Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Real Reason The Weeknd Was In Uncut Gems

A 135-minute human system crash starring Adam Sandler as the world's most magnificently brilliant idiot, Uncut Gems was one of the best movies of 2019. Even more than their previous indie hit Good Time, Uncut Gems showcased filmmaking brothers Benny and Josh Safdie as leading American auteurs, with a vision and a sensibility unlike anything else in the game. No other director would have told the story of Howard Ratner (Sandler) and his gambling addiction the way they did.

To name just one example: Uncut Gems reinvigorated the art of the celebrity cameo. To fill out the rotating ensemble of Howard's friends, relatives, business associates, clients, and exasperated debt collectors, the Safdies sought out a host of unexpected yet note-perfect stars — like Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Tilda Swinton, Natasha Lyonne, and even legendary sports radio host Mike Francesa — all on a shoestring $19 million budget. To make the film's gritty New York world feel more authentic, several celebrities also made appearances as themselves — like NBA icon Kevin Garnett, who actually plays a central role in the story.

The most surprising and memorable cameo in Uncut Gems, however, might have been that of Abel Tesfaye, the music artist we all know and love as the Weeknd. The movie is set in 2012, back when the Weeknd's career was just getting off the ground. At one point in the film, Howard attends a party the Weeknd is hosting in order to retrieve the titular gem from his partner Demany (Stanfield). While there, Howard finds his girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox) and the Weeknd in a bathroom stall together, doing drugs and on the verge of hooking up, which leads to a raucous fistfight.

How did the Weeknd end up in such a wild indie movie, playing a version of himself that could be described as "far from glamorous"? The answer: He did it for the art.

The Weeknd is an inveterate cinephile and a friend of the Safdie brothers

As the Safdie brothers told Variety in a 2019 interview, the Weeknd is actually a friend of theirs. Not only that, but he's also a huge movie-lover. "Real cinephile. Like, one of his favorite filmmakers is [David] Cronenberg, and that makes sense, because he's from Toronto. But he watches a lot of movies," said Josh Safdie. "He's always looking for stuff. I remember when he was living in Paris for a minute. He got close with Gaspar Noé and they were just matching movies all day, all night, hitting me up: 'Have you heard of this movie Angst?' 'Of course!'"

Other outlets — and the Weeknd's own work — have confirmed this information. According to IndieWire, the Weeknd is a huge fan of French experimental auteur Claire Denis, and was about to shoot a project with her before the pandemic hit. Additionally, his music videos are chock-full of nerdy movie references (via Vice). So when the opportunity arose to play a part in the Safdie brothers' sprawling farcical vision, the Weeknd was more than game — and even went out of his way to make sure his performance would be just right.

"He was very specific about the kind of character he wanted to play," Benny Safdie told Variety. To help make the movie more period-accurate, the Weeknd filled the Safdies in on the specifics of what his career and aesthetic were like in 2012, including his signature hairstyle. He made a point of singing live for the scene in which he performs "The Morning" at the party, and the fight scene with Adam Sandler was done without any stunt doubles.

The Weeknd's commitment to Uncut Gems extended to him getting together with composer Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, to record five ultimately scrapped original songs for the soundtrack. This meeting of minds proved momentous in both men's career, as it led to the Weeknd bringing Lopatin on as one of the key producers on his instant-classic album After Hours (via GQ).