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How Kevin Garnett was casted for "Uncut Gems"

A role contended by Amar’e Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant and Joel Embiid

How Kevin Garnett was casted for Uncut Gems A role contended by Amar’e Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant and Joel Embiid

Amar’e Stoudemire should have been in the cast of "Uncut Gems" - the latest film by the Safdie brothers with an incredible Adam Sandler as an inveterate New York bettor who, in his spare time, is also a jeweler. There had to be Kobe Bryant  and at some point, there had to be Joel Embiid. And instead, Kevin Garnett was the chosen one, one of the most hated players by Josh Safdie: «because I'm a crazy Knicks fan, and my instinct when I saw the name of Kevin was “I hate him, I don't even want him close to mine films” he said in an interview with The Ringer. Kevin Garnett's name had come out mainly to meet the main need of the Safdie brothers: to tie the story of their film as much as possible to reality. In "Uncut Gems" (which in Italy is available on Netflix as "rough diamonds") in fact, Howard Ratner's addiction to gambling meets the NBA playoffs and their unpredictability. The Safdies wanted to use original footage from the NBA playoffs and, to do so, they had to find a series that suited their needs: a win-defeat-win sequence was ideal for their script. The turning point of "Uncut Gems" is, in fact, the existence of a rare Ethiopian stone, belonging to the black Jews, which Ratner imports in New York and loaned to Garnett - which is 2012, the year in which the film, it was to the Boston Celtics - who feels a "special connection with the stone".

The game that Garnett plays immediately after - game 3 of the playoff series against the 76ers - is one of the best of his career and his performance triggers a series of absurd events that culminate in game 7 of the same series, won by the Celtics thanks to another great test by Garnett. Kevin Garnett's acting skills proved more than enough for the test. As Brady Langman wrote on Esquire, this is not a classic test of mediocre actor of the NBA players (with all due respect to Michael Jordan and Space Jam), but the best ever put in place since the days of He Got Game or Bluechips: «With just one TV movie behind him, Garnett managed to channel the obsessive intensity of someone who can do anything on the pitch, in a fictitious version of himself that you can almost fear for Howard when the two meet ». Indeed, Safdie said, Garnett was able to do what the great actors often do and improvise, like when Howard Ratner asked him "who would win in a fight between Tony Allen and Ben Wallace?" And he replies "T.A. lifetime". The way to interpret Garnett's NBA games, as well as his entire career, is the thing that most resembles a play that can be seen on a parquet: in 2008 he literally got on his knees and began to bark at an opponent for who knows what reason. Garnett was one of the best trash-talkers in NBA history, a practice that has a lot to do with theater, in hindsight, and has a lot to do also with the atmosphere that the Safdie brothers have built for “Uncut Gems”, made of excruciating tension and an unreal passion for self-destruction. "Uncut Gems" is a New York movie and born to be such.

It was for this reason that the first choice for Garnett's role was Amar’e Stoudemire. As the Safdie brothers told Indiewire, contact with Stoudemire dates back to 2010: "The path to finding the player starts in 2010. It starts with Amar’'.Amar’ is Jewish, and therefore he could have this black Jewish connection. In that version of the script this part was in fact predominant ». However, when in 2015 the Safdies return to the project, the need arises to enter a bigger name to get more funding. And this is where the name of Kobe Bryant comes out.

The Safdie brothers completely rewrite the script, and the black opal becomes a sort of elixir of youth that should allow Kobe Bryant to return to the glories of the 61-point race. But the deal with Kobe also skips - it seems due to Kobe's willingness to have control over the director - and when the Safdies return to Stoudemire to sign him, the former Knicks center refuses to cut his dreadlocks to summarize the aspect of 2012. If "Uncut Gems" manages to masterfully convey an eternal feeling of insecurity, it is also because of its strange, absurd, casting story. Whenever the casting underwent changes, the Safdie completely rewrote the script: it was essential, in the evolution of the story, that the player who played the role could have a credible relationship with the rest of the script. Had Stoudemire been there, Howard Ratner would never have found himself cheering for the Celtics, a not indifferent self-torture for a Knicks. At one point they thought of writing Joel Embiid that being an African he could have opened up a new dimension, of criticism of colonialism, in the plot. But Embiid was perhaps too young - as well as in business - and his story had to be temporally intertwined with that of The Weeknd, which the Safdie had known during the writing of the film and who had convinced themselves to participate. Strong aesthetic and obsessive attention to detail (in addition to the proof by Sandler and Julia Fox) are the two things that have made "Uncut Gems" the masterpiece - snubbed by the Academy - that it is.

The setting of New York in the early '10s, the use of some archetypes of the New York Jew and costumes that fit perfectly with their time, the presence of Lakeith Stanfield (by far the most requested African American actor of the moment) have made "Uncut Gems" an instant cult. A basketball film where basketball is the backdrop to human misery, and where the NBA invades people's lives in a pervasive way. An NBA that is shown from afar, on TV: in fact, for the making of the film, the Safdies have not obtained any license from the League. They appealed to Fair Use, a law that allows the use of copyrighted material for a minimum length. This is why all the images of the game we see in "Uncut gems" are framed by the thousand Howard Ratner's televisions and never directly. In addition: "Fair Use" was one of the reasons why we could not change any element of the games at any point. The chronology of the races could not be alternated ». The ability of the Safdie brothers was to use all the temporal and bureaucratic constraints that faced him, and that allowed him to set up one of the best films on NBA basketball in recent history.