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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Adam Sandler has played a wedding singer, a waterboy, a firefighter pretending to be gay, and the devil's son.
So it was likely just a matter of time before he ended up playing a tough-as-nails Israeli commando who secretly wants to be a hairdresser -- the wacky premise behind "You Don't Mess With The Zohan," his new comedy debuting in theaters on Friday.
Sandler, who hails from Brooklyn, New York, said the inspiration for "Zohan" dates back to his childhood when he heard stories about how tough the Israeli army was, even though the country was small.
"Anytime anyone comes after them, they take care of business," Sandler told reporters at a recent news conference, "As a Jewish kid, you were proud of that. So I admired them."
Later in life, Sandler said he hung out with many Israelis in California, went to their weddings and parties and "couldn't believe how insane it got."
"An Israeli guy who used to cut my hair, and I just thought it'd be funny to see an Israeli soldier, a bad-ass fearless warrior who had a little secret dream of wanting to do something else, but was embarrassed to share it with anyone," Sandler said.
Co-written by Sandler, writer/director Judd Apatow and "Saturday Night Live's" Robert Smigel, "Zohan" features a large ensemble cast that includes John Turturro and Chris Rock, and has cameos by the likes of Mariah Carey and John McEnroe.
Sandler portrays the title character who fakes his own death so that he can disappear to New York City and pursue his dream. But his violent past soon catches up with him, and Zohan finds himself in the middle of another war, this time between immigrant Israelis and Palestinians.
The premise may sound zany, or even offensive to some, but Sandler's ideas have scored big returns at U.S. box offices in recent years despite the fact they are often poorly reviewed by critics.
Last year's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," about two firemen who fake being gay in order to get better benefits from their jobs, raked in $120 million at U.S. box offices but scored only a 37 out of 100 on review Web site metacritic.com.
The movie was produced by Sandler's Happy Madison Productions in association with Relativity Media and is being distributed by Sony Corp and its Colombia Pictures unit.
Sandler said he pictured Zohan as being a stone-faced bad dude "like Charles Bronson in 'Death Wish,' that you're messing with the wrong guy ... that someone would come in and make light of what he does and think there's no possible way he could kick his ass," Sandler said.
But preparing to play a pumped-up Israeli commando was no laughing matter for the star, who hates working out and loves to eat. For "Zohan," he went to the gym more and ate less.
Learning to style hair was far easier although Sandler, who sports a buzz cut, admitted to having little interest in coiffures.
"I don't have a great hairdo. It's not great hair to touch. People get sickened by it," he joked. "For years I've been looking for the right stylist, and then I just started shaving it right to the bone, and realized that's the only way to make it look half-way decent."
But Sandler said cutting hair can be hard work and even a sort of art form.
"Usually when you sit in the chair to get a haircut, you're like, 'Just get this done, buddy,"' he said. Then, affecting one of his trademark goofy voices, he added, "Now I look at the guy and go, 'You gotta do some thinking back there."'
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh