The actor turned columnist speaks his intellect about commentators, haughty facilitate study, the mania-led # MeToo movement, and why his ex-wives find him boring

Sean Penn strolls 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 hair( which, in light of the views he will air about female vanity in Hollywood, I feel bound to report may be more vibrant than sort planned ), with the skittish vigour of a man who has stood for too long next to very loud talkers. The 57 -year-old accosts me affably, to my astound: while Penn may be long admired for his acting, he is disparaged for almost everything else. He is known to be pugnacious, short-tempered, long-winded, a soul who shrieks at photographers and inhales on Tv. And now he has written a lunatic novel.” It’s the most fun I’ve had professionally ,” he croaks and reclines back in his chair.

A few daytimes before our satisfy, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff was the issues of a full-page newspaper ad in which the publishers, instead cleverly, extended texts from the book’s worst reviews and asked readers to make up their own imaginations. The tale, which follows the escapades of its eponymous hero as he goes around selling septic tank and assassinating old people, is a satire of American shopper culture and the sect of epitome, and for weeks its excess have been gleefully documented. Penn writes as if every text has been put through a thesaurus: for “face”, read” dermal concealment “; for “quiet”, ” linger symphony of stillnes “; a boy with good hearing has ” remarkable auditory augmentation economy “. So it gone on, until we are to achieve:” Effervescence lived in her every cellular show, and “shes had” spizzerinctum to spare .”

Cherrypicking these follies provides us with a moderately good laugh, but here’s the peculiar thing: taken as a whole, there is something quite thrilling about Bob Honey, a hallucinatory aftermath that sees the tale at times virtually feel like a piece of accomplishment prowes. Linger long enough in the nations of the world of Penn’s prose and one starts to lose all purchase on world, a sort of brain slide that Penn contends 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 opts” to be understood by osmosis. If I’m being brief, I presume[ people] will fill in, or if I am not being brief”- the far greater likelihood, on the evidence of our chat-” the tangents would be connected by the other person .” He hoped the book might work along similar lines.

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

The result, while largely insane, does provoke an psychological response in the reader and for the above reasons alone might be judged a success.” I wrote the Sean-by-osmosis version in about 30 epoches ,” Penn says, after which” I rewrote for two years”, before selling it to Simon& Schuster, where” I got lucky; Peter[ Borland] entirely 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 observes which said,’ I don’t understand this. Do you are trying to ?'”( In most cases Penn replied “yes”; in some,” not so much “.) The suggestion he was indulged because of his personality is one he notes mystifying.” No, because I wouldn’t have done it another way. When people listen to the advice they get, it usually robs the someone of the fragment. In the movies, they’re not thinking about whether it has impact on them; they’re thinking about whether it will affect the box office .”

This rather quaint view of producing- as an manufacture devoid of commercial-grade guiding principles and certainly not the kind of business that might judge a volume by a famous performer to have greater value as a auto accident than as something more credible- is the main source of Penn’s enthusiasm for fiction writing, which he sees as a less liaised anatomy of showing than playing. But why would he trade in something he is indisputably world class at- Penn has prevailed two Oscars, for Milk and Mystic River– for something he is indisputably not? The explanation is burnout, what he announces” my great informant of separation from my peers, performers who would rather sell a movie than make one “. Where these actors are “brands”, and where even a movie he desires” represents the sum of endangers at its best”, Bob Honey, by differentiate, is” all mine. It’s been said you never terminated a movie, you abandon it, and I didn’t abandon this. I stay where you are every direction exactly how I wrote it .”

Has he verified the worst reviews?” I have a sense of them. It’s keep-your-day-job shit. A bunch of children, schadenfreude, whatever. And in the end, some of very best titters 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 scorned?” Well, lampooned signifies the person’s an idiot .” Penn smiles crookedly and shutters his lids.” I’m not vulnerable at all .”

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

There are two images of Sean Penn that rival the recognition of his greatest screen personas. Up there with Carlito’s Way, or Dead Man Walking, or his capacity as Harvey Milk– the 2008 biopic of California’s first lesbian elected official and a action for which there is an opportunity nearly forgive Penn any quantity 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 two years ago when Penn interviewed El Chapo for Rolling Stone, introduced down on his head almost as much opprobrium as Bob Honey, for its comprehended amateurism and for the way it seemed to apologise for a human with so much blood on his hands. Penn remains unrepentant.” Only because someone writes about substance doesn’t mean they know about it. I know parents who don’t know their own families. Most of these writers on this subject know fucking nothing and most never read my section. They read the excerpts. Then you get a talking head like a Don Winslow[ on CNN ], I’ve read his journals cover to cover and he’s a functioning moron, and people think he’s something. That’s their inhabitant expert. It’s like Henry Kissinger is their resident expert .”

The gung-ho activism is more complicated and, on closer inspection, much more admirable than the caricature indicates. If there is precedent for Penn slogging 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 organization that has, by all accounts, been enormously successful and helped thousands of Haitians find shelter and medical succor. In a piece in the New York Times in 2011, by which time Penn had been in Haiti for almost a year, ex-serviceman aid craftsmen lined up to praise him. The question of what he was doing in Haiti in the first place has beginnings in his inability to find equilibrium at home. The most persuasive passages in Bob Honey are those in which Penn writes 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 remember. I was born at 3.45 am and I generally were sleeping at 3.45 am. I’ve been to Zen cores, done sleep studies, everything. I could never get myself to sleep. I’d get up, sometimes, with no sleep at all. And I was going older, so I wasn’t able to push through this thing mentally .” Eventually a doctor prescribed Ambien:” But it doesn’t work like it access to. It doesn’t obstruct 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 practice moves more gumption, perhaps, when looked at in the purposes of the a serviceman who has never had more than three unbrokens hours’ sleep.

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

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

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

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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 mentions a line from Cutter’s Way, a movie from 1981 starring Jeff Bridges and John Heard in which a woman kills herself to get away from her alcoholic spouse, and the final position of which is:” You know, the routine grind drives me to booze. Tragedy, I take straight .”

” There’s been a lot of that in “peoples lives” ,” Penn says and he relates it, obliquely, to how he is able to function effectively in a destabilised context such as Haiti after the quake.” I guess tragedy can also be urgency. I find myself starting tranquilize, and being involve. I can bring an American arrogance to anywhere in 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 made, it would be like:’ This patient 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 firstly one and said,’ Did you get wise ?’ they said,’ We’re waiting for a response, we transmitted an email .’ I said,’ You communicated an email? Give me your phone, I’m going to call .’ And it drove me fucking mad .”

Pretty soon, Penn’s outfit became known as an agency that got things done quicker than the NGOs and he calls it” the most wonderful kind of work to do in an emergency, because it’s disaster associated “. It was triage. He gestures.” It’s the most wonderful, commonsense work. There’s a kid in wall street, a truck’s going to slam it, do you know that the sidewalk is clear of paedophiles? No. I’ll construct my apologetics later .”

It is fascinating that the self-important urgency of a Hollywood movie laid 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 sanitation logistics of shooting a movie.” You’ve gotta get porta potties for beings .”

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Rescuing survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Photograph: Getty Persona

Was he astonished when accusations were moved last year that assist laborers, including Roland Van Hauwermeiren, the head of Oxfam in Haiti, applied fornication proletarians?” 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 organisation there. Of track, 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 seam, you’re fired “. In fact he terminated up tightening the narcotics pattern for his indigenous employees, because” how am I holding that when my neighbourhood works went back to their dwellings at night? I stopped being an idiot with that .” For the imports, mostly Americans or Brits, however,” You don’t come to this country to break its laws .”

And when someone in his organisation did transgres a 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-hearted organisations detected something and did investigation into the cases, and fuelled someone- and because they didn’t want a lawsuit from that person, another organisation would hire them; it’s like pas on clergymen. 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 residence municipality, and I’m going to rent out the movie theatre and reveal a documentary about you and make sure your parents are there .'”

Why does he ponder an facilitate worker, who presumably starts out with good purposes, gets to the point of exploiting hopeles women this room?” I can have speculations ,” Penn says,” but they’re the same beliefs 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 fulfill, he showed in the gab pillars for dining with Charlie Rose, the disgraced former Tv emcee fuelled from PBS and CBS for improper behaviour around female staff. Penn is not, it is safe to say, on board with #MeToo, which he describes as” not intellectually honest”,” a gesture led by mania” and full of” self-aggrandisement and ventilating “. At the end of Bob Honey, he writes a lyric defending Charlie Rose and appearing to lament the downfall of Louis CK.

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

Clearly, I say, Penn makes his friend was mistreated.

” He says one thing happened; other parties 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 holder, that’s all you are? Charlie Rose provided one of the only sophisticated exchange programs, and I don’t know what the percentages are, but I know that there are some lies that have been told publicly about parties; I know of some serious omissions. I’m talking about ladies towards humankinds .” This is a personal issue for Penn, who in 2016 won a court-appointed apology from the chairman Lee Daniels, who erroneously showed the actor was guilty of domestic violence.

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

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

” No; these characters are combinations of a lot of things and she’s not a reference in the book .” Penn delays.” I don’t think the book would be either one of my ex-wives’ cup of tea. They both was considered 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 imagine 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 gesture. I don’t trust any flow. The anti-war movement did not sustain. We’re back in campaigns .”

But going back to his friend Charlie, surely the lesson of this is: don’t gallivant around naked in front of your faculty if you don’t want to get sacked.” I don’t disagree with that ,” Penn says.” I go back to my original thing, which is that if that’s what the individual that happened to is asking for, then they have a law example to go through, or the company has a decision to realise. But when the company is realizing that decision under the pressure of … a move that is led by mania, I get obsessed for both[ sides ].”

There is a libertarian stripe 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; discovering what she’ll do to avoid it is tough on a man .” I assume Penn approved of Frances McDormand‘s unadorned style 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 kids were growing up, there was a thing called the surgery channel and I would watch this thing and get into hysterical laugh. One slice and you’re a human body! We’re the fucking same! But where I certainly became a giggling 12 -year-old girl was volunteering for cosmetic surgery: you have 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 woman goes into a room and you don’t know if you want to kiss her, ingest her farts or burn her toes off, you just want to be around that force .” As opposed, he says, to” the pride that errs on the side of violence against oneself, physical violence. It’s crazy .”

But there are market coerces at participate. You’re still viable as a leading man at 57; a woman is not.” But isn’t it changing? There’s Meryl out there. Also, in the interests of social/ sexual part of it, I anticipate more and more- I signify my ex-wife only married a 30 -year-old guy she satisfied 2 month earlier.[ Wright is reported to have married a French fashion PR administrator the beginning of this year .] You be understood that dynamic switch. When I would try to console a woman in the business who maybe wasn’t getting the opportunities I was because they were the status of women, I’d say, well, which fractions are you not going? Because, soldier or female, most proportions are shit. Most movies are shit. If you look at the really talented girls- Julianne Moore never has trouble getting a undertaking. The openings are there .”

Does he understand why his countrymen voted for Trump?

” I have a pretty good impression. We became celebritised ,” he says.” I don’t buy People 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 spent my entire adult life with you telling me that because I want to express myself as an actor, that that comes with the territory. Well, it comes with the territory for you , now, and you bought those fucking People publications. You did that happen .” He is punching his finger at me in the different regions of the table.” When I go like this, I’m not at my best ,” he says.” So two sides that are not at their very best, it gets extremely 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 writes in Bob Honey, a line I read out to him now.

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

What does” the algorithm of modern binary existentialism” aim? He snaps his eyes open.” Well. Binary- two components. When you’re taking an algorithm that’s going to identify the two components, and, the authorities have, I remember I talk about in the book also … it’s America today .” There follows a long story about how easy it is to buy components for a bomb 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 people voted for Trump is” because I think there’s a mental health problem in this country. It’s feeling over conclude. There’s a lot going on that was going on in Nazi Germany; we’re observe 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 merely 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 tirades that is often lost in translation and while I find much of what he says moronic, haughty and sometimes delusional, to my bombshell, I likewise find him amiable and funny- a genuine American eccentric.

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

” I adore her ,” Penn says, and chuckles. 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 run, I call a friend with a degree in doctrine.” Does’ the algorithm of modern binary existentialism’ mean anything ?” I ask. After the laugh has died down, he says,” I think he necessitates … in modern life everything is black and white. But existentialism refers to a specific tradition in ideology; he surely just means reality .” No subject; Penn has a lot more to say. Before leaving he “ve been told”: 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 entitle 0330 333 6846.

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