Adam Sandler arrives at Toronto’s swankiest cocktail lounge with his own take on “smart casual.” Polyester shorts extending below the knees. A relaxed-fit Hawaiian shirt. Chunky high-tops and tube socks. At 56, the actor and comedian looks more like someone heading to basketball camp than one of Hollywood’s most dependable and powerful stars. This is typically how Sandler rolls. Even after more than 30 years of fame that has included an iconic run on Saturday Night Live and more than 80 acting roles pretending to be other people, Sandler doesn’t seem comfortable being anything but himself.
I’m just thrilled he showed up. Sandler rarely gives interviews, and it took weeks to pin him down on a time and a place. It turns out that those details are still in flux.
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“Don’t you think it’s noisy in here?” he asks as we shake hands. There are traces of New England in his sandpapery voice. When he phoned me earlier, his cell number came up on caller ID as “Manchester, NH,” where he grew up, the youngest of four siblings in a middle-class home. “Maybe we should walk. Yeah, let’s walk,” he says.
Into the balmy evening we go, and down the rabbit hole into what it means to be the Sandman at midlife.
“Ada-a-a-m! The legend! I love you, bro,” a white-haired guy shouts from the back of an Uber.
“Love you too, buddy. Get home safe, OK?” Sandler says.
A sweaty woman in yoga pants does a fishhook turn into our path.
“No way! Can I get a picture? My boyfriend won’t even believe this!”
“Absolutely, let’s do it,” Sandler says, helping her with the selfie as an excited crowd starts gathering.
The actor is in Canada shooting a new comedy, You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah!, based on the YA novel, with his entire family. Jackie Sandler, his wife of nearly 20 years, and their daughters, Sadie, 16, and Sunny, 13, almost always appear in his films, and his mother, Judy, 84, arrives for her scenes tomorrow. They’re core players in a tight-knit clique that shows up time and again in Sandler flicks. His former SNL castmate Rob Schneider has been in 18 of his movies. Steve Buscemi, 15. David Spade, 12. Sandler’s longtime friend and assistant Jonathan Loughran, 40-plus. If being a grownup means getting to do what you want, with whomever you want, and making a ton of money for you and yours along the way (Sandler has a nine-figure production deal with Netflix, where his feel-good basketball movie, Hustle, is garnering early Oscar buzz), then he has clearly excelled at adulthood.
“Just want to say you’re amazing!” a woman shouts from across the street as we get walking again. “I feel like I’ve known you my whole life.”
I feel that way too. Sandler and I are both Gen Xers born in late 1966, both Jewish, both raised on Mel Brooks movies, MTV and homemade mixtapes in that last spell of freedom before we all became internet zombies. As we walk, Sandler tells me that his earliest memory of getting laughs in public was at a movie theater at a suburban mall. “I’d be there with my 10 buddies, watching Star Wars or Young Frankenstein, and when the lights went off, I’d scream something, like, ‘I’m scared! Hold me!,’ and the whole place would just lose it.” I swear, I remember that kid.