At the film’s Los Angeles press conference, Sandler, Dugan, Rob Schneider, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Ido Mosseri, and writer Robert Smigel talked about finding the funny in the Israel/Palestine conflict and the origin of Zohan.
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan Press Conference
This has been in development for 10 years. Why did you want to play the Zohan?
Adam Sandler: “When I was a kid you always heard about the Israeli army and you always heard about this tiny little country and how everyone around them wants them gone, and every time somebody comes after them they take care of business. And so as a Jewish kid you were proud of that. You were like, ‘All right, they are trying to take out the Jews and the Jews ain’t gonna let it happen.’ And so I just admired them. And then I hung out with a lot of Israeli guys out here in California. I went to some Israeli weddings and I couldn’t believe how insane it got. I had an Israeli guy who used to cut my hair…a great guy. I just thought it would be funny to see a soldier, Israeli soldier, who was a bad ass warrior and fearless and he had a secret dream of wanting to do something else but was embarrassed to share it with anybody.”
“To me, my favorite stuff when we would talk about the movie was it felt like I always pictured it like Charles Bronson in Death Wish. You’re messing with the wrong guy. I was always thought it was funny that he is a hair stylist and that someone would come in and make light of what he does and think there is no possible way he could kick his ass as much as he could. That’s where it started.”
How much effort was made to balance the humor and do you think one side is going to feel more slighted than the other?
Adam Sandler: “Yeah, I think the end of the movie is ultimately we're saying wouldn’t life be so much easier if we were just hanging out and getting along. It is not a brand new theory. That’s what it gets to and I hope that is what people will leave with.”
Was there anything in the script you finally had to get rid of because you thought it might be a little too offensive?
Robert Smigel: “Yes, yes. Yes, there was. Next question, please. You know, we worked on the script. It was a long process and we were careful about [it]. It wasn't so much about any specific thing that we took out. It was more just over the time we wrote it, I had some friends I would occasionally send scripts to, Arab-American and Jewish friends, just to get a sense of is this too much? Or is it appropriate?”
Do you feel like comedy can actually go over the edge?
Adam Sandler: “Yeah, you see it and you see that it goes too far and the audience shut down, and you usually take it out of the movie. It didn’t happen too much on this movie. We went pretty hard. Our scenes in this movie are longer than most of the scenes we’ve done in other movies, and then we kept it coming and coming and coming.”
Adam, you’ve had a lot of fun with Judaism. Was there a point when you realized the humor inherent in Judaism?
Adam Sandler: “Oh man, no. I mean I grew up in a house that liked to be funny. Everybody liked to be funny. A lot of my friends were funny, they happened to be Jewish too. No, there wasn't a point. My family's been…we've been enjoying each other's comedy for years. No, no, I can't think of a time in my life when it just happened. But yeah, I do tend to talk about it.”
The first 20 minutes in Tel Aviv have a very distinctive look and feel. Were there specific inspirations?
Adam Sandler: “I was most excited to shoot those scenes, besides the ones with Emmanuelle. You heard me… But no, we just wanted it to look alive, fun, sunny. What do you think? Dugan shot the hell out of the movie. Dugan, say something.”
Dennis Dugan: “We were just trying to make it look cool. Went over there and scouted over there, shot over there, shot a lot of second unit stuff over there. We just wanted it to look as cool and as authentic as possible.”
There was a New York Times piece that quoted Smigel as saying any comedy dealing with race or prejudice is going to make some people mad. Adam, did you do this movie to make some people mad and would you be upset if you didn’t make anybody mad?
Robert Smigel: “Just before Adam, the last thing we were doing was trying to antagonize anybody. When I said that quote, I was certainly not implying that I do sketches on Saturday Night Live with the intent of pissing people off. What I was trying to say was that any time you do comedy about sensitive subject matter, there are going to be people with passions on both sides who are ultimately going to find something offensive about it, because they have something invested in it.”
Rob Schneider: “I was just excited about it because I knew there was a great area to mine for humor that people hadn't been seeing before, and that was what excited them. And that was what excited me was like, ‘Oh my god, there are so many great jokes there.’ That was the fun working with Robert Smigel on Saturday Night Live.”
Adam Sandler: “That sounded good. No, my intention is never to hurt anybody. I'm happy when people are having a good time. And I’ve got to tell you if someone comes up to me and is offended by anything I've done in the past, I listen to them. I'm bummed out because I certainly don't, when we're working our asses off on the script and making the movie, I'm just picturing people having a great time. The fact that anybody walks away saying, ‘Oh man, I wish they didn't say that,’ that breaks my heart. We just want to make a funny movie. That's it.”