In Tom McCarthy’s whimsical new film The Cobbler, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this week, Adam Sandler plays a weary, fourth-generation Lower East Side shoemaker who discovers a magical sewing machine that allows him to switch bodies with his customers when he puts on their shoes. He use this power to embody a host of colorful characters (including a local thug, played by the Wu-Tang Clan’s Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith), to fight back against a sleazy real-estate developer (Ellen Barkin) and to unite with his long-lost father (Dustin Hoffman). It’s a darkly comedic, feel-good, footwear-themed anti-gentrification fairy tale, and when we caught up with McCarthy and Sandler at TIFF, our conversation was similarly genre-spanning, touching on gentrification, masturbation, pickles, Wu-Tang, and whether Sandler could fit into the reporter’s rather small shoes (verdict: “I could crunch into those”).
Adam, this and Men, Women and Children are darker and more melancholy than the stuff you tend to do. What was the thinking behind that?
Sandler: It was just a lucky opportunity that [Tom] thought of me, and I read the script and I connected with the guy — I knew this guy. He’s a lonely New Yorker that I’ve seen in my family, or friends, or from around. And I loved to get to be him.
Do you see yourself steering away from comedy a little?
Sandler: Not really. I see myself trying to get different opportunities. I don’t really actively pursue them. The fact that I know Tom McCarthy now and we’ve made a movie together, believe me, it’s on my mind, and I’d like to do it again. This movie was my foot in the door with McCarthy. I have his home number!
McCarthy: It’s hard.
Sandler: Every movie he does without me is another …
McCarthy: A stab in the heart.
The Lower East Side is such a big part of the movie. What were the obstacles of shooting in a place like that, where there’s so much going on all the time?
Sandler: People were very friendly, really friendly.
McCarthy: It was a really friendly environment. And there’s always great coffee nearby. and good food.
Sandler: Oh, yeah, good hamburgers, good coffee. It’s where my grandmother grew up, too.
Great Chinese food.
McCarthy: Although not as many Chinese places left as there once were. There’s a lot fewer Chinese places in New York.
Sandler: We didn’t eat that much Chinese food while we were hanging out. A lot of bar food. A lot of bars, period.
In the movie, you step into the shoes of other characters, both metaphorically and literally. One of them is played by Clifford Smith, a.k.a. Method Man. Was it exciting to become a member of the Wu-Tang Clan?
Sandler: Bam! I fit the shoes — that’s the good news. I have the same size feet as Cliff. We both have 16s.
McCarthy: Do you know that we actually had to — no one knows this but you — digitally shrink Method Man’s shoes in one scene?
Sandler: Oh, because they just looked too huge?
McCarthy: No. [It was] when Method Man was mugging [the character played by] Joey Slotnick in that scene on the step. Because they were standing next to each other, and Method’s feet were this big [gestures widely with hands] and Joey’s feet were this big [gestures small]. And we’re like, “We have to switch it,” so we went zzzip [makes shrinking motion].
Sandler: [Laughs.] That’s great!
That’s some fancy CGI.
McCarthy: Yeah, that was about as fancy as we got.
Sandler: The whole budget went to that.
McCarthy: Pretty much.
You couldn’t step into women’s shoes in the film. Why? You didn’t get to do any Jack and Jill–type comedy.
Sandler: That would have been fun. No, I was a transvestite …
McCarthy: It was as close, it had to be to ten-and-a-half.
Sandler: Yeah, she had to have very big feet.
McCarthy: Do you know any women with ten-and-a-halfs?
Maybe basketball players?
Sandler: Maybe, yeah. what size are you?
Sandler: I could crunch into those.
McCarthy: Little leopard-skin slip-ons, yeah.
Was there a hygiene concern, putting on other people’s shoes?
Sandler: Yes, yes.
McCarthy: We had an on-set shoe professional …
Sandler: To clean ’em up. He had a scene written where I had to put on Ellen Barkin’s shoes, but I refused to after I saw what she did that day.
McCarthy: Totally unsanitary. Which is weird — the rest of her body’s incredibly clean.
Sandler: Yeah, she just neglects the feet.
McCarthy: They’re a disaster. Don’t tell anybody. [Laughs.]
If you could actually step in the shoes of anyone from the film, who would it be?
Sandler: I’ll take Dustin, I’ll be Dustin. I would take that for a year or so.
McCarthy: I’d probably go Cliff. I’ve gotta go Method. I mean, you’ve gotta go on tour with the Wu-Tang and just see how that all plays out.
Sandler: I don’t think you could handle it.
McCarthy: I think I could.
Sandler: I know you can’t. I dare you to do it.
Why couldn’t he do it?
Sandler: Because he’s a little baby and he’d miss his wife, and he’d be like, “I wanna get home.”
McCarthy: I do, I get sad sometimes.
That’s totally fair.
Sandler: Cliff doesn’t have sad feelings.
McCarthy: No one in the Wu-Tang does. That’s what Wu-Tang means.
Men, Women and Children begins with your character masturbating. How does it feel to receive a script in the mail with that right there in the first scene?
Sandler: It made sense, it made sense. I’ve done it before, I like doing it. [Laughs.] It brings me to a happy place, and, uh …
McCarthy: [Joking, gesturing to recorder] Just let me turn that off. He’s tired, he doesn’t know what he’s saying!
Sandler: … and depressed immediately after, and I brought that into The Cobbler.
McCarthy: We cut that scene.