All the way back in 2018, photos surfaced of a goateed Adam Sandler, dressed in an uncharacteristic King Fit, smiling into an iPhone on a sidewalk in New York City. Similar paparazzi snaps followed: Sandler chasing a woman down a street, Sandler in a tracksuit that matched his black eye, Sandler bloodied and soaking in the fountain right by Rockefeller Plaza. All of it was for a film, of course, Uncut Gems, which finally screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September the following year. That week, an even stranger video emerged of Sandler’s birthday cake from the film’s afterparty. If you knew, you knew; only the few people who’d actually seen the movie about a gambling-addicted jeweler did. Eventually, a trailer dropped, and perhaps the most bizarre image yet made itself known: that of Sandler’s character holding a small, bedazzled Furby charm.
Its manically darting little brown eyes just about broke the internet.
When Uncut Gems finally opens in cinemas on December 12, the movie will arrive to an audience virtually primed to love it: There are Furby memes, and Furby memes of memes, and, presumably, some enterprising Etsy seller is in the middle of creating their own knockoffs (which can’t possibly be more horrifying than the Long Furbies already purchasable online). The bauble has become the unofficial mascot of a movie far more serious than our present Furby mania lets on (the film was recently reclassified as a drama ahead of the Golden Globes nominations). Its journey to the screen is appropriately surreal.
According to Uncut Gems’ prop master Catherine Miller, the Furby cameo was written into the script by writer-directors Josh and Benny Safdie. “It was just perfect,” said Miller, who also worked on the Netflix series Russian Doll. “As I came to the part … I laughed out loud. But then I thought, ‘How?’ Out of all the diamond-encrusted cartoon character merchandise ever made, there was never a Furby. I remember when I questioned if the pendant could be something else, something easier to source — like a Bart Simpson — Josh just shook his head. It had to be a Furby.”
Josh and Benny Safdie were 14 and 12 years old respectively when the global Furby craze began in the late 1990s, the product of Tiger Electronics. Like the Cabbage Patch Kids of the 1980s, they were the must-have status symbol for discerning tweens, selling an eye-watering 27 million units during their first year of production. “What’s the saddest, dumbest thing that existed in the ’90s? It’s the Furby,” Josh explained over the phone to Vulture, with his brother on the line, too. “Because they didn’t really mean anything — they were just kind of these things.”
In Uncut Gems, Howard Ratner likes things. His New York Knicks championship ring, his rimless Cartier glasses, his Salvatore Ferragamo logo belt. In the scene in which we encounter the diamond Furbies (there are more than one), he’s showing off his merchandise to Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett, who will soon become embroiled in one of Ratner’s big gambles. “I started this shit!” Ratner grins, holding up the Furby in his Diamond District showroom.
“Like any prop or piece of set design or costume, everything originates and moves from the character,” Josh said. “So you have to ask yourself, ‘When was Howard popping? What’s gonna be a real trophy piece for him?’ And Howard was popping in the ‘90s. He had this vision that he was going to take pop culture and encrust it with diamonds and gold, and make his stamp on the industry that way.”
But how does one actually go about making an authentic, blinged-out Furby? “Josh came to my desk and placed a four-inch blue plastic Furby toy in front of me,” Miller recalled. “He said, ‘This is the Furby we need you to make the necklace from.’ I told him my plan was actually to make the pendant half an inch high. He just shook his head at me and said, ‘No, it has to be this exact size.’ I paused calculating in my head just how heavy a 14-carat diamond-encrusted four-inch pendant was going to weigh, and just looked up, smiled, and said ‘Okay!’” Another dictate: The eyes had to move.
Miller and a jewelry artist proceeded to disassemble the plastic toy and pull apart its components. Each one was molded and cast in gold, and each stone was individually set upon it. In what Miller calls a stroke of genius, they decided to use the Furby’s original eyes rather than replace them. “The Furby eyes are so classic, no gemstone we were experimenting with was coming close to selling it,” she said. “So we connected the eyeballs to the internal mechanism in our gold Furby and … it worked! When Josh and Benny saw the eyes move on the final product, they knew it was going to be huge.”
“There was this sadness in the eyes,” Josh explained, “like these things are trapped inside this materialist object. Trapped inside the thing that we all aspire to and want — these sad eyes, desperate to get out.”
There was an amazing moment, Benny added, just before they finally shot the Furby’s close-up, when Josh ran into the frame last minute and forced the creature’s eyes to cross, “which made total sense.” A star was born.
Given A24’s reputation for tie-in movie merchandise, it’s likely that a limited edition jewelry line is just around the corner. But any aspiring hypebeasts hoping to acquire an OG Gems Furby might be disappointed. “They were handed over to A24 at the conclusion of filming,” Miller said. “I can only imagine the type of secret guarded underground bunker they must be in now.”