Tag Archives: Sean Penn

Sean Penn grabs political crown

TORONTO (AP) _ The politically passionate Sean Penn has no interest in running for office, yet he’s a potent demagogue on the big screen.

In a new adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s novel "All the King’s Men," Penn stars as Willie Stark, a firebrand inspired by Depression era populist Huey Long, the slain Louisiana governor and U.S. senator. With a wild bush of hair, an at times indecipherable Southern drawl and the flailing arms and bellow of a fire-and-brimstone preacher, Penn imbues Stark with fearsome energy that’s surprising in an actor better known as a follower of the Robert De Niro school of quiet menace.

"At first, the most intimidating part of it was probably the size of the character, not just physically, but in other ways. Vocally," Penn said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, where "All the King’s Men" premiered in advance of its theatrical debut Friday.

Penn, 46, studied footage of Long. He travelled Louisiana to take in the bridges, roads and other public works Long built. He talked with people, who still recall Long as a Robin Hood taking back from the rich and redistributing to the poor. He observed evangelical clergy in Long’s old haunts to duplicate their cadence. And he sampled the cuisine.

"Eating a lot of Louisiana food, bit by bit, getting some of the physical size to it," Penn said. "Somewhere about the day before we started shooting, I felt ready to go. It’s pretty much like that for me. Terrified until then."

While Penn has bitterly criticized U.S. President George W. Bush, toured Iraq to observe the war there and helped rescue workers with door-to-door searches for survivors after Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, he said he would not become one of those actors who goes into politics himself.

"You know what the honest truth is? I don’t want to," Penn said. "It’s hard enough to go out there and party at a film festival and shake so many hands and smile, you know? I mean, forget it."

"All the King’s Men" _ which co-stars Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, Patricia Clarkson and Mark Ruffalo _ follows the rise of an idealist from local rabble-rouser against the political establishment to governor, hero to the downtrodden and Machiavellian power broker, who uses dubious methods in his quest for the common good.

When "All the King’s Men" writer-director Steve Zaillian finished the script, Penn was the first person he thought about for the role.

"Because he’s the best, I think. As simple as that," Zaillian said. "I think he’s the best actor out there."

"Sean’s talent, his gravitas, his joie de vivre. It’s all of that. That’s what that part requires," said co-star Clarkson, a Louisiana native who plays Stark’s press secretary and mistress. "It requires someone large and delicate all at once, and Sean has all of it."

Broderick Crawford won the best-actor Academy Award as Stark in the 1949 adaptation of "All the King’s Men." (The film also won the best-picture Oscar.) Penn probably will not mind that the early buzz this time is that his "All the King’s Men" performance may be too over-the-top to grab awards attention.

Penn won the best-actor Oscar for Clint Eastwood’s 2003 drama "Mystic River," and no longer has to endure questions about being one of the great actors of his generation who has yet to win a trophy. Often openly disdainful of awards, Penn skipped the Oscar ceremony the three previous times he was nominated, for "Dead Man Walking," "Sweet and Lowdown" and "I Am Sam."

Penn made nice with the Oscars three years ago, coming to preliminary awards events and showing up on the big night itself, when he went home with his statuette.

Why did he go that night?

"Two words, baby. Clint Eastwood," Penn said. "Whatever makes Clint happy, I do."

Part of a show business family that includes brother Michael, a musician, Penn and wife Robin Wright Penn have two children and live in Northern California, far from the celebrity-mad crowds he contended with in his first marriage to Madonna. Penn and his family have been coping with the loss of his brother, actor Chris Penn, who died last January of an enlarged heart. Penn quietly and tersely handles questions about how it has affected the family.

"A good friend of mine described it best when I saw him. He came over. He said, ‘It’s a stinker. It’s a stinker,"’ Penn said. "That’s what it is."

Like Eastwood, Penn loves to direct. He previously made the sobering dramas "The Indian Runner," "The Crossing Guard" and "The Pledge," the latter two starring Jack Nicholson. Penn now is directing "Into the Wild," starring Emile Hirsch in the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young idealist whose journey to Alaska ends in tragedy.

Penn said he wishes he could give up performing and remain behind the camera full time, but he needs the acting income because he’s a soft touch for charitable causes.

"Let me tell you what happens. You go public politically on anything, you start getting phone calls from everybody who needs money for various things," Penn said. "You get not rich real fast."

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the U.S. war in Iraq, Penn said filmmakers have become energized to take on political subjects again, as they did in the 1960s and ’70s amid the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

"It’s not surprising. It’s their daily life and conversations over coffee. It’s affecting everything we do. It’s been the history of film in the past every time we suffer," Penn said.

"The biggest problem is, when we have a choice of being comfortable or not, we choose comfortable all the time. It’s overrated. And it certainly doesn’t allow for much art. And now we’re uncomfortable, so more art’s going to come out of it."

Government tells TIFF To Stop Movie Stars From Smoking Indoors

TORONTO (CP) _ Ontario’s Liberal government wants the Toronto International Film Festival to stop movie stars like Sean Penn from violating the province’s smoking ban.

Pictures of the Hollywood bad boy smoking at a Toronto news conference to promote his new movie were splashed across local newspapers this week.

Health Promotion Minister Jim Watson says no one is above the law designed to protect workers from second-hand smoke, whether it’s Sean Penn or someone at the local bar. Watson says he wants the film festival organizers to remind their famous guests _ "in a not-so-subtle fashion" _ that they should not thumb their nose at Ontario law.

He says the Toronto Public Health Unit must do a better job of dealing with big stars who return every year and decide the smoking ban doesn’t apply to them.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Sheela Basrur, says Penn’s case deserves a follow-up investigation by the Toronto public health unit. But she says they need an official complaint before a charge can be laid, which hasn’t happened yet.

Sean Penn plugs festival film, rails against Bush administration

TORONTO (CP) _ Actor Sean Penn wasted little time unleashing his volatile political views upon a Toronto International Film Festival news conference Sunday, calling U.S. President George W. Bush "a Beelzebub _ and a dumb one."

Sporting a moustache and a severe expression and lighting up a cigarette that no one dared say wasn’t allowed, Penn was part of a panel promoting "All the King’s Men," a story of a well-meaning politician who is eventually corrupted by power and money.

"One could make the argument that George Bush is a good politician," he said sarcastically. "I think the issue is how you define politician. Once upon a time, politics was the organization of things to benefit the people."

When asked by a reporter _ who apparently missed the irony in the actor’s words _ to explain his describing Bush as a good politician, Penn said the definition has changed, just like the definition of good actor is now "contest winner."

"So that’s the level of politician I think he’s good at. So out of context, he’s Beelzebub _ and a dumb one."

Penn has been an outspoken critic of Bush and the war on terror, writing an open letter to the president in 2002 and even making a high-profile visit to Iraq for which he incurred accusations that he was unpatriotic.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, "All the King’s Men" presents Penn as 1950s-era Louisiana governor Willie Stark, a fictionalized version of onetime real-life governor Huey P. Long. A 1949 film version won Academy Awards for best picture and best actor for Broderick Crawford in the Stark role. Some are already pointing to Penn as deserving of at least an Oscar nomination for his visceral performance as a good man drawn into an orbit of evil. The film is making its world premiere at the Toronto festival.

Although a period piece, "All the King’s Men" prompted Penn’s fellow cast members at the news conference to also draw parallels to American political realities today. In the script, a corrupt state administration comes under fire when a shoddily built school collapses, killing some children. Co-star Mark Ruffalo noted that the film is to be screened soon in New Orleans where "there seemed to be some negligence."

"Not some," interjected Patricia Clarkson, who was born and raised in New Orleans.

"There has been negligence, huge negligence," Ruffalo corrected himself. "It’s one of the great things that we can be ashamed of as a country, I think."

At one point, Penn lectured the press photographers, saying he couldn’t hear a reporter’s question because of the clacking of their shutters. The question was: Could he name a good politician? Penn said he wasn’t about to "rattle off the cliches."

"It should be obvious, those people who sacrificed of their talents and their commitment to their country or their people . . . we know who they are and they’re not currently in the White House."

Also on hand was one of the film’s producers, James Carville, former Clinton administration strategist turned political commentator. In his southern drawl, Carville said all politicians start out trying to do the right thing and that even Stark, while not perfect, does build bridges and provides school textbooks.

But he said "people make compromises" _ and not just in politics, but in everyday life, even in filmmaking.

Director and screenwriter Steven Zaillian defended the despair that dominates the film, insisting that in the end, "the good part of (the characters) is not something that gets totally destroyed." And Penn insisted that while the film is a tragedy it does offer the possibility of change.

"The movie leaves it to people to reprise that hope."

Asked why Hollywood doesn’t produce more political films, Zaillian predicted more would be coming.

"In troubled times you get the best films, and God knows we’re in troubled times now."

TIFF Welcomes Stellar Lineup of International Stars and Special Guests

The 31st Toronto International Film Festival welcomes over 500 international stars and special guests. This year promises to bigger and better then ever bringing to Toronto big name celebrities, everyone from Brad Pitt and Sean Penn to Yoko Ono. These filmmakers, actors, and industry insiders, represent the finest in film talent from around the world.

The following are a few of the guests who are expected to attend the Toronto International Film Festival:

Sir Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Brittany Murphy,

Carrie-Anne Moss, Cate Blanchett, Catherine O’Hara,

Christopher Moynihan, Christian Bale, Christian Slater,

Christina Ricci, Danny Glover, Diane Kruger,

the Dixie Chicks, Don McKellar, Dustin Hoffman

Ed Harris, Emilio Estevez, Emily Barclay,

Emma Thompson, Ethan Hawke, Eugene Levy,

Gordon Pinsent, Guy Maddin, Heath Ledger,

Jason Biggs, Jennifer Lopez, Jude Law,

Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Kevin Macdonald

Liam Neeson, Luc Picard, Marc Anthony

Mark Ruffalo, Michael Moore, Michael Murphy

Morgan Freeman, Penélope Cruz, Reese Witherspoon

Robin Wright Penn, Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen

Sandra Bullock, Sarah Polley, Sean Penn

Sharon Stone, Sydney Pollack, Sigourney Weaver,

Spike Lee, Tim Robbins, Tom Hanks,

Viggo Mortensen, Vince Vaughn, Wendy Crewson,

Will Ferrell, William H. Macy, Wyclef Jean,

Yoko Ono.