'Billy Madison' at 25: Director Tamra Davis saw 'Uncut Gems' potential in Adam Sandler, recalls X-rated story involving Chris Farley, Gwyneth Paltrow

Kevin PolowySenior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
Yahoo Movies

Adam Sandler was already a fan favorite on Saturday Night Live when he went into production on his first movie star vehicle Billy Madison, the proudly juvenile 1995 comedy that turns 25 today. But the film, in which Sandler stars as a hotel magnate’s son who must repeat all 12 grades of school to take over his father's company, gained the actor a cultish following.

Similar broad comedies like Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer and Big Daddy would follow, but Sandler also eventually began veering into drama (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish), and recently earned the best reviews of his career (and a well-deserved Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor) for the intense, anxiety-inducing Safie Brothers thriller Uncut Gems.

In an interview with Yahoo Entertainment celebrating the 25th anniversary of Billy Madison, director Tamra Davis (CB4, Half Baked, High School Musical) says she saw The Sandman's potential for flexing serious dramatic chops way back in the mid-’90s. Though it wasn't necessarily in front of the camera.

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"When we were doing Billy Madison he had a girlfriend, and I saw him get into a fight with his girlfriend that was one of the most insane fights I've ever seen," Davis tells us (watch above).

"After that was I was like, 'Oh my god, you can be a dramatic actor.'… It was like, 'Who is that guy?' I saw somebody I've never seen before. I saw a different person… It's in him."

Chris Farley and Adam Sandler in <em>Billy Madison</em>. (Photo: Universal)
Chris Farley and Adam Sandler in Billy Madison. (Photo: Universal)

 Davis was also in awe of Sandler's Billy Madison and SNL co-star, the late, great comedian Chris Farley, who died of a drug overdose in 1997.

To prepare for the scene in which his short-tempered bus driver had to become agitated over rowdy schoolchildren, Farley slammed six shots of espresso. "And then he went and did it, and he held his breath until he turned red," Davis recalls. "Everybody else is laughing and I'm gonna have a heart attack, because I'm like the mom… I'm worried he's gonna have a heart attack. He's willing to push himself. He held his breath, his eyes bulged out. I'm like, 'Oh my god, you don't have to go that far.’"

Farley took it even further one night when he, Davis, Sandler and celebrity friends Gwyneth Paltrow and David Spade were hanging out at a hotel in Toronto during filming. They were playing something called "The Dead Game."

"Everybody closes their eyes and one person's 'It,'" Davis explains. "And then after a certain [amount of] time or a buzzer goes off, you open your eyes and you walk around the suite or a house or wherever you're in, and you find whoever's 'It' dead… They stage a death.

"Adam was dead next to the toilet, strangled by his underwear. Gwyneth, we woke up, and she was under the glass table… Chris Farley, we all opened our eyes, he was dead in front of us, stark naked, with an Evian bottle up his butt. Up his butt!"

Farley would clearly do anything for laughs.

"That's what we woke up to. That's where he went. That was the commitment level."

Watch Adam Sandler talk about his award-worthy performance in Uncut Gems:

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