Early on in Uncut Gems, there's a scene involving a couple diamond encrusted Furbies. Adam Sandler's character, Howard Ratner, is a jeweler, and these special, very expensive Furbies are one of his prized possessions. While Furbies are a real toy, these ones were created for the film. And it's a similar case for the lead character. Uncut Gems' Howard Ratner isn't a real person, but he is lightly inspired by a real guy.
Directors Josh and Benny Safdie, who wrote the film with Ronald Bronstein, were inspired by stories they'd heard about New York City's Diamond District from their father, who worked in the area when they were kids.
"He worked there for seven or eight years," Josh told The Wrap ahead of the film's December 13 release. "And he worked for a guy named Howard who was an outsider in the diamond district, a real character. Our Howard is not even a little bit like the real Howard, but there would be no our Howard without the real Howard." His brother, Benny, added, "It was an inspiration for us to think, 'Oh, this world can be explored and mined for these incredible stories and moments that could only exist on this block of 47th Street.'"
More specifically, the Safdie brothers' father was "a runner and a salesman," Josh explained to Deadline, "who worked for an eccentric guy who was trying to constantly earn his place." Of the accounts from his father, he said, "They were mini-pulp stories, and absurdly funny."
In the film, there are some humorous moments, but overall, Howard's story is dark and anxiety-inducing. Through his gambling addiction and constant need to repay debts, he puts his life at risk and sacrifices his relationships with his children and wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel). You can see how some outlandish story about a man in the Diamond District could inspire it, but in the movie, we're seeing this guy's life play out for an extended amount of time. That's much more intense.
The Safdie's came up with backstories for all of the characters, with many of the details going unmentioned on screen. For example, as Josh explained to GQ, they decided that Howard is obsessed with a photo he took with Miles Davis and tries to convince people he was friends with him. Also, "There was a thing about Howard showing up in a Puffy video," he added.
This background for Howard is how the bejeweled Furbies fit in, too. "When we actually had to come up with what a Howard thing would be, you look at his biography, and he made a name for himself in the late '90s. So what was popping in the late '90s? Oh, Furbies were the craze," Josh told GQ. "So then you look at a Furbie and see these sad eyes, and the meaning of the film jumps out at you when you think of encrusting a little living creature with gold and diamonds. And you see the eyes, and then you move the eyes and you realize, 'Oh, my God, they're totally afraid.' They don't understand what it is they're encased in."
So, you see, the real Howard might have been just some dude with zany stories, but the Howard of Uncut Gems is a gambler, a father, a basketball fan, a man who may have appeared in a Puff Daddy video, and an owner of jewel-encrusted Furbies.