The Safdie Brothers’ 2019 film “Uncut Gems” was a great success but like most movies, it went through a tedious process of finding the perfect cast. They landed big names such as Adam Sandler and Kevin Garnett. But interestingly, the biggest basketball star of them all - Kobe Bryant - didn't make the cut.
Josh Safdie, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with his brother Benny, pulled the curtains to reveal the tedious process of making the film, especially the casting process. The Safdies entertained all possibilities. Their agency suggested they cast Kobe Bryant, who was in his final season in the NBA. Kobe was a good choice, but then the filmmakers were adamant about him, especially because of his background in relation to the film’s milieu.
“But about 2015–2016, we were having trouble getting financing, finding the right person to star as Howard, and our agency suggested casting up and going with Kobe Bryant. But Kobe — they didn’t understand the themes of the movie. He’s a West Coast person, we needed East Coast games. Because we had to write around the reality of the games,” Josh Safdie said, per Vulture.
But the script was malleable enough at that point to accommodate a West coast kid like Bryant. And so they revised the script with Bryant’s 61-point game at Madison Square Garden in mind.
“But then I was like, ‘You know what? There’s this one game at the Garden that Kobe dropped 60 points. Let’s make that the gem game. And the gem will become a youth elixir, and [the movie will] be about reminding everybody who’s the man.’ In that version, Howard’s like trying to reclaim his initial win. And, so then we spent two weeks rewriting the whole script, changing the vibe and the themes of the film,” Josh Safdie added.
Directed by Kobe Bryant
After two weeks in their writing hole, the Safdies came out with a revised script. Kobe Bryant was now the superstitious NBA baller bewildered by the mysterious opal. But then, their road to making the film encountered another left turn. Kobe did not want to be in front of the camera. He wanted to be behind it.
“And then our agents are like, ‘No, no, no. He doesn’t want to act anymore. He wants to direct.’ And I’d just spent two weeks fucking writing this thing! He’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to send it to him.’ I was like, ‘What the f**k?!’”
With Kobe fully out of the picture, the Safdies went back to Joel Embiid, then to Amar’e Stoudemire (their first choice), then to a list of other retired players available, and saw Kevin Garnett's name. The rest, as they say, is history. The making of “Uncut Gems” was a journey filled with left turns. Good thing it turned out to be a masterpiece.