Hustle's Adam Sandler And Juancho Hernangómez On Trash-Talking, Basketball, And The State Of Comedy [Interview]

Years after his acclaimed outing the Netflix dramedy "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" and following an extraordinary turn in "Uncut Gems," Adam Sandler is back with yet another excellent serious turn in Netflix' new basketball drama "Hustle." It's an exciting and high-profile venture for the star, who is a widely known basketball fan (and dedicated pickup basketball player). 

Sandler stars as scout Stanley Sugarman, a man in dire career straits unless he discovers a new basketball phenom. He finds one in Bo Cruz (real-life player Juancho Hernangómez), an unknown street baller with extraordinary potential. The pair work to overcome troubled history, strong opposition, and a competitive field of players to (hopefully) take Bo all the way to the top — and Sugarman with him.

I spoke with Sandler and his exciting new co-star (in his first feature credit, no less) about improvising trash talk, the most challenging part of shooting high-octane basketball scenes, working with LeBron James, and more. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

'The basketball scenes ... really killed my body'

Adam, I know that you have a lot of collaborations with Netflix in your history. I wanted to ask if you had any thoughts on the state of comedy film right now, and if you see them coming back more as part of a mainstream theater experience?

Sandler: I don't know. I see it [happening when there's] less Covid, and the more comfortable people are, it's fun to be in a theater. Last night we had the premiere, seeing it on a big screen was a lot of fun, but the fact of all that access that Netflix gives you at home, going away, going on a car trip, that's pretty cool to have all that at your fingertips, too. But I love them both. I do love the theater, do love the streaming. It's just a crazy time with the amount of s*** you can see whatever you want.

Absolutely. "Hustle" also has so many high-octane basketball sequences, so many moving parts. Both of you wore multiple hats, with you [Adam] executive producing and starring, and you [Juancho] both playing and performing at the same time. What the most challenging part of all that?

Hernangómez: For me, the most challenging parts were the basketball scenes. It's kind of crazy, but I feel like they were really hard. Not just mentally, for my body, because you've got to warm up, do [the scene] five or six times, and then you've got to stop for 20, 30 minutes and do it again, and do it again for six, seven, eight hours. So, that really killed my body, that killed everything.

Sandler: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He'd be stretching all day long, warming up on the bike.

Hernangómez: Yeah, for me, that was the toughest part of the movie. I would rather do [scenes of] sitting at a table in a restaurant — more acting.

Sandler: Yeah, those scenes, you liked that.

Any particularly challenging part for you, Adam?

Sandler: No, no, no. Every day was pretty exciting, I loved watching the basketball. I love watching him run up the hill, too, that was very nice...

Hernangómez: You had the easy part. Driving the car.

Sandler: [To Juancho] But you don't understand how difficult it was to go like this. [mimes shifting gears]

Hernangómez: We didn't have any crashes or any accident, so he was ... great job, great job.

Sandler: Right, right. I could have hit him, and I didn't.

It looked so realistic when you said you were going to clip his heels. 

Hernangómez: Oh, he tried, he tried for real.

Sandler: I couldn't catch him!

Hernangómez: He tried, he tried.

'We had some improv going at all times'

One of my favorite scenes is the trash talk training sequence. That was a blast to watch. What went into shooting that, and was there any improv involved?

Hernangómez: Yeah, a lot.

Sandler: Well, we had some improv going at all times because he's a very loose guy, and funny, and we loved each other. But the Spanish, I had that written down, I have to admit. When I had [to] talk nasty in Spanish, and try to insult him, they were all written earlier. [To Juancho] I remember one time I said something to you in Spanish and you go, "That's Mexican."

Hernangómez: Yeah. He tried to find, like, trash talk in Spanish, and he just starts [doing] Mexican [trash talk], he was so funny. I said, 'That's not Spanish, it doesn't even bother me. We don't say that in Spain.'

Adam, it's well known that you're a big basketball fan. What did shooting this mean to you?

Sandler: It's such a good opportunity, "Hustle," and the premise of scouting and finding a real NBA player and bringing him to see if he can fit in the NBA and be a star there, and have a life there. That's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I think that the goal was to make sure the hoop looked as cool as possible, as real as possible, and a guy like me and a guy like Juancho watches it and goes, "Yeah, that's how it goes."

Absolutely. Juancho, you give such a great performance. How did they find you, and what was it like stepping into it and putting on the performer hat?

Hernangómez: So, it was crazy because I never dreamed to be an actor. They called my agent because they were looking and doing an open casting, and I was telling them, "No, I'm not interested. I don't want to waste my time being an actor." I never dreamed about it. So I told them no for five or six months, and then Covid hits. I wasn't on a team. I was doing quarantine with my brother and my sister, and we were so bored that my sister knew about the casting, and she was like, "Why don't we play like [we're] doing a movie?" and we just did the audition. I don't know why or how they saw any talent, but they just liked me, and we just kept going to castings, and we made a movie.

Sandler: A natural.

'The streetballers, they were legends ... they taught us every move'

I know that LeBron James was involved as one of the producers, and he's been doing so much with production and being in front of the camera these days. What was working with him like for both of you?

Sandler: He loves LeBron.

Hernangómez: Yeah, I love him.

Sandler: Last night, when we saw LeBron and LeBron gave us hugs, Juancho was psyched.

Hernangómez: Yeah, I'm more proud of LeBron knowing who I am and giving me a hug than all the movie, to be honest with you. [laughs] I got a picture with LeBron and I sent it to Adam. LeBron for me is like MJ. I grew up watching him, so he came to a game and he said, "Hey, thank you for doing the movie, you're doing a great job!" I went home like, "Man, LeBron knows my name!"

Sandler: Aww, that's right, man.

Hernangómez: I was happy.

Sandler: Isn't that cool?

LeBron seems like a top-tier human being.

Sandler: Oh, yeah. He's a very nice person.

I also really loved the energy of the viral basketball scene. There were so many moving parts, so much motion, so much energy.

Sandler: Yes, that's right.

What was it like shooting that? What went into it?

Sandler: Those were some of the craziest, most fun days, because we were with a lot of streetballers, famous streetballers –

Hernangómez: Yes, that's the funnest day. That's where I think we had everybody on set, we were so happy. We put music on, we were all just playing basketball, and when we said, "Cut!" Adam took a ball and we played another hoop, just one-on-one, play to 21, three-on-three. We just said, "Who wants to play?" We just kept playing, and then we're shooting the movie ... but we just love basketball, everybody on set.

Sandler: And there was a lot of music, too. A lot of playing music, a lot of people having a good time.

Hernangómez: Yeah, the streetballers, they were legends. In the early 2000s, they played And 1 tournaments. The Professor, these guys there, they were so funny. They taught us every move.

Sandler: Yeah, yeah. And you could do them! I could not do them.

I also would fail. I have skills, but that's not on the list.

Hernangómez: [nods at Adam] He's got skills.

""Hustle" hits Netflix on June 8, 2022.