Penn pal influence helps to elevate perf

OSCAR QUOTIENT

PROS: More than a pretty face, Pfeiffer has Oscar credibility.

CONS: It may be tough to draw attention next to Penn.

Michelle Pfeiffer describes “I Am Sam” as a soul-cleansing experience, and by all accounts, it’s hard to contradict her.

Pfeiffer plays Rita Harrison, an angry, marshmallow-popping high-powered attorney who’s lost in life until she stumbles upon the mentally challenged Sam Dawson, portrayed by Sean Penn.

Richard Solomon, a producer for the film, calls Pfeiffer’s role thankless compared to Penn’s colorful character, but admits, “She’s the dramatic anchor of the film.”

Jessie Nelson, the pic’s director, writer and co-producer, agrees.

“I don’t think it’s a thankless role, but I think it is certainly a harder role,” says Nelson. “She’s the touchstone for Sean’s performance.”

Pfeiffer appreciates the praise, but believes it was the involvement of mentally challenged actors Brad Allan Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg that enhanced her performance.

“It’s impossible not to be real around them,” conveys Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer and Nelson collaborated on several script changes, including the scene when Rita takes on Sam’s case of keeping custody of his daughter. The actress felt that her character wouldn’t take on a client purely out of guilt, and that was addressed in the rewrite.

This type of involvement made “Sam” a profound experience for Pfeiffer.

“I guess I just feel so enriched from having done it in a way that I never anticipated,” says the three-time Oscar-nominated actress. “Rita has this line in the movie where she says, ‘I’m afraid I’ve gotten more out of this relationship than you,’ and I really feel like that was the case with me as well. I really came away from this movie having gotten more out of it than perhaps what I contributed to it.”

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