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Adam Sandler

Comedian exhibits dramatic range

Critical analysis: “The film is exhilarating to watch because Sandler, liberated from the constraints of formula, reveals unexpected depths as an actor.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Awards pedigree: Golden Globe nom for “Punch Drunk Love.” American Comedy Award nomination in 1999 for “The Wedding Singer”; 1999 MTV Movie Award, comedic performance, “The Waterboy”; 1997 ShowEast, comedy star of the year

Upcoming: “Anger Management” (Columbia Pictures) with Jack Nicholson, directed by Peter Segal, will open next summer.

Moviegoers accustomed to Adam Sandler’s usual bigscreen one-two punch of repressed anger and broad schtick may have been surprised by his more serious turn as Barry Egan in “Punch-Drunk Love.” He played a character with deep-seated rage — without the slapstick.

Critics responded positively to the movie…and to Sandler’s unusually nuanced approach.

But JoAnne Sellar, who produced the movie with Daniel Lupi, didn’t find Sandler’s deft handling of Egan’s character shocking. After all, long-time Sandler fan and director Paul Thomas Anderson had written the role specifically for the comedian, and Sellar says the helmer and lead met often to bounce ideas around while Anderson wrote the script.

“Paul saw (the) characters Adam portrayed before in movies, gleaned from that and went and wrote Barry Egan,” she says. “I don’t think it was a complete departure for him.

“I wasn’t that familiar with Adam’s work before and I was kind of blown away by his passion for the project.”

Anderson’s idea for the movie came from real-life pudding guy David Phillips, an engineer who bought 12,150 cups of Healthy Choice pudding for $3,000 and turned it into over 1 million frequent-flier miles. He optioned the rights to Phillips’ story and wrote Egan for Sandler. Then he wrote the part of Egan’s unlikely love interest, Lena Leonard, for Emily Watson.

Sellar says she wasn’t so sure of the pairing at first, but “as it turned out, they had this really great chemistry together.”

Watson agrees. “I watched a lot of ‘Saturday Night Live’ tapes and found that I really loved (Adam’s) sense of humor,” she says. “There are all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies in his work that Paul has shone a light on.”