Chris Rock Couldn't Help But Think Of Chris Farley During Adam Sandler's Uncut Gems

The career of Adam Sandler has been frequently surprising. On "Saturday Night Live" in 1990, Sandler gained a reputation for playing a puckish, rude, doofus. It was a squeaky, occasionally explosive stage persona the actor would carry over into some of his mid-'90s comedy vehicles like "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore," and would go on to serve as the foundation of his production company. Any number of Sandler's comedy films are crass, prurient, and often venerate the bad behavior of their leads. Also, as a curious motif, Sandler's comedies often employ American pop culture iconography of the 1980s. 

But then Sandler will occasionally startle audiences by proving himself as something beyond his usual "dip" persona. In "The Wedding Singer," Sandler emerged as a convincing romantic lead opposite Drew Barrymore. In "Punch-Drunk Love," director Paul Thomas Anderson tapped into Sandler's ever-present rage but balanced it with a truly disarming love story. And in Josh and Benny Safdie's 2019 film "Uncut Gems," Sandler continued to prove that he was a great actor, creating a foolish yet understandable character who audiences couldn't help but like. Indeed, Sandler, by all anecdotal reports, is a relentlessly decent person, and many actors and comedians love working with him, even if his comedies are typically dumb and crass. 

One such comedian is Chris Rock, who has appeared in seven feature films with Sandler. Rock, like many, loved "Uncut Gems," but he couldn't help but think of an old colleague in Sandler's role. In a 2022 interview with the "Fly on the Wall" podcast, transcribed on Cinemablend, Rock admitted that watching Sandler acting evoked a pang for the late Chris Farley, the "SNL" alum and movie star who died in 1997 at the age of 33. Farley, Rock feels, would have eventually been due for a renaissance.

Chris Farley forever

Farley began appearing on "Saturday Night Live" in 1990, the same year Rock joined the cast. He was part of a new generation of comedians that some felt were a new breed of "bad boys." He was known for his awkward personae and his over-the-top screaming. Many are fans of Farley's Matt Foley, a character who announced repeatedly that he lived in a van down by the river. Farley also starred in several feature films, a few of them opposite co-"bad boy," David Spade. In his films, Farley often played a broad, clueless doofus, serving as a perfect comedic foil for Spade's own eye-rolling sarcastic jerks. Farley, sadly, never appeared in a drama. 

Rock feels that he could have. Farley wrestled with substance addiction for most of his life and frequently suffered from numerous health problems. It would be cocaine and morphine that would eventually take his life. Rock envisions a parallel universe where Farley kicked his drug habit, turned his acting toward drama, and succeeded immensely. Rock had every faith in Farley's acting abilities and saw "Uncut Gems" as exactly the type of role he could have been playing. Rock said

"It's sad when our friend's not here, but it is curious to [think], 'Wow, what would that guy have done?' When I see Sandler in something like 'Uncut Gems,' it's like, 'Yeah, Farley could have done that. Farley could have been in, you know ...' He's literally that level of actor, and that level of, like ... you just felt for that guy. Whatever ride Chris Farley was gonna to take me on, I was definitely ready to go on it."

The Farley films we never saw

Farley's films, while broad, were generally successful, and he was beloved by his peers. He also continued to seek film work, with some projects that would have doubtless seen his star rise even further. Indeed, Farley had even recorded dialogue for the movie "Shrek" shortly before his passing, hoping to star in what would eventually become a pop culture juggernaut. Some early storyboards featuring Farley's voice can be found online. Farley was ultimately replaced by another "SNL" alum, Mike Myers. The same "Fly on the Wall" podcast revealed that Farley only had five days of voice work remaining for "Shrek" when he died, and his sound-alike brother John was asked to finish the work for him. John was too distraught to do it, however.

Farley was also set to play one of the dinosaurs in the 2000 Disney animated film "Dinosaur," and some might recall the 2009 news about Farley joining the cast of a new "Ghostbusters" film. It was also said that celebrated children's author Dav Pilkey had hoped Farley would play the title character in a live-action film adaptation of the "Captain Underpants" books. In a dramatic shift, Farley was also one of the many actors in contention for playing Ignatius J. Reilly in a potential film adaptation of John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer-winning novel "A Confederacy of Dunces."

One can only imagine Farley's dramatic career after that. Rock seems to feel that Farley was capable of soulful work far beyond his usual "dumb guy" shtick. It's also notable that the people who met Farley often came away loving him. It's been over 25 years since his passing. R.I.P., Mr. Farley. I wish you could have surprised us.