When the news broke that Adam Sandler had signed on for a fourth contracted feature film with Netflix, many people wondered how the veteran comedic actor would bring something new and refreshing to the array of stream-ready comedies that have been released recently. His specific brand of humor has always been family-friendly with a touch of slapstick absurdity, which audiences have been yearning for as of late.
The film, The Week Of, came out at the end of April, and has received favorable reviews in the month that has followed. The storyline is classic Sandler—two fathers with conflicting opinions on how to plan their children’s’ wedding—but the performance by breakout star Allison Strong is the most endearing aspect of the film.
To the film world, Allison is an unknown, but at 27, she has amassed a lifetime’s worth of experience in theatre. You could argue that she has spent the majority of her life preparing for life on the silver screen. But her path to stardom in a Netflix original was anything but conventional.
Raised in a quiet suburban town in Hudson County, New Jersey, Allison is of Colombian descent and is fluent in both English and Spanish. She admits she was “a really shy kid,” and as such, her mother encouraged her to take musical theatre classes to help encourage her to gain self-confidence.
At first, it was difficult. “I never got a solo because the teacher thought I couldn’t talk. But I would always sing in the car and beg my mom to beg for a solo for me,” she said.
Her mother went to bat for her, and eventually she landed the coveted solo at an end-of-the-year performance. Allison’s vocal performance left the audience speechless. “Everyone came up to us asking who my voice teacher was, saying I would be on Broadway one day,” Allison recalls.
Neither Allison nor her family had any professional musical theatre experience, but they trusted the opinions of those who did, and took a leap of faith. Allison began taking as many classes as her single, working-class mother could afford, and she began to amass a wealth of skills: singing, jazz, flamenco, ballet, tap, and acting. In a matter-of-fact sort of way, she recounts how she did, in fact, end up on Broadway, making her debut at 18, in Bye Bye Birdie.
The road to success was slow going at times, and Allison remembers her humble beginnings with fond bemusement: “It ended up taking up our schedule so much because we were basically living in our car and living off of Wendy’s and whatever was available to eat in strip malls,” she says.
Even at a young age Allison’s hard work paid off, helping open doors for her that would have been unimaginable otherwise. At 8, she auditioned over the phone for the Metropolitan Opera and began training amongst the elite. Emmy Rossum was one of her now-famous classmates.
In order to make performances in the city and live out what Allison remembers as a “very New York childhood,” she regularly missed school and skipped out on standardized tests. But her dedication to her dream landed her singing jobs and helped her score wins in a variety of talent competitions. At 10, she was the Oscar Mayer Weiner girl. “It was a shining moment in my childhood,” she laughs.
Amidst the whirlwind that was Allison’s exciting metropolitan adolescence, she remained a homebody with an understanding of where she came from. She continued to live in New Jersey with her mom through college, even after landing her Broadway role as a freshman. “It was always important to my mom that if I wanted something, I went after it. Completely,” she says.
She took her academics seriously, waking up before dawn to commute. As a junior, she landed a role in Mamma Mia! During her senior year, she chose to focus solely on studying and socializing, particularly with people outside of the theatre world. “It was a really weird dichotomy,” she recalls.
In 2016, Allison appeared on The Blacklist, and this past year was hand-selected by Adam Sandler to star as his character’s daughter, Sarah, in The Week Of. “Up until this point I had auditioned for mostly television and Broadway, so when I got this audition, I saw Adam Sandler, I thought, ‘This is really special’,” she says.
Her first impression was that he was “a good man, and such an incredible performer”—who just happened to be wearing basketball shorts. He was warm and friendly, inquiring about her Jersey upbringing and helping to build their onscreen rapport. “The first day we met was our first scene. We had to go into that father-daughter dynamic relatively quickly,” she says.
After the film wrapped, Allison approached director Robert Smigel to thank him, and was blindsided by the response she received: “He said, ‘Don’t thank me. Thank Adam. He picked you.’ Totally mind-blowing, especially when you grow up watching his films,” she says.