeah, he wrote it for Sandler. He was a huge Sandler fan, and I was just befuddled. I just didn’t get the whole Adam Sandler thing at that stage. I mean, the ‘Saturday Night Live’ stuff, yes, but the movies that Adam had done weren’t for me. As a British person I didn’t really get the humor. But Paul just kept saying, ‘Oh my God, he’s so great!’ And he completely made me change my mind about Adam.”

“Punch-Drunk Love” earned Sandler the best reviews of his career and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. In an interview earlier this year, Sandler admitted he doubted he could pull off Anderson’s film himself after being blown away by the sheer scope of “Magnolia.”

“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?’”

Sellar first teamed up with Anderson for “Boogie Nights” and has gone on to produce all of the director’s feature films along with her husband, Daniel Lupi. The success of Sandler’s casting in “Punch-Drunk Love” proved to Sellar it’s always best to trust Anderson’s instincts.

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