Before Adam Sandler Took The Role, James Caan Almost Starred In Uncut Gems

Just about everyone familiar with the film knows that Josh and Bennie Safdie wrote the role of self-destructive jeweler Howard Ratner in "Uncut Gems" for Adam Sandler. And anybody who's read about the making of the film is well-aware that the Sandman's management initially turned down the project without letting their client read the screenplay. But until last week, no one had any clue that when Sandler's people passed, the Safdies briefly considered the late James Caan for the part.

Per a tweet from the brothers' shared account:

After sandler first rejected us our instinct was to cast James Caan as Howard. Obvs it was always sandman's part, but in the air somewhere is a version with jimmy caan... as seen here in 2011.. RIP

You might find it odd that the filmmakers instinctively thought of an actor who was 27 years older than Sandler, but the casting actually makes perfect cinematic sense. Here's why.

The return of The Gambler

In 1974, James Caan starred in Karel Reisz's "The Gambler," a harrowing drama about a New York City college professor plagued by an insatiable gambling addiction. Caan's character, Axel, seems incapable of living anywhere but on the edge of life-endangering debt. When he gets his well-to-do mother to spot him $44,000 to pay off a mafia-connected bookie (Paul Sorvino), Axel immediately loses the money betting on a Los Angeles Lakers game. The rest of the film is a downward spiral that finds Axel enlisting a student to shave points during a college basketball game. The dual rush of winning and losing drives Axel to place himself in increasingly dangerous situations, as if he has a death wish.

Axel barely survives to the end credits, which makes me wonder if the Safdies, in considering Caan, thought about rewriting "Uncut Gems" as a continuation of the character's story à la Paul Newman's Fast Eddie Felson in "The Color of Money." Caan revisiting the disgraced professor (now sporting a nasty switchblade scar on his cheek) who's blown up his life several times over due to a chronic gambling jones would've been fascinating. Given his age, the dynamic would've been completely different, but seeing Caan return to one of his most indelible roles could've been a wonderful career-capper.

This is now one of those tantalizing Hollywood "what ifs" that exists in some parallel dimension. I'm more than happy with the Sandler version of "Uncut Gems," but I'd love to peek in on that alternate universe and watch Caan tear into one last juicy role.