Celebrated filmmaker and Tel Aviv resident Quentin Tarantino confirmed that Jewish comedian and actor Adam Sandler was his intended pick to play the iconic Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz in the 2009 hit film Inglourious Basterds, Variety reported.
Speaking on Bill Mahr's Club Random podcast alongside Judd Apatow in an episode set to fully debut sometime Sunday, Tarantino finally admitted something that has been rumored for years: That the Bear Jew was meant to be played by Sandler.
Inglourious Basterds was an alternate-history revenge film about two plots to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during World War II, one by a French Jewish woman and another by the British. This eventually culminates in a successful assassination, but one carried out by a group of American Jews, the titular "Basterds," who were created as a commando unit to target, kill and scalp Nazis in order to spread fear among their ranks.
Though the Basterds are led by Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt, the real star of the squad is Sgt. Donny Donowitz, also known as the Bear Jew. This character was a Boston-native Jewish man who came to the Western Front of the war armed with a baseball bat, covered in the signatures of Jews, which he uses to brutally execute Nazis.
The character was ultimately played by Jewish-American horror icon Eli Roth and represented a burst of rage found in American Jewry against the antisemitic and genocidal Nazis.
Adam Sandler in Inglorious Basterds?
However, it turns out Roth was never the first pick. Rather, the role was entirely meant for none other than Adam Sandler.
"I wrote the Bear Jew for Adam Sandler," Tarantino confirmed, Variety reported.
The two met during the filming of Sandler's 2000 comedy film Little Nicky, in which Tarantino cameoed. Tarantino had already been hard at work on the script for Inglorious Basterds back then, though the film wasn't made for several more years.
According to Tarantino, Sandler was very excited about the role.
"Oh man, I get to fucking beat up Nazis with a bat?... F***ing awesome! I can't f***ing wait!"Adam Sandler, according to Quentin Tarantino
"When I was doing Little Nicky, he's telling me like, 'Oh man, I get to f***ing beat up Nazis with a bat?... F***ing awesome! I can't f***ing wait!'" Tarantino recalled on the podcast, according to Variety.
"He was like telling every Jewish guy, 'I'm going to f***ing play this guy who beats up Nazis with a f***ing bat.'"
The decision to cast Sandler may seem a bit interesting to some. The actor is most commonly associated with comedy films, like the aforementioned Little Nicky – and despite his role in some successful films like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, most of his films have been widely panned by critics. In fact, he has had the second highest number of Golden Raspberry Awards – essentially the inverse of the Oscars, given out to bad films – behind only Sylvester Stallone.
However, Sandler has shown that he can do more than simple comedy and is capable of taking on serious leading roles in dramas to critical acclaim, most notably the 2019 film Uncut Gems and 2022 film Hustle.
With that in mind, it isn't unreasonable to imagine Adam Sandler bashing in the heads of Nazis with a baseball bat as the Bear Jew.
So why didn't it happen?
Ultimately, this was due to Tarantino's co-interviewee on the podcast, Judd Apatow.
In 2009, Apatow wrote, directed and produced the dramedy film Funny People. And by the time Inglourious Basterds could start filming, Sandler was already locked down for Aptow's project.
And it wasn't even just Sandler. As Tarantino pointed out, there were quite a few Jews in Funny People.
"Here's the problem. [Apatow] wrapped up all the good Jew." Tarantino explained on the podcast, mentioning that actor Seth Rogen was also locked into the film, Variety reported.
"I'm killing Hitler with baseball bats and there's no good Jews available!"Quentin Tarantino
"I'm killing Hitler with baseball bats and there's no good Jews available!" Tarantino exclaimed, according to Variety. "All the good Jews were all wrapped up! I’m doing the Jewish male fantasy!"
Ultimately, a Jew was cast in the form of Eli Roth. Whether he qualifies as a "good Jew," however, seems to be a subjective matter.