The actor turned author speaks his intellect about critics, insolent succour piece, the mania-led #MeToo action, and why his ex-wives find him boring

Sean Penn moves into a low-key eatery 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 guise: beat-up leather casing, brushfire fuzz( 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 skittish energy of a mortal who has stood for too long next to very loud loudspeakers. The 57 -year-old responds me affably, to my surprise: while Penn may be long admired for his acting, he is disparaged for almost everything else. He is known to be irascible, short-tempered, long-winded, a husband who yells at photographers and fumes on TV. And now he has written a lunatic novel.” It’s the most fun I’ve had professionally ,” he squawks and bends back in his chair.

A few periods before our fit, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff was the subject of a full-page newspaper ad in which the publishers, preferably cleverly, moved strings from the book’s worst reviews and requested readers to make up their own recollections. The tale, which follows the escapades of its eponymous hero as he goes around selling septic tanks and assassinating old people, is a satire of American consumer culture and the religion of persona, and for weeks its excess have been gleefully documented. Penn writes as if every statement has been put through a thesaurus: for “face”, spoke” dermal disguise “; for “quiet”, ” lingering concert of silence “; a man with good hearing has ” extraordinary auditory augmentation efficiency “. So it goes on, until we are to achieve:” Effervescence lived in her every cellular expres, and she had spizzerinctum to spare .”

Cherrypicking these follies has provided us with a moderately good titter, but here’s the odd thing: taken as a whole, there is something quite stimulating about Bob Honey, a hallucinatory effect that realizes the novel at times nearly looks a lot like a piece of achievement prowes. Linger long enough in the nations of the world of Penn’s prose and one starts to lose all buy on actuality, a sort of mentality slip 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 favors” to be understood by osmosis. If I’m being brief, I presume[ parties] 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 same lines.

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

The result, while predominantly crazed, does elicit an emotional 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 periods ,” Penn says, after which” I rewrote for two years”, before exchanging it to Simon& Schuster, where” I got lucky; Peter[ Borland] totally 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 transport me great greenbacks which said,’ I don’t understand this. Do you are willing to to ?'”( In most cases Penn replied “yes”; in some,” not so much better “.) The suggestion he was indulged because of his celebrity is one he acquires astounding.” No, because I wouldn’t have done it any other channel. When parties listen to the advice they get, it typically robs the person of the article. 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 publishing- as an manufacture devoid of commercial-grade principles and certainly not the kind of business that might judge a notebook by a famed actor to have greater evaluate as a car crash than as something more credible- is the primary source of Penn’s enthusiasm for romance writing, which he sees as a little mediated formation of expres than playing. But why would he trade in something he is indisputably world class at- Penn has acquired two Oscars, for Milk and Mystic River– for something he is indisputably not? The rebuttal is burnout, what he announces” my enormous beginning of alienation from my peers, performers who would rather exchange a movie than make one “. Where these performers are “brands”, and where even a movie he cherishes” represents the sum of endangers at its best”, Bob Honey, by oppose, is” all excavation. It’s been said you never accomplish a film, you abandon it, and I didn’t vacate this. I stand by every wire 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 the best chortles I’ve got have been the one-liners that have come out of the worst reviews .”

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

Sean
Shaking sides with Mexican drug baron El Chapo. Photo: Sean Penn/ Rolling Stone

There are two images of Sean Penn that rival the remembering of his greatest screen personas. Up there with Carlito’s Way, or Dead Man Walking, or his character as Harvey Milk– the 2008 biopic of California’s first gay elected official and a concert for which we are able to virtually forgive Penn any sum of bad behaviour off-screen- there is the film of him in a boat rescuing survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and the one of his handshake with Mexican drug baron El Chapo.

The latter, taken two years ago when Penn interviewed El Chapo for Rolling Stone, made down on his head almost as much opprobrium as Bob Honey, for its perceived amateurism and for the lane it seemed to apologise for a soul with so much better blood on his hands. Penn remains unrepentant.” Just because someone writes about trash doesn’t mean they know about it. I know parents who don’t know their own families. Most of these reporters on this subject know fucking nothing and most never speak my segment. They spoke the excerpts. Then you get a talking head like a Don Winslow[ on CNN ], I’ve spoke his journals handle to report and he’s a functioning twit, and parties think he’s something. That’s their resident 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 hints. If there is instance for Penn wading into a position 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 destroying earthquake and set up the J/ P Haitian Relief Organization, an busines that has, by all accounts, been enormously successful and facilitated thousands of Haitians find shelter and medical succour. In a piece in the New York Times in 2011, by which occasion Penn had been in Haiti for nearly a year, veteran succour craftsmen lined up to praise him. The question of what he was doing in Haiti in the first place has roots in his inability to find equilibrium at home. The most persuasive pieces 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 studies, 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 doctor prescribed Ambien:” But it doesn’t work like it used to. It doesn’t prevent 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 behaviour obliges more sense, perhaps, when looking back on in the purposes of the a boy who has never had more than three unbroken hours’ sleep.

” Yuh. Judgment questions ,” he says, parent his eyebrows in what is almost certainly a reference to the time, in 2009, when national courts attained him attend anger management first-class after an altercation with a photographer.

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

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

Sean
With Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way. Photo: 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 a woman kills herself to get away from her alcoholic spouse, and the final cable of which is:” You know, the routine grind drives me to booze. Tragedy, I take straight .”

” There’s been a lot of that in my life ,” Penn says and he associates it, obliquely, to how he is able to function effectively in a destabilised home such as Haiti after the quake.” I reckon tragedy is capable of being hurry. I find myself exiting calm, and being expecting. I can bring an American arrogance to anywhere in the world .” He smiles.” Look, in the movie business you tell your gang:’ I require this set done yesterday .’ When I got to Haiti and I saw how NGOs labor, it would be like:’ This case requirement this , now, and this is the person to get in contact with .’ Then I had six other parties asking me six interesting thing. When I circled back half an hour subsequently to the first one and said,’ Did you get it ?’ “theyre saying”,’ We’re waiting for a response, we mailed an email .’ I said,’ You moved an email? Throw me your telephone, I’m going to call .’ And it drove me fucking mad .”

Pretty swiftly, Penn’s outfit became known as an bureau that got things done quicker than the NGOs and he calls it” the easiest various kinds of work to do in emergency cases, because it’s emergency related “. It was triage. He gestures.” It’s the most wonderful, commonsense undertaking. There’s a kid in the street, a truck’s going to smacked it, do you know that the sidewalk is clear of paedophiles? No. I’ll clear my apologies eventually .”

It is fascinating that the self-important urging of a Hollywood movie set can be translated to a disaster zone, but think 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 .”

Sean
Rescuing survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Image: Getty Images

Was he surprised when accusations were stimulated last year that expedite workers, including Roland Van Hauwermeiren, the head of Oxfam in Haiti, expended sex 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 possibly the best country director of an organization that is there. Of route, you’re not the best anything if you’re looking the other channel on that substance. Or, worse yet, if you’re participating .”

In his own organisation, Penn had a policy of” no patience” right down to the rule that” if you inhale one joint, you’re fired “. In happening he culminated up loosening the doses regulation for his indigenous works, because” how am I limiting that when my local laborers went back to their homes at night? I stopped being an dumb with that .” For the imports, mainly Americans or Brits, nonetheless,” You don’t come to this country to break the national laws .”

And when someone in his organisation did violate 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 surely want to take it transparent .” The cover-up, he says, is the biggest problem.” I’ve known of situations where big organisations discovered something and did investigation into the cases, and shot person- and because they didn’t want a lawsuit from that person, another organisation would hire them; it’s like transferring on clergymen. In our organisation, I’d get on the phone to whoever the violator was and say,’ If I hear you are ever was seeking to get a job in one of these organisations, I’m coming to your residence 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 reckon an succour employee, who apparently is the beginning with good planneds, gets to the phase of manipulating desperate dames this practice?” I can have possibilities ,” 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 unimportant abuses closer to home, particularly those involving luminary showing. A week before we fill, he showed in the gossip column for dining with Charlie Rose, the shamed former Tv multitude shot from PBS and CBS for unwarranted 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 is presided over by mania” and full of” self-aggrandisement and expressing “. At the end of Bob Honey, he writes a song representing Charlie Rose and appearing to mourn the demise of Louis CK.

Sean
With former partner Robin Wright, in 2009. Photograph: Getty Images

Clearly, I say, Penn remembers his sidekick was mistreated.

” He says one thing happened; other parties said another thing happened. I wasn’t there. What I do think is we maybe should be very careful; for example, are we are currently 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 people; I know of some serious omissions. I’m talking about dames towards boys .” This is a personal issue for Penn, who in 2016 triumphed a court-appointed apology from the chairman Lee Daniels, who erroneously connoted the actor was guilty of domestic violence.

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

Oh. I had temporarily forgotten about Madonna, to whom Penn was married from 1985 to 1989.” The baby 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 personas are mergers of a lot of things and she’s not a attribute in the book .” Penn interrupts.” 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 giggles.” I don’t have a lot of a discussion with my recent ex, but my first ex, we have a close friendship .”

What does he belief 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 progress. The anti-war crusade did not maintain. We’re back in campaigns .”

But going back to his friend Charlie, surely the lesson of this is: don’t stroll around naked in front of your staff 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 instance to go through, or the company has a decision to move. But when the company is moving that decision under the pressure of … a movement that is led by mania, I get worried for both[ areas ].”

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

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

He takes a big breath:” When my kids were grown 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 actually 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 girl ambles into a area 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 force .” As resisted, he says, to” the vanity that mistakes on the side of violence against oneself, physical violence. It’s crazy .”

But there are market obliges at performance. You’re still feasible as a leading man at 57; a woman is not.” But isn’t it changing? There’s Meryl out there. Also, in terms of the social/ sex one of the purposes of it, I think more and more- I mean my ex-wife simply married a 30 -year-old guy she converged two months earlier.[ Wright is reported to have married a French manner PR manager earlier this year .] You see that dynamic transfer. When I would try to console the status of women in the business who maybe wasn’t getting the opportunities I was because they were the status of women, I’d say, well, which segments are you not getting? Because, being or dame, most constituents are shit. Most movies are shit. If you look at the really talented females- Julianne Moore never has tribulation going a enterprise. The possibilities are there .”

Does he understand why his countrymen voted for Trump?

” I have a pretty good meaning. We grew celebritised ,” he says.” 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 exactly 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 periodicals. You constituted that happen .” He is punching his paw at me across the table.” When I go like this, I’m not at my best ,” he says.” So two sides that are not at their best, it gets very shallow .” Penn has a arrogance for the idea of the personal firebrand.” Labelling 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 examining sage.

What does” the algorithm of modern binary existentialism” signify? He clicks his eye open.” Well. Binary- two components. When you’re taking an algorithm that’s going to identify the two components, and, there are, I conclude I talk about in the book also … it’s America today .” There follows a long narration about how easy it is to buy constituents 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 above reasons people voted for Trump is” because I think there’s a mental health problem in this country. It’s rage over rationale. There’s a lot going on that was going on in Nazi Germany; we’re observing scapegoats, radicals to detest, whether it be of a race, or so-called lefty Hollywood, so that’s part of why I want to write something- I only have my sense of humour to furnish. I didn’t want to precisely be angry all the time .”

And he isn’t. There is an underlying humour to Penn’s tirades that is often “ve lost” translation and while I find much of what he says absurd, pretentious and rarely delusional, to my surprise, I too find him amiable and funny- a genuine American eccentric.

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

” I love her ,” Penn says, and giggles. Is she a good egg?” Such a good egg .”

We go outside to his pick-up truck and he initiates me to Flyboy, his six-month-old golden retriever. After Penn has get, I call a friend with a certain degree in doctrine.” Does’ the algorithm of modern binary existentialism’ represent anything ?” I request. 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 institution in logic; he surely simply means existence .” No matter; 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 copy for PS12. 74, go to guardianbookshop.com or announce 0330 333 6846.

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