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<i>White Oleander</i> Unites Pfeiffer, Lohman in Drama About Murder, Mothers and Daughters

A best-selling novel about mothers, daughters and the damage each can inflict is now a dramatic film starring Michelle Pfeiffer and newcomer Alison Lohman. Alan Silverman has a look at White Oleander.

Adapted from the novel by Janet Fitch, White Oleander takes its title from the hardy plant with beautiful blossoms that conceal deadly poison.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays fiercely independent Ingrid, an artist and single mother raising her daughter, Astrid. In a jealous rage, Ingrid murders her lover and young Astrid, played by Alison Lohman, becomes a ward of the state, shuffled between foster families and government-run youth homes.

Novelist Fitch says fans of the book should n-o-t be surprised by changes in the film and neither was she.

"I went to film school [briefly] and I've actually had the privilege of trying to bring even a short narrative to some kind of visual reality, " Fitch explains. "I've seen the changes in just a three minute film from what I had written to what I could actually do in physical reality. Things come up and people have ideas and it takes on a life of its own, so I was prepared for that."

Alison Lohman says the international best seller helped her understand more about the character of Astrid.

"I think it's always a challenge creating a character, especially making a book into a film, because for me, the book is always better," says Lohman. I read the book before I even knew there was a script. The book is 400 pages long ant it's hard to incorporate that into a movie. So obviously, the book is going to have more to it than the script."

Like daughters everywhere, Astrid has to come to terms with her relationship with her mother, from whose shadow she's desperate to emerge. Michelle Pfeiffer says the tough-as-nails Ingrid is also a significantly different character for her.

"I have to say that off all the characters I've ever played, this is a big departure for me," admits Pfeiffer. "I have never met anybody like this and hopefully never will; but it was liberating to play a character that it didn't matter how sympathetic she was. With this kind of character people are going to come away feeling all kinds of different things, so you go into it trying to find places to keep her human."

Pfeiffer says finding the right balance was hard and admits that she doesn't really like the character.

"I didn't like doing this part," she says. It was hard. It's not that I'm unhappy that I did it. It's like facing your fear. You say ' I'm glad I did that, but now I've done that and I don't need to do that again.' The way this particular character was crafted was really hard."

White Oleander is the American film debut for English director Peter Kosminsky. The cast also features Renee Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn, Patrick Fugit and Noah Wyle.