The actor made author express his thought about reviewers, arrogant succour act, the mania-led #MeToo movement, and why his ex-wives find him boring

Sean Penn saunters into a low-key eatery not far from his house and slips undetected into a seat at the back. It is a murky daylight in Malibu, 15 miles north of LA, and the actor appears in familiar, I-don’t-care guise: beat-up skin coat, brushfire mane( which, in light of the views he will air about female pride in Hollywood, I feel bound to report may be more vibrant than quality planned ), with the skittish force of a boy who has stood for too long next to very loud speakers. The 57 -year-old salutes me affably, to my stun: while Penn may be long admired for his acting, he is defamed for almost everything else. He is known to be irascible, short-tempered, long-winded, a soul who hollers at photographers and smokings on TV. And now he has written a lunatic fiction.” It’s the most recreation I’ve had professionally ,” he croaks and reclines back in his chair.

A few periods before our meeting, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff has been the object of a full-page newspaper ad in which the publishers, instead cleverly, loped texts from the book’s worst reviews and questioned readers to make up their own thoughts. The fiction, which follows the adventures of its eponymous hero as he goes around selling septic tanks and slaughtering old-fashioned parties, is a parody of American consumer culture and the faith of epitome, and for weeks its excess ought to have gleefully documented. Penn writes as if every parole has been put through a thesaurus: for “face”, read” dermal mask “; for “quiet”, ” loitering concert of stillnes “; a soldier with good hearing has ” remarkable auditory augmentation efficiency “. So it goes on, until we reach:” Effervescence lived in her every cellular phrase, and she had spizzerinctum to spare .”

Cherrypicking these extravagances has provided us with a reasonably good chortle, but here’s the odd concept: taken as a whole, there is something fairly stimulating about Bob Honey, a hallucinatory upshot that stirs the novel at times nearly feel like a piece of performance art. Linger long enough in the world of Penn’s prose and one starts to lose all purchase on world, a kind of intelligence slip that Penn contends was intentional.” It was meant to be defying ,” he does.” Meant to have you stop-the-rhythm to go and look something up .” If he talks in a word overcast, it is because he prefers” to be understood by osmosis. If I’m being brief, I premise[ beings] will fill in, or if I am not being brief”- the much greater likelihood, on the evidence presented by our chat-” the tangents would be connected by the other person .” He hoped the book might work along similar lines.

Penn in 2003′ s Mystic River, for which he prevailed a better actor Oscar. Photograph: Allstar

The result, while largely insane, does elicit an psychological answer in the reader and for that reason alone might be judged a success.” I wrote the Sean-by-osmosis version in about 30 daytimes ,” Penn responds, after which” I rewrote for two years”, before selling it to Simon& Schuster, where” I got lucky; Peter[ Borland] totally got the book. I appeared I was being supported by a really smart reader .”

Was he revised?

” He wasn’t looking to change anything ,” Penn mentions cheerfully.” But he did communicate me great tones which alleged,’ I don’t understand this. Do you are willing to to ?'”( In most cases Penn responded “yes”; in some,” not so much “.) The show he was indulged because of his fame is one he find amazing.” No, because I wouldn’t have done it any other route. When parties listen to the advice they get, it typically robs the someone of the article. In the movies, they’re not thinking about whether it has impact on them; they’re thinking about whether it will impact the box office .”

This rather quaint view of publicizing- as an manufacture devoid of commercial-grade the policies and certainly not the kind of business that might reviewer a notebook by a famed actor to have greater significance as a auto crash than as something more credible- is the main source of Penn’s enthusiasm for tale penning, which he sees as a less mediated word of speech 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 explanation is burnout, what he announces” my enormous beginning 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 affection” is the sum of settlement at its best”, Bob Honey, by contrast, is” all excavation. It’s been said you never accomplish a cinema, you abandon it, and I didn’t abandon this. I stand by every wrinkle exactly how I wrote it .”

Has he watched 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 the best laughs I’ve got have been the one-liners that have come out of the worst inspects .”

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

Shaking hands with Mexican medicine baron El Chapo. Picture: Sean Penn/ Rolling Stone

There are two personas of Sean Penn that rival the memory of his greatest screen personas. Up there with Carlito’s Way, or Dead Man Walking, or his persona as Harvey Milk– the 2008 biopic of California’s first gay elected official and a action for which one could nearly forgive Penn any amount of bad behaviour off-screen- there is the shoot of him in a ship rescuing survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and the one of his handshake with Mexican drug sovereign El Chapo.

The latter, taken two summers ago when Penn interviewed El Chapo for Rolling Stone, fetched down on his head almost as much opprobrium as Bob Honey, for its perceived amateurism and for the path it seemed to apologise for a man with so much better blood on his hands. Penn remains unrepentant.” Just because someone writes about material doesn’t mean they know about it. I know father-gods who don’t know their own families. Most of these reporters on this subject know fucking nothing and most never read my piece. They spoke the excerpts. Then you get a talking head like a Don Winslow[ on CNN ], I’ve spoke his works envelop to handle and he’s a functioning twit, 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 intimates. If there is instance for Penn wading into a activity about which he knows nothing and nailing it through sheer bloody-mindedness, it is here, in its own experience with aid.

In 2010, Penn went to Haiti in the wake of the devastating shake and set up the J/ P Haitian Relief Organization, an organization 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 duration Penn had been in Haiti for nearly a year, veteran assistant laborers lined up to praise him. The question of what he was doing in Haiti in the first place has in his inability to find equilibrium at home. The very 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 breather.” So this goes back as far as I, or my mother, can remember. I was born at 3.45 am and I generally fall asleep at 3.45 am. I’ve been to Zen centres, done sleep surveys, everything. I could never get myself 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 doctor prescribed Ambien:” But it doesn’t work like it used to. It doesn’t continue me sleeping, but I get to sleep and at least get 3 hour. Then you’re watching the clock for the time you were supposed to get up, and it’s getting closer and closer .”

Some of Penn’s wilder action reaches more appreciation, perhaps, when look back in the context of a person who has never had more than three unbroken hours’ sleep.

” Yuh. Judgment editions ,” he tells, developing his eyebrows in what is almost certainly a reference to the time, in 2009, when national courts cleared him accompany anger management world-class after an altercation with a photographer.

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

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

With Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way. Photo: Allstar

One result of this is that Penn often appears himself to operate excellent in crisis mode. He paraphrases 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 row of which is:” You know, the routine grind drives me to drink. Tragedy, I take straight .”

” There’s been a lot of that in “peoples lives” ,” Penn reads and he refers it, obliquely, to how he is able to function effectively in a destabilised medium such as Haiti after the earthquake.” I imagine tragedy are also welcome to be urgency. I find myself leading calm, and being demanding. I can bring an American arrogance to anywhere in the world .” He smiles.” Look, in the movie business you tell your gang:’ I necessity this set done yesterday .’ When I got to Haiti and I saw how NGOs labor, it would be like:’ This patient requires this , now, and this is the person to get in touch with .’ Then I had six other parties asking me six other things. When I clique back half an hour subsequently to the first one and supposed,’ Did you get it ?’ they said,’ We’re waiting for a response, we cast an email .’ I remarked,’ You transmitted an email? Dedicate me your telephone, I’m going to call .’ And it drove me fucking mad .”

Pretty rapidly, Penn’s outfit became known as an bureau 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 pertained “. It was triage. He gestures.” It’s the most wonderful, commonsense handiwork. There’s a kid in wall street, a truck’s going to hit it, do you know that the sidewalk is clear of paedophiles? No. I’ll move my defenses subsequently .”

It is fascinating that the self-important necessity of a Hollywood movie set can be translated to a disaster zone, but think about it, Penn speaks:” It’s the same business, the stakes are higher .” There’s even overlap with the hygiene logistics of hitting a movie.” You’ve gotta get porta potties for beings .”

Rescuing survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Picture: Getty Images

Was he amazed when charges were stirred last year that assistance employees, including Roland Van Hauwermeiren, the head of Oxfam in Haiti, employed sex laborers?” 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 likely best available country director of an organisation there. Of trend, you’re not best available anything if you’re looking the other direction on that substance. Or, worse yet, if you’re participating .”

In his own organisation, Penn had a policy of” no indulgence” right down to the rule that” if you inhale one seam, you’re fired “. In point he aimed up tightening the dopes principle for his indigenous workers, because” how am I restricting that when my neighbourhood laborers went back to their dwellings at night? I stopped being an imbecile with that .” For the importation, principally Americans or Brits, however,” You don’t come to this country to break the national laws .”

And when someone in his organisation did interrupt a rule? Well, Penn tells,” There’s no organisation, including my own, where you don’t have something happen. And you deal with it; you surely want to take it transparent .” The cover-up, he pronounces, is the biggest problem.” I’ve known of situations where big organisations discovered something and did investigation into the cases, and burnt individual- and because they didn’t want a lawsuit from that person, another organisation would hire them; it’s like passing 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 position in one of these organisations, I’m coming to your residence town, and I’m going to rent out the movie theatre and picture a documentary about you and make sure your mothers are there .'”

Why does he visualize an assist worker, who presumably starts out with good intents, gets to the detail of employing hopeless girls this direction?” I can have possibilities ,” Penn alleges,” but they’re the same assumptions 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 unimportant abuses closer to residence, particularly those involving fame showing. A week before we convene, he seemed in the chatter line for dining with Charlie Rose, the shamed former TV emcee fuelled from PBS and CBS for inappropriate behaviour around female personnel. Penn is not, it is safe to read, on board with #MeToo, which he describes as” not intellectually honest”,” a crusade led by mania” and full of” self-aggrandisement and venting “. At the end of Bob Honey, he writes a lyric representing Charlie Rose and appearing to requiem the downfall of Louis CK.

With former marriage Robin Wright, in 2009. Photo: Getty Images

Clearly, I do, Penn envisions his acquaintance was mistreated.

” He supposes one thing happened; other people spoke another thing happened. I wasn’t there. What I do think is we maybe should be very careful; for example, are we are today 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 dialogue programmes, 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 girls towards boys .” This is a personal issue for Penn, who in 2016 won a court-appointed apology from the administrator Lee Daniels, who erroneously connoted the actor was guilty of domestic violence.

Romantic affairs 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 hateful, I had wondered whether Penn’s own ex-wife might have commented on it. Penn gives me a dry appear.” Which ex-wife ?” he says.

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

” No; these reputations are combinations of a lot of things and she’s not a persona in the book .” Penn delays.” I don’t think the book would be either one of my ex-wives’ cup of tea. They both thought that I talked too much in ways that were too complicated .” He chuckles.” I don’t have a lot of the talks with my recently completed ex, but my first ex, we have a close friendship .”

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

Anyway, Penn supposes, returning to the subject of #MeToo,” I don’t ever want to be in a flow. I don’t rely any flow. The anti-war change did not preserve. We’re back in wars .”

But going back to his pal Charlie, surely the lesson of this is: don’t stray around naked in front of your staff if you don’t want to get sacked.” I don’t disagree with that ,” Penn enunciates.” I go back to my original circumstance, which is that if that’s what the individual that happened to is asking for, then they have a legal example to go through, or the company has a decision to prepare. But when the company is establishing that decision under the pressure of … a crusade that is led by mania, I get worried for both[ slopes ].”

There is a libertarian streak in Penn that is impossible to miss. I repeat a wince-making strand from Bob Honey, which Penn almost certainly considers to be a radical account:” Getting older in America is tough on the status of women; find what she’ll do to avoid it is tough on a gentleman .” I expect Penn approved of Frances McDormand‘s unadorned mode at the Oscars this year?

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

He takes a big breath:” When my kids were growing up, there was a circumstance “ve 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 genuinely became a chuckling 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 wife goes into a chamber and you don’t know if you want to kiss her, eat her farts or bite her toes off, you merely want to be around that vigor .” As opposed, he adds, to” the pride that mistakes on the side of violence against oneself, physical violence. It’s crazy .”

But there are market forces at romp. You’re still workable as a leading man at 57; a woman is not.” But isn’t it changing? There’s Meryl out there. Also, in matters of social/ sexual part of it, I make more and more- I make my ex-wife just married a 30 -year-old guy she satisfied two months earlier.[ Wright is reported to have wedded a French mode PR manager earlier this year .] You see that dynamic switch. When I would try to console the status of women in the business who maybe wasn’t getting the possibilities of I was because they were the status of women, I’d read, well, which components are you not getting? Because, boy or wife, most places are shit. Most movies are shit. If you look at the really talented maidens- Julianne Moore never has misfortune going a place. The opportunities are there .”

Does he understand why his countrymen voted for Trump?

” I have a pretty good feeling. We became celebritised ,” he mentions.” I don’t buy People periodical. But where individuals complain that someone took a picture of them or that their privacy is being invaded, I’m like, yeah? Fuck you. I merely expended 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 magazines. You stirred that happen .” He is punching his finger at me across the table.” When I go like this, I’m not at my best ,” he answers.” So two sides that are not at the most appropriate, it gets very shallow .” Penn has a despise for the relevant recommendations 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,” responds Penn, lowering his eyes and searching sage.

What does” the algorithm of modern binary existentialism” represent? He clicks his eyes open.” Well. Binary- two components. When you’re taking an algorithm that’s going to identify the two components, and, “theres”, I repute I talk about in the book likewise … it’s America today .” There follows a long tale about how easy it is to buy ingredients for a rocket in the US.

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

Anyway, he mentions, the reason parties voted for Trump is” because I think there’s a mental health problem in its own country. It’s rage over ground. There’s a lot going on that was going on in Nazi Germany; we’re observing 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 exclusively have my sense of humour to offering. I didn’t want to precisely be angry all the time .”

And he isn’t. There is an underlying humor to Penn’s tirades that is often risk losing translation and while I find much of what he adds ludicrous, cocky and rarely delusional, to my astonish, I likewise find him amiable and entertaining- a sincere American eccentric.

As we get up to leave, I can’t help laughing.” Sorry. I preserve “ve been thinking about” the facts of the case that Madonna thought you were abiding .”

” I adore her ,” Penn alleges, and chortles. Is she a good egg?” Such a good egg .”

We go outside to his pick-up truck and he acquaints me to Flyboy, his six-month-old golden retriever. After Penn has gone, I call a friend with a degree in doctrine.” Does’ the algorithm of modern binary existentialism’ necessitate anything ?” I expect. After the laughter has died down, he remarks,” I think he necessitates … in modern life everything is black and white. But existentialism refers to a specific tradition in logic; he surely simply means life .” No matter; Penn has a lot more to say-soes. 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 tell a transcript for PS12. 74, go to or announce 0330 333 6846.

Commenting on this article? If you would like your remark to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s characters page in reproduce, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here