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Movie Stars 17 Actors with Down Syndrome, Including Jefferson Park Teen

 Sam Petri plays Mickey O'Chuckles in
Sam Petri plays Mickey O'Chuckles in "The Curse of the Tempest Jewel."
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"The Curse of the Tempest Jewel."

CHICAGO — Like many teenage boys, Sam Petri started acting "to meet girls."

"I like to act. I like to be popular. It helps with the girls," said Petri, 16, of Jefferson Park.

Petri, who has Down syndrome and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, is a veteran actor of plays and musicals. He nabbed his first role in a feature film, "The Curse of the Tempest Jewel," a 47-minute flick written and directed by Lawrence Kern.  Released this year, the movie features a cast of 17 actors with Down syndrome searching for a legendary treasure.

The movie plays at 8:15 p.m. Sunday at McGuane Park, 2901 S. Poplar Ave., in Bridgeport.

Shooting for the film began last year at 14 locations throughout Chicago, including the Field Museum and a Chicago Police Department office. Petri played the role of bartender Mickey O'Chuckles, and his scenes were filmed at The Back Room Chicago bar in Gold Coast and the Field Museum.

"He always had a clear idea of what his [objectives] were during each take, was a natural in front of the camera, and was a fantastic scene partner throughout filming," Kern said of Petri. "I was very lucky to have him in my film and can't wait to work with him again."

Petri, a graduate of Norwood Park Elementary and a sophomore-to-be at Northtown Academy in North Park, said acting has helped boost his self-esteem. His mother, Mary, said her only child has become obsessed with the craft, spending several hours a week practicing or performing.

Sam Petri (r.) chats with director Lawrence Kern at The Back Room Chicago bar. [Mary Petri]

"Sam has just blossomed, and he has become a really good actor," Mary Petri said. "Some kids play baseball, some play basketball. Sam acts."

Mary Petri said she hopes the role eventually helps land Sam a spot in Hollywood. For now, she's enjoying her son's time on the big screen.

"It helps him with confidence and his ego and his ability to realize he can do anything," she said.

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