Inspired by the likes of Martin Scorsese, the Coen brothers and a long line of European influences, the Safdie brothers are on a mission to reinvent independent American cinema, injecting the industry with much needed frenzied electricity. Having been in the industry since their short film work in 2002, Josh and Benny Safdie rose to popularity after the release of Daddy Longlegs in 2009, followed by Good Time starring Robert Pattinson and Netflix’s award-winning Uncut Gems.
Helping to revitalise the career of Adam Sandler, their 2019 masterpiece Uncut Gems stalks the movements of Sandler’s scatty character Howard Ratner, a jeweller with mounting debts to pay as he risks his life and finances to stay afloat. With a piercing thumping heart, Uncut Gems is a film fuelled by pure kinetic vitality, swerving through the streets of New York with dizzying adrenaline, perfectly capturing the city’s energy.
Joining Adam Sandler in the sparkling cast list are the likes of Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, LaKeith Stanfield, Eric Bogosian and surprisingly, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (The Weeknd), who makes a cameo appearance. Visiting the R&B singer The Weeknd to receive his precious opal, Adam Sandler’s Howard discovers his girlfriend Julia snorting cocaine with the performer and gets into a fight with him, presuming the two had slept together.
As Josh and Benny Safdie recalled in a 2020 interview, however, The Weeknd was not yet a big industry name when he was cast in Uncut Gems, as Josh states: “He wasn’t a pop star yet though when the movie takes place, it was only 2012”.
Continuing in their discussion, the filmmakers elaborated on their casting choice, noting: “Before we became friends with The Weeknd, he saw a movie we made called Heaven Knows What and he really responded to it, then we became friends after he saw Good Time, he really liked that film a lot”.
The Safdie brothers had to plan for a situation where The Weeknd would not be available, however, fascinatingly revealing another rapper who almost made the cut. “Before we met him [The Weeknd], we did a table read with A$AP Ferg, and it was a character named Privilege,” the directors reported. Responsible for such tracks as ‘Plain Jane’, ‘Dreams, Fairytales, Fantasies’ and ‘Dennis Rodman’, the influence of A$AP Ferg on the set of Uncut Gems would’ve made for a wildly different sequence than the one we eventually received.
Whilst neither Josh nor Benny Safdie are currently working on new directorial projects, Benny is enjoying continued success with his acting career after appearing as co-star Nick Nikas in his own film Good Time. Benny will next appear in Licorice Pizza alongside Cooper Hoffman, Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits and Sean Penn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest outing, before he takes on an unknown role in Disney’s Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars series.
Take a listen to Logic’s brand new track below, ‘Perfect’ (Remix) featuring Lil Wayne and A$AP Ferg.