The actor turned author speaks his thinker about pundits, insolent aid design, the mania-led # MeToo movement, and why his ex-wives find him boring

Sean Penn saunters into a low-key restaurant not far from his house and slides undetected into a seat at the back. It is a misty day in Malibu, 15 miles north of LA, and the actor appears in familiar, I-don’t-care semblance: beat-up leather jacket, brushfire “hairs-breadth”( which, in light of the views he will air about female egotism in Hollywood, I feel bound to report may be more vibrant than sort planned ), with the jumpy force of a soul who has stood for too long next to very loud orators. The 57 -year-old reacts me affably, to my amaze: while Penn may be long admired for his acting, he is defamed for almost everything else. He is known to be pugnacious, short-tempered, long-winded, a boy who outcries at photographers and smokes on Tv. And now he has written a lunatic romance.” It’s the most fun I’ve had professionally ,” he croaks and leanings back in his chair.

A few epoches before our join, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff was the subject of a full-page newspaper ad in which the publishers, preferably cleverly, moved ways from the book’s worst reviews and questioned readers to make up their own heads. The fiction, which follows the adventures of its eponymous hero as he goes around exchanging septic tank and murdering old parties, is a satire of American shopper culture and the cult of persona, and for weeks its plethoras have been gleefully documented. Penn writes as if every parole has been put through a thesaurus: for “face”, read” dermal concealment “; for “quiet”, ” linger concert of stillnes “; a boy with good hearing has ” astonishing auditory augmentation economy “. So it goes on, until we reach:” Effervescence lived in her every cellular saying, and she had spizzerinctum to spare .”

Cherrypicking these exaggerations provides us with a moderately good laugh, but here’s the curious happening: taken as a whole, there is something quite thrilling about Bob Honey, a hallucinatory effect that establishes the novel at times almost feel like a piece of action art. Linger long enough in the world of Penn’s prose and one starts to lose all purchase on reality, a sort of brain slide that Penn insists was intentional.” It was meant to be challenging ,” he says.” Meant to have you stop-the-rhythm to go and look something up .” If he talks in a word fog, it is because he prefers” to be understood by osmosis. If I’m being summary, I premise[ beings] will fill in, or if I am not being brief”- the far greater likelihood, on the evidence of our chit-chat-” the tangents would be connected by the other person .” He hoped the book might work along similar lines.

Sean
Penn in 2003′ s Mystic River, for which he triumphed a best performer Oscar. Photograph: Allstar

The result, while predominantly absurd, does elicit an emotional response in the reader and for that reason alone might be judged a success.” I author the Sean-by-osmosis version in about 30 dates ,” Penn says, after which” I rewrote for two years”, before selling it to Simon& Schuster, where” I were lucky; Peter[ Borland] altogether got the book. I felt I was being supported by a really smart reader .”

Was he revised?

” He wasn’t looking to change anything ,” Penn says cheerfully.” But he did send me great greenbacks which said,’ I don’t understand this. Do you want me to ?'”( In most cases Penn replied “yes”; in some,” not so much better “.) The suggest he was indulged because of his celebrity is one he knows baffling.” No, because I wouldn’t have done it another way. When parties listen to the advice they get, it generally robs the feeling of the article. In the movies, they’re not thinking about whether it has impact on them; they’re thinking about whether it will influence the box office .”

This rather quaint view of writing- as an industry devoid of commercial-grade the rules and certainly not the kind of business that might judge a work by a famed performer to have greater value as a car gate-crash than as something more credible- is the main source of Penn’s enthusiasm for romance creating, which he sees as a less liaised pattern of showing than behaving. But why would he trade in something he is indisputably world class at- Penn has won two Oscars, for Milk and Mystic River– for something he is indisputably not? The refute is burnout, what he announces” my great root of estrangement from my peers, actors who would rather sell a movie than make one “. Where these actors are “brands”, and where even a movie he desires” is the sum of settlements at its best”, Bob Honey, by oppose, is” all mine. It’s been said you never ended a movie, you abandon it, and I didn’t abandon this. I stand by every thread exactly how I created it .”

Has he appreciated the worst reviews?” I have a sense of them. It’s keep-your-day-job shit. A cluster of children, schadenfreude, whatever. And in the end, some of the best chortles I’ve got ought to have the one-liners that have come out of the worst reviews .”

Through long espousal of leftwing politics, including vocal protests against the Iraq war and support of Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro, Penn is used to being unpopular. Does it hurt to be mocked?” Well, lampooned intends the person’s an idiot .” Penn smiles crookedly and shutters his lids.” I’m not susceptible at all .”

Sean
Shaking sides with Mexican drug lord El Chapo. Photograph: Sean Penn/ Rolling Stone

There are two portraits of Sean Penn that contender the storage of his greatest screen capacities. Up there with Carlito’s Way, or Dead Man Walking, or his role as Harvey Milk– the 2008 biopic of California’s first gay elected official and a performance for which one could nearly forgive Penn any amount of bad behaviour off-screen- there is the shot of him in a boat rescuing survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and the one of his handshake with Mexican drug lord El Chapo.

The latter, taken 2 years ago when Penn interviewed El Chapo for Rolling Stone, fetched down on his head almost as much opprobrium as Bob Honey, for its recognized amateurism and for the way it seemed to apologise for a follower with so much blood on his hands. Penn remains unrepentant.” Simply because person writes about nonsense doesn’t mean they know about it. I know papas who don’t know their own families. Most of these journalists on this subject know – uh – – nothing and most never speak my patch. They speak the excerpts. Then you get a talking head like a Don Winslow[ on CNN ], I’ve read his works cover to cover and he’s a functioning moron, and parties think he’s something. That’s their tenant expert. It’s like Henry Kissinger is their occupant expert .”

The gung-ho activism is more complicated and, on closer inspection, much more admirable than the caricature proposes. If there is precedent for Penn wading into a activity about which he knows nothing and nailing it through sheer bloody-mindedness, it is here, in his experiences with aid.

In 2010, Penn went to Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake and set up the J/ P Haitian Relief Organization, an agency that has, by all details, been enormously successful and helped thousands of Haitians find shelter and medical succour. In a piece in the New York Times in 2011, by which time Penn had been in Haiti for nearly a year, ex-serviceman assistant works lined up to praise him. The was a matter of what he was doing in Haiti in the first place has beginnings in his inability to find equilibrium at home. The very persuasive passages in Bob Honey are those in which Penn scribbles of his character’s insomnia. When I ask if this comes from experience, he takes a big breath.” So this goes back as far as I, or my mother, can recollect. I was born at 3.45 am and I generally fall asleep at 3.45 am. I’ve been to Zen centres, done sleep investigates, everything. I could never get myself to go to sleep. I’d get up, sometimes, with no sleep at all. And I was getting older, so I wasn’t able to push through this thing mentally .” Eventually a medical doctor prescribed Ambien:” But it doesn’t work like it used to. It doesn’t save me asleep, but I get to sleep and at least get three hours. Then you’re watching the clock for the time you have to get up, and it’s getting closer and closer .”

Some of Penn’s wilder behaviour obligates more gumption, perhaps, when looked at in the context of a husband who has never had more than three unbroken hours’ sleep.

” Yuh. Judgment questions ,” he says, heightening his eyebrows in what is almost certainly a reference to the time, in 2009, when a court represented him attend anger management grades after an altercation with a photographer.

It probably didn’t improve your temper, I suggest.

” No. Nor the envisages that lead to a temperamental response .”

Sean
With Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way. Photograph: Allstar

One result of this is that Penn often feels himself to operate best in crisis mode. He repeats a line from Cutter’s Way, a movie from 1981 starring Jeff Bridges and John Heard in which the status of women kills herself to get away from her alcoholic spouse, and the final pipeline of which is:” You know, the number grind drives me to suck. Tragedy, I take straight .”

” There’s been a lot of that in “peoples lives” ,” Penn says and he associates it, obliquely, to how he is able to function effectively in a destabilised situation such as Haiti after the earthquake.” I remember tragedy can also be urgency. I find myself proceeding appease, and being necessitate. I can bring an American arrogance to anywhere in the nations of the world .” He smiles.” Look, in the movie business you tell your crew:’ I need this set done yesterday .’ When I got to Haiti and I saw how NGOs cultivated, it would be like:’ This case needs this , now, and this is the person to get in touch with .’ Then I had six other people asking me six other things. When I clique back half an hour later to the first one and said,’ Did you get onto ?’ they said,’ We’re waiting for a response, we sent an email .’ I said,’ You cast an email? Give me your telephone, I’m going to call .’ And it drove me fucking mad .”

Pretty promptly, Penn’s outfit became known as an bureau that got things done quicker than the NGOs and he announces it” the most wonderful kind of work to do in an emergency, because it’s disaster related “. It was triage. He gestures.” It’s the easiest, commonsense run. There’s a kid in the street, a truck’s going to hit it, do you know that the sidewalk is clear of paedophiles? No. I’ll realize my confessions later .”

It is fascinating that the self-important urgency of a Hollywood movie define can be translated to a disaster zone, but really thought about it, Penn says:” It’s the same business, the stakes are higher .” There’s even overlap with the hygiene logistics of shooting a movie.” You’ve gotta get porta potties for parties .”

Sean
Rescuing survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Photograph: Getty Epitome

Was he surprised when allegations were done last year that assistant works, including Roland Van Hauwermeiren, the head of Oxfam in Haiti, applied copulation craftsmen?” I don’t know why it wasn’t a bigger gossip earlier. I was reading about it in the Haitian press when I was in Haiti in the beginning. Roland Van Hauwermeiren was probably the best country director of an organization there. Of direction, you’re not the best anything if you’re looking the other way on that stuff. Or, worse yet, if you’re participating .”

In his own organisation, Penn had a policy of” no indulgence” privilege down to the rule that” if you smoke one joint, you’re fired “. In fact he aimed up loosening the doses regulate for his indigenous laborers, because” how am I holding that when my neighbourhood proletarians went back to their homes at night? I stopped being an idiot with that .” For the imports, principally Americans or Brits, nonetheless,” You don’t come to this country to break its own legislation .”

And when someone in his organisation did disintegrate a general rule? Well, Penn says,” There’s no organisation, including my own, where you don’t have something happen. And you deal with it; you certainly want to take it transparent .” The cover-up, he says, is the biggest problem.” I’ve known of situations where large-scale organisations discovered something and did investigation into the cases, and fuelled mortal- and because they didn’t want a suit from that person, another organisation would hire them; it’s like overtake on pastors. In our organisation, I’d get on the phone to whoever the violator was and say,’ If I hear you are ever trying to get a job in one of these organisations, I’m coming to your home city, and I’m going to rent out the movie theatre and indicate a documentary about you and make sure your mothers are there .'”

Why does he remember an assistant craftsman, who probably starts out with good planneds, gets to the point of manipulating hopeles maidens this course?” I can have beliefs ,” Penn says,” but they’re the same ideologies one would apply to someone who abuses their children. How do you do that ?”

In light of these life-or-death stakes, Penn is unsympathetic to what he seems to regard as more inconsequential abuses closer together, particularly those involving celebrity exposure. A week before we satisfy, he sounded in the gossip columns for dining with Charlie Rose, the humiliation former Tv multitude fuelled from PBS and CBS for inappropriate action around female personnel. Penn is not, it is safe to say, on board with #MeToo, which he describes as” not intellectually honest”,” a push led by mania” and full of” self-aggrandisement and expressing “. At the end of Bob Honey, he scribbles a song defending Charlie Rose and appearing to lament the downfall of Louis CK.

Sean
With former spouse Robin Wright, in 2009. Photograph: Getty Epitome

Clearly, I say, Penn reckons his pal was mistreated.

” He says one thing happened; other people said one other thing happened. I wasn’t there. What I do think is we maybe should be very careful; for example, are we now going to say we will never celebrate Thomas Jefferson again: slave incumbent, that’s all you are? Charlie Rose provided one of the only sophisticated exchange programs, and I don’t know what percentages per are, but I know that there are some lies that have been told publicly about beings; I know of some serious omissions. I’m talking about women towards souls .” This is a personal issue for Penn, who in 2016 won a court-appointed apology from the chairman Lee Daniels, who erroneously implied the actor was guilty of domestic violence.

Romantic relationships don’t seem to be Penn’s strong point. The worst fragments of Bob Honey are those involving the character’s ex-wife, a harridan announced Helen, about whom he is so ferocious, I had wondered whether Penn’s own ex-wife might have commented on it. Penn gives me a dry examine.” Which ex-wife ?” he says.

Oh. I had momentarily forgotten about Madonna, to whom Penn was married from 1985 to 1989.” The father of your minors ,” I say.( Penn and Robin Wright, who were married for 14 years, have Dylan and Hopper, both in their 20 s .)

” No; these attributes are mergers of a lot of things and she’s not a character in the book .” Penn interrupts.” I don’t think the book would be either one of my ex-wives’ cup of tea. They both are of the view that I talked too much in ways that were too complicated .” He giggles.” I don’t have a lot of a discussion with my most recent ex, but my first ex, we have a close friendship .”

What does he think Madonna would say about the book?” I think if she was reading it, she’d say, ugh, I’ll read this some other time .”

Anyway, Penn says, returning to the subject of # MeToo,” I don’t ever want to be in a change. I don’t trust any move. The anti-war movement did not sustain. We’re back in conflicts .”

But going back to his sidekick Charlie, surely the lesson of this is: don’t stray around naked in front of your faculty if you don’t want to get sacked.” I don’t do not agree with that ,” Penn says.” I go back to my original concept, which is that if that’s what the individual that happened to is asking for, then they have a legal lawsuit to go through, or the company has a decision to clear. But where the corporation is realise that decision under the pressure of … a movement that is led by mania, I get obsessed for both[ backs ].”

There is a libertarian blotch in Penn that is impossible to miss. I recited a wince-making line from Bob Honey, which Penn almost certainly considers to be a liberal statement:” Getting older in America is tough on a woman; insuring what she’ll do to avoid it is tough on a gentleman .” I usurp Penn approved of Frances McDormand‘s unadorned form at the Oscars this year?

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With Madonna, in 1986.’ She’s such a good egg ,’ says Penn. Photograph: WireImage

He takes a big breath:” When my teenagers were growing up, there was a thing called the surgery channel and I would watch this thing and get into hysterical laughter. One slice and you’re a human body! We’re the fucking same! But where I truly became a giggling 12 -year-old girl was volunteering for cosmetic surgery: “youve had” someone who’s anaesthetised, and they’re doing the most vile things to them, and I would get so hysterical. You bring up Frances McDormand. What do you do to be more beautiful than that? That fucking female moves into a room and you don’t know if you want to kiss her, ingest her farts or pierce her toes off, you exactly want to be around that vigor .” As resisted, he says, to” the pride that stumbles on the side of violence against oneself, physical violence. It’s crazy .”

But there are market actions at romp. You’re still viable as a leading man at 57; a woman is not.” But isn’t it changing? There’s Meryl out there. Likewise, in the interests of social/ sexual part of it, I conceive more and more- I symbolize my ex-wife only married a 30 -year-old guy she encountered 2 month earlier.[ Wright is reported to have married a French manner PR manager earlier this year .] You see that dynamic shifting. When I would try to console a woman in the business who maybe wasn’t getting the possibilities of I was because they were the status of women, I’d say, well, which components are you not going? Because, follower or female, most sides are shit. Most movies are shit. If you look at the really talented wives- Julianne Moore never has trouble getting a responsibility. The openings are there .”

Does he understand why his countrymen voted for Trump?

” I have a pretty good meaning. We became celebritised ,” he says.” I don’t buy Beings periodical. But when people complain that someone took a picture of them or that their privacy is being invaded, I’m like, yeah? Fuck you. I just invested my entire adult life with you telling me that because I want to express myself as relevant actors, that that comes with the territory. Well, it comes with the territory for you , now, and you bought those fucking People periodicals. You prepared that happen .” He is jabbing his paw at me across the table.” When I go like this, I’m not at my very best ,” he says.” So two sides that are not at their best, it gets very shallow .” Penn has a disdain for the idea of the personal brand.” Branding is being! Branding is being! The algorithm of modern binary existentialism ,” he copies in Bob Honey, a line I read out to him now.

“Yeah,” says Penn, lowering his eyes and looking sage.

What does” the algorithm of modern binary existentialism” mean? He snarls his eyes open.” Well. Binary- two components. When you’re taking an algorithm that’s going to identify the two components, and, there are, I ponder I talk about in the book also … it’s America today .” There complies a long story about how easy it is to buy ingredients for a bombard in the US.

” I’ve just gone off on the word binary. But I think it’s self-explanatory, in there. Huh .”

Anyway, he says, the same reasons beings voted for Trump is” because I think there’s a mental health problem in this country. It’s fury over reason. There’s a lot going on that was going on in Nazi Germany; we’re receive scapegoats, radicals to dislike, whether it be of a race, or so-called lefty Hollywood, so that’s part of why I want to write something- I simply have my sense of humour to offer. I didn’t want to exactly be angry all the time .”

And he isn’t. There is an underlying humour to Penn’s rantings that is often lost in translation and while I find much of what he says moronic, egotistical and sometimes delusional, to my stun, I likewise find him amiable and funny- a sincere American eccentric.

As we get up to leave, I can’t help chuckling.” Sorry. I preserve thinking about the fact that Madonna thought you were boring .”

” I desire her ,” Penn says, and chortles. Is she a good egg?” Such a good egg .”

We go outside to his pick-up truck and he introduces me to Flyboy, his six-month-old golden retriever. After Penn has extended, I call a friend with a degree in logic.” Does’ the algorithm of modern binary existentialism’ mean anything ?” I expect. After the laughter has died down, he says,” I think he intends … in modern life everything is black and white. But existentialism refers to a specific tradition in doctrine; he surely exactly makes life .” No subject; Penn has a lot more to say. Before leaving he told me: he is hard at work on Bob Honey, the sequel.

* Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff by Sean Penn issued by Simon& Schuster at PS14. 99. To guild a facsimile for PS12. 74, go to guardianbookshop.com or see 0330 333 6846.

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