Sandler hasn't starred in an R rated feature since Judd Apatow's Funny People in 2009, and his recent efforts have included more family-friendly fare like Bedtime Stories, Click, and Jack and Jill. As such, the mulleted, beer-swilling Donny was a refreshing change of pace, what with his sailor's penchant for expletives. "It was fun to speak the way I do in my bathroom," Sandler said. "I grew up cursing a lot, it felt good. My parents told me to stop – they weren’t enjoying my albums. They weren’t a lot of things that I was doing with my life. And then, my father passed away and he’s not here to yell at me, so my mother, I bullied her and told her I’m going to be doing some more. I just enjoy it."
Asked whether it was a conscious decision to dip his toes back into raunchier, dirtier comedy, the actor replied, "No, it was just a funny script, I like the idea behind this story. Samberg called me up and told me he liked, that’s all I had to hear. I was done. I just liked the script. I identified with the character. It made sense that this guy let loose and cursed. It wasn’t a career choice. I loved the story and wanted to play Donny Berger. If another movie comes to me that’s rated-R and I like it, I would do that. I wasn’t a choice. I don’t know what I’m doing."
In the film, Donny's longstanding friend and drinking buddy is, in fact, Vanilla Ice. Rob Van Winkle plays a fictionalized version of himself, and by all accounts his double-barreled Vanilla Ice is a highlight of the film. While approaching Van Winkle to make fun of himself onscreen might sound awkward, Sandler asserted that the 1990s music star was all manner of accommodating. "He was very cool about it," Sandler explained. "The way it happened is that my character is friends with someone who was a star during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. We were both at the height of our fame. We were talking about who that should be and we all thought Vanilla Ice would be the best and everybody got excited. We called Rob and he came to the office and we told him about the part and told him, 'It’s funny. You’re going to be cool in the movie and a good friend. They’ll be jokes about what you do over your career.' He was very loose, very cool."
That's My Boy marks Samberg's first feature since last month's SNL season finale, his last episode of the venerable sketch-comedy institution. Asked about the experience of departing after almost a decade, Samberg said, "It’s emotional and extremely sad for me, but also felt it was the right time. It has nothing to do with anything outside of the show or a project I was moving on to. It was more that I’ve been there seven seasons. The digital shorts were incredibly demanding to get done so often. It was more a feeling I had."
"You’re scared. It’s a home," Sandler chimed in, recalling his own decision to exit the series. "You have all your brothers and sisters there and it’s a great time. With 20-plus shows a year you’re guaranteed you will definitely get on some of them and get to do your thing. So, when that goes away, there’s no life jacket anymore. You’re on your own. Like Andy said, you just get a feel like, 'I’ve done what I’ve got to do. I don’t want to repeat myself too much. I’ve got to figure out some other things to do.' I remember watching the show when I left. That was a funny thing. I was like, 'Oh, shit, they can do it without me.' They do that quick. There’s no, 'Oh God, I miss that guy. It’s more like, 'Thank God that guy’s out of the way.' So, it hurts when you watch it at the beginning. But, then sometimes it’s good to just be watching it at home while those guys are doing it."
Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with his work, Samberg was influenced by Sandler during his formative years. "I can talk about being a fan of Adam’s for the next seven hours," he enthused. "I watched SNL since I was eight and wanted to be on it since I was eight. I remember when he came on the show. There was a lot of stuff he did, but the moment I remember he was my guy was the easy-to-do Halloween costumes. I remember thinking, 'You’re allowed to do this.' Comedians talk about the movie or sketch that they saw that they felt it was made just for you. His time on the show was that. Then with Happy Gilmore and all the movies after that, I was at that impressionable age. I memorized those movies. I had Billy Madison on audio cassette. I walked around town listening to it on my Walkman. If I couldn’t be in front of a TV, I wanted to be hearing Adam Sandler. I think it’s safe to say that getting to work with him is a dream come true."
Asked if he learned anything from his comedic elder during production on the film, Samberg jokingly replied, "Yes. He taught me how to put rubbers on the right way [laughs]. I had been doing it wrong for years and I never knew why I had so many kids. Seriously, he’s not just an actor, he’s a writer and producer. To watch him have this whole team assembled, he’s so loyal to the same crew with each movie. I got to witness that and how good that is. The same way he was saying how working on SNL is like a family, his production teams are the same way. There’s a shorthand that everyone has at Happy Madison."
The admiration is far from one-sided, as Sandler declared of his co-star, "I love the guy. We got tighter and tighter. I kept telling my buddies about Andy. He’s kind of similar to me, a little better… a little smarter. He’s a little better-looking. He’s got all good angles. I can fake being good looking if I’m looking dead at you. When I move left or right, it’s like, 'What the [expletive] is that?' [Laughs] Andy can turn his head either way and people are like, 'Oh, I like him.' He’s got hard-working comedy chops. He reminds me of the guys I came up with as he knows it’s all about being funny and coming up with stuff that’s good for the role and makes you laugh. He gave me good stuff in the movie. We’d finish a take and Andy would say, 'What if you say this?' That’s not a common thing in my life where co-stars are looking out for me and try this joke. It was beautiful. I think his future is whatever he wants to do with it. He’s a little more mellow than me. When I was his age, I was a little more obsessed with kicking ass. He’s obsessed with having a good life and I like that."
While Sandler's films are directed almost exclusively by regular collaborators such as Frank Coraci or, more prolifically, Dennis Dugan, That's My Boy is directed by Sean Anders, whose work on the 2008 comedy Sex Drive impressed the producer and star. "Sean makes funny movies," Sandler said. "I saw Sex Drive one night on television and I was with ten friends going somewhere and one by one I was telling them, 'You got to watch this movie Sex Drive.' Everybody loved it. I figured I had to meet with those guys. So, we had a meeting, hung out a little bit. When it came to do this, my usual guys who I love, were all busy. So I got excited to have a meeting with the guy from Sex Drive, that’s how it started. Then he started writing the funniest stuff. He’s an animal. I’d give him an idea and literally the next day, he had another forty pages with the greatest instincts. He really seems to know what we think is funny for a rated R film. Sean connected with the characters. Like I knew guys like Donny Berger. I really love playing the guy. My friend Nick Swardson, who’s in the movie, every couple of weeks when I see him, he says, 'Boy, I wish you were Donny. I miss that guy.'"
That's My Boy arrives in theaters nationwide this Friday, June 15th.
To watch our exclusive interview with director Sean Anders about That's My Boy, please click here.