Surly Sean Penn was all smiles at the D.C. benefit premiere of “I Am Sam.”The oft-combustible star, famous for fisticuffs and barbed remarks toward reporters, photographers and one former wife, appeared jovial Tuesday at a tony pre-screening reception at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.Sporting a scraggly black goatee, Mr. Penn cozied up to Kennedys, Shrivers and Special Olympians celebrating the new film, in which he portrays a mentally disabled man trying to retain custody of his young daughter.
The screening, a benefit for Special Olympics, brought out the film’s stars and supporters Michelle Pfeiffer; “Sam” director Jessie Nelson; Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her husband, former Peace Corps Director R. Sargent Shriver; their sons Special Olympics Director Timothy Shriver and Maryland Delegate Mark Shriver; Rep. Jim Moran; former Redskins guard Tre Johnson, now with the Cleveland Browns; Redskins linebacker Shawn Barber; and Baltimore Ravens running back Terry Allen.
Sipping beverages alongside the rich and famous revelers were developmentally impaired actors Brad Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg. The stylishly attired duo share scenes with Mr. Penn in the film.
Mr. Penn dodged members of the Fourth Estate but posed agreeably for pictures and signed autographs for fans.
Miss Pfeiffer, his on-screen lawyer, proved more amenable to the studio’s publicity efforts, saying that “Sam” had corrected some of her previous misunderstandings about the disabled.
“I was reminded of how we, as human beings, are afraid of that which is different,” the actress said, her angular, glamorous face softening when she hugged and chatted up several Special Olympians. Her own generation, she said, was told “don’t stare” at those with disabilities, rather than being encouraged to engage them as individuals.
Making “Sam,” which opens nationwide today, “was a heart-opening experience,” she said.
Mr. Penn, her co-star, definitely was “in charge of his own performance,” she said. “Wind him up and let him go. From day one, he was spot-on.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who attracted nearly as many well-wishers as the Oscar-nominated actors, saluted the Special Olympics and the trickle-down effect it has had on its athletes’ lives.
“Successful achievement in sports translates into other accomplishments,” the longtime advocate for the disabled said.