Sean Penn


HE comes in, exactly as Sean Penn should, the personification of wasted machismo and handsome Hollywood cool.

Bleary-eyed, and mumbling a disinterested greeting, he shakes hands, sinks into the sofa and, frowning with concentration, starts sucking the life out of an American Spirit cigarette. He looks badly in need of some coffee, or – more probably – a drink.

When I ask him how it’s all going, he smirks, “Yeah everything’s going fine,” as if nothing could be more improbable.

He runs his hands through his perfectly disheveled quiff giving a glimpse of a small heart tattooed on his thumb. His forearm displays the result of what Tim Robbins describes as “a Bacchanalian night of madness when we were shooting in New Orleans” – a large, garish tattoo of a ghoul adorned by the soulful entreaty ‘Nola Deliver Me.’

He is dressed in a sharp striped black shirt over a white t-shirt and a great grey suit that looks as if it’s been slept in more than once – “Cerruti,” he smiles rather bashfully, “a freebie. It’s always good to walk into a clothing store with Jack Nicholson, you know ?”

In an industry full of pretty boys trying to be bad, Sean Penn always did take first prize: the baddest boy in the bunch; the brat-packers’ brat-packer, whether he was
ploughing into the paparazzi, marrying Madonna, or playing Pacino off the screen.

He always had the look they all wanted – managing to look not only fucked up but like he doesn’t give a fuck, which, in Hollywood at least, is a pretty good combination. Sean Penn perfected it. Or maybe he was just born with it.

Above all though, what made him the coolest actor of his generation – and makes him still the last real rebel Hollywood has had for some time – was the fact that Sean Penn also had the talent. He was never as pretty as Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon and the others he emerged with, but what really distinguished him from them was the fact that he actually made some good films, some real films: De Palma’s ‘Casualties of War’, ‘At Close Range’, ‘Colors’, ‘State of Grace’.

He was invariably the best thing in them too – as he is in Robbins’ ‘Dead Man Walking’, where the focused intensity of his performance as a convicted rapist/murderer facing execution is astonishing.

And of course, he also had the right temperament – or rather the wrong temperament – seeing red with every flashbulb jammed in his face, every director who demanded he turn up on time, every asshole in every bar who wanted a fight.

On the day we meet, his face, which has grown stronger with age, more handsome, bears the traces of a couple of cuts from a bar fight he’d described on ‘Letterman’ the night before.

Some people never change. The customs man at JFK certainly thought so.
“You be careful now y’hear,” he warns me when I explain the nature of my visit to New York. “That boy could find trouble in an empty paper bag.”

When I tell Penn the story, he just grins, the trademark twinkle in his eye, as if to say “What ?! Who ME ?!?”

This time though, for once, he has a point.
Like it or not, Sean Penn is here to tell you, the sad truth is: Sean Penn is just not like that anymore.

BEFORE the interview, I am privy to a small, presumably select, American press conference to promote ‘Dead Man Walking’, featuring Penn, Tim Robbins, and Robbins’ partner and female lead, Susan Sarandon. And a bizarre experience it proves to be too.

The American journalists can’t ask anything without first making a speech, as if they were in a movie, prefacing their questions with things like “this is a general question, an acting question…”

No-one asks Susan Sarandon what on earth she is talking about, despite a stream of actors’ psychobabble about “the arc of the character”, “the purity of contact”, that makes Penn’s laconic, shambolic, demeanour seem refreshingly eloquent.

“I believed the best thing I could do was to be there as a vessel,” she explains earnestly. “To let the essence of who (the character) is and her function in the movie happen.”

She even maintains working with Robbins has made their relationship “better.”
“I respect him more now and love him more now.”

Maybe the journalist who simply says “wow” after every answer has the right idea.

As for Penn, the first question they ask him is: “is it true you’ve given up acting ?” which seems rather strange given that Penn so dominates ‘Dead Man Walking’, he recently won the Best Actor Prize at the Berlin Film Festival and has a similar nomination in this week’s Oscars. He would probably have won if he’d been selected for Best Supporting Actor as perhaps he should have been. He seemed pretty hard to miss.

“Well, I keep trying ! ” Penn shrugs cheerfully.

This is, in fact, what sealed Sean Penn’s reputation as a genuine maverick, an authentic “Hollywood rebel”. He had the talent, but refused to use it.

“It’s very rare that I enjoy acting,” he tells me later. “I’ve enjoyed acting in a certain sense when I’ve worked with writer-directors like Tim because their attention to detail is much greater, and you have a clear agenda of what’s trying to be accomplished. But most of the time it’s an upsetting experience.”

This is something of an understatement. Penn’s favourite analogy about acting is that while Harrison Ford might compare acting to carpentry, as far as he’s concerned, the director is the carpenter and being an actor is “like being the wood and having the nails pounded into you.”

After 1991’s ‘State of Grace’, he turned his back on acting seemingly for good, to work on his writing, and concentrate on directing and producing his own projects. Predictably, Hollywood only saw such a display of principle as further proof that Penn was ‘difficult’.

He returned to the screen in 1993 (“to make some money”) in Brian De Palma’s ‘Carlito’s Way’ and was so natural inside the character of a weasly, coke-addled, lawyer who starts acting tough with his gangster clients, he seemed to disappear entirely. His brilliantly individual performance made Pacino’s (as Carlito) look horribly clichéd.

Now in ‘Dead Man Walking’, he again confirms why early comparisons with the likes of Brando and De Niro were justified. John Malkovich once told me he considered Penn’s performance on stage in David Rabe’s ‘Hurlyburly’ the best he’s ever seen.

Despite the acclaim for ‘Dead Man Walking’ though, like Brando he is immediately looking to quit again, get back to the typewriter and then direct, dismissing the idea of building up a body of work like De Niro, stating flatly “there’s not the quality of film-makers around today.”

“The people who are visually dynamic are coming out of commercials and videos. It doesn’t mean by definition that they can’t tell a story, but most of them can’t. Neither can the others. You have a few who can tell a story. And their movies are so fucking dreary… The films have a polish that is unprecedented, but so fucking what ? They have no uncertainty. I like the room a bit messier.”

‘Dead Man Walking’ is at least ambitious – Robbins’ attempt to make an anti-capital punishment film that is so balanced, (he thinks) the audience think the issue through – before, presumably, agreeing with him. In fact, the sub-plot presenting the victims’ need to see Penn’s character fry, is so emotive anyone supporting the death penalty beforehand, will probably be standing in the aisles cheering.

But from the moment we see Penn – who styled his character in tattoos, virtually satanic goatee and magnificent pompadour – his presence is totally compelling and worth the admission money on its own.

Penn plays Matthew Poncelet, an amalgam of two real prisoners on Death Row in Louisiana. Sarandon plays Sister Helen Prejean (the author of the book on which the film is based), a Catholic nun who accepts the role of being Poncelet’s counsellor as the time of his execution approaches.

At the start of the film, Poncelet is bitterly protesting his innocence, although he admits he was present when the rape and two murders took place. He greets Prejean’s attempts to help him accept responsibility and seek some sort of redemption with resentment and hostility, stubbornly sticking to the arrogant defiance and denial typical of the prisoners on Death Row, covering his fear in the racist, macho bravado of the white trash bully he grew up as.

Penn’s challenge is gradually to reveal that within this bitter and brutal individual, there is, if not innocence, then something worth helping or saving.

Writing in ‘The New Yorker’, Terence Rafferty observes that the dimension to the performance that makes it so exceptional comes from the way Penn plays Poncelet “flickering in and out of the character he has built for himself.”

As the film progresses and Prejean’s compassion and tenderness start to get through, Poncelet slowly allows himself to admit his fear of dying, find some remorse and feeling for his family.

“Having created, in his initial scenes, a life-like portrait of a proud, fearless working-class loser,” Rafferty writes, “(Penn) spends the rest of the picture painstakingly deconstructing it, stripping layer after layer from it, until he gets down to the roughest sketch of Poncelet’s true self.”

In the emotionally raw, harrowing, climax, Rafferty suggests, Penn and Poncelet “appear to have broken down, and found in naked terror an odd sense of fulfillment: release from the prison of performance.”

Of all the parts to return to acting for, Penn says, he probably couldn’t have made a worse choice. But when he read Robbins’ script, “the tears hit the page. Then I realised, wait a minute, oh shit, I’m that guy ! Oh God ! It was a big investment in pain, so that’s always a challenge. But ultimately, to me, pretty soon, it’s taking away more than it’s giving. Directing is the opposite.”

Penn maintains his acting techniques have come along way from the “craft-y” Method training he relied on early on his career, but when I ask him if the tears we see on screen come from his emotions or his character’s, he just shrugs, “I don’t know. You don’t tell the difference,” he says firmly. “Obviously there are certain parallels, emotionally, to things I’ve gone through – reconciling things you’ve done, although,” (he points out seemingly without irony) “arbitrarily picking someone to kill is out of my experience.”

Playing such a heavy part, he says, “inevitably seeps into your life in some way”, describing it as “the emotional version” of jogging around Central Park and having the sweat still over you when you get home.

“The up-side is, you can exorcise alot from your past. But you’d better hope your present life is intact. Mine,” he mutters darkly, “hasn’t been for a long time.”

The most striking image in the film comes when the execution procedure begins and we see a manacled Penn pinned on a table, then raised upright before us, arms spread in crucifixion pose.

When I ask him how it felt, he smirks, “restrained ! “
“It’s funny to say so, cos you’re on a movie-set, but you can’t help but feel the echo – you know, that this is actually going on in several States across the country several times a month. The other echo ? Oh shit, I never had any problem with that.”

I mention the possibility that the film’s producers were hoping the sight of Sean Penn being crucified would help the box-office and he grins gleefully, as if even HE rather likes the idea.

“Robert Duvall said that he took the part in ‘Colors’ cos he gets to beat me up and throw me against the wall. All of America wanted to beat me up at that time, so he thought he’d be the American people’s hero.”

He sucks on his cigarette as if he was siphoning petrol, then gives another bleary-eyed smile.
“I bet he was too.”

SEAN PENN’S resistance towards the very gift he was probably born to perform may have echoes of Marlon Brando’s, but Brando was in his mid-fifties before his restlessness and disillusion took hold. Sean Penn is only 35. (He’s a Leo, in case you’re interested, his birthday coming, ominously enough, the day after Madonna’s.)

He grew up in Malibu and the San Fernando Valley, in a stable, loving family home. His father, Leo Penn, directed TV shows such as ‘Starsky & Hutch’ and ‘Lost In Space’. His mother Eileen Ryan acted, as does his brother, Chris (Nice Guy Eddie in ‘Reservoir Dogs’).

Sean began his acting career studying at the Los Angeles Repertory Theatre. His Broadway debut in ‘Heartland’ quickly lead to his 1981 screen debut opposite Tom Cruise and Timothy Hutton in ‘Taps’. His hilarious portrayal of dope-head surfer, Jeff Spiccoli, in Amy Heckerling’s ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’ launched both his career and his reputation for brattish belligerence and boozing – most notably a notorious incident in which he stubbed out a cigarette on his hand, supposedly to get back into character.

As Terrence Rafferty notes, it was already apparent Penn was “a character actor blessed, or cursed, with a leading man’s presence.”

His first leading role was – appropriately – as a troubled juvenile prisoner in ‘Bad Boys’. ‘Racing With The Moon’, ‘The Falcon & The Snowman’, ‘Colors’ and the genuinely nasty ‘At Close Range’ followed.

But when the disco singer he’d fallen in love became the world’s most famous person/artist, his life became unbearable. The paparazzi hounded him like vultures.
“Four years of my life, 24 hours a day, that was my life.”

Nowadays, he dismisses them all as “dysfunctional. They tend to have mustard on their collar from a week ago, or they’re big guys with really high voices.”

By the time he and Madonna divorced in 1989, Penn’s reputation for boozing and brawling was almost as well known as she was. He was “Madonna’s Madman”. They were “The Poison Penns”. One year, he jokes, he had “more bad press than Gaddafi.”

Madonna didn’t do much for his film career either. The film they made together, ‘Shanghai Surprise’, is described in Halliwell’s as “astonishingly abysmal”. Penn maintains he was drunk throughout the whole thing, commenting only “I’m not brave enough to talk about that one.”

Having incurred various convictions for drink-driving and punching out numerous film-extras and photographers (sometimes using rocks) in 1987, Penn pleaded No Contest to a charge of assault & battery and was sentenced to 60 days in LA County Jail.

“My life depended on mood-swings,” he has said. “I saw too many movies… Anybody who throws their fist is a fool and I’ve been a fool many times.”

IF, for whatever reason, the time should come that one day we are forced to find one image that sums up the state of the modern (American) male in the 1980s and 90s – and the differences between the two – it could well be we will have no choice but to select Sean Penn to symbolise all three.

If he spent the 80s epitomising everything that is wrong about being male, he has spent the last six years trying to do something about it; trying to do something about himself.

He became, if not a New Man, a new Penn. (The punchline to the bar fight story, by the way, is that the guy was bigger than him and beat the crap of him, deservedly according to Penn.)

The catalysts for his re-evaluation were obviously his divorce from Madonna in 1989; and the emotional trauma of his break-up with actress, Robin Wright (or “the mother of two kids” as he calls her) after “a four-year headache” of separation and reconciliation. The time in jail eventually served as “a wake-up call” too and he checked into Betty Ford.

Predictably of course, he has swung to the other extreme. The 90s version of Sean Penn is over-emotional, painfully sensitive, self-analysing.

Of course, that’s not to say he isn’t still almost ridiculously male.

The two films he has directed – his 1991 debut, ‘The Indian Runner’ and ‘The Crossing Guard’, released this spring – are virtually exercises in agonising over what being a (real) man entails in this day and age.

In only two films, he has already written roles for fellow hard-men, Dennis Hopper, Harry Crews, Charles Bronson and, in ‘The Crossing Guard’, Jack Nicholson: “a real pack of wolves.”

He has been contracted for some time now to play Irish poet/hell-raiser, Brendan Behan in Jim Sheridan’s bio-pic ‘Bells of Hell’, and is hoping to collaborate with Marlon Brando on a script Brando has written about bull-fighting (no less).

And Penn’s personal life reads like something out of a Sam Shepard story.

One day back in 1993, he returned to the Malibu home he once shared with Madonna to watch 100-foot flames destroying virtually everything he owned – including “the photo of Madonna that kept me fond of her” and “everything Bukowski ever wrote to me”.

He has enjoyed a kind of outlaw existence ever since, living in the grounds in a 27 foot silver Airstream trailer, surrounded by 50 acres of mountain canyon. He welcomes visitors, pointing out the area “where I catch rattlesnakes”.

He writes his scripts here – on an old typewriter, refusing to use a computer or word processor – opposite a pile of books that includes ‘Between Men’, ‘Formula for Life’, ‘Art of War’ and the works of Noam Chomsky.

Inside the trailer, there’s a poster of ‘Easy Rider’ cut up and pasted on the fridge; photos of Hemingway and Bukowski; a framed note from Bruce Springsteen, who wrote the theme to ‘The Crossing Guard’ especially for him. Taped on the wall is a clipping of Brando’s comment on ‘The Crossing Guard’: “It wiped me out. I was in tears.” His gun cupboard includes a machine gun and several handguns.

He drives a ’66 El Camino, still drinks too much and smokes three or four packs of American Spirit cigarettes a day, “depending on how late it is”. The transition between stubbing one out and lighting another one is like a relay with Penn; a reflex.

But these days when you take your life in my hands and ask him, ‘how’s your love life ?’, there’s no need to duck a punch. What’s more likely to come your way nowadays is a picture of his kids, Dylan and Hopper. “That’s my love-life right now,” he grins.

These days in fact, Penn seems positively endearing, if a little rough round the edges. He is funny, well-mannered and rather shy. As Tim Robbins tells me, “Sean’s a very sweet guy. Though he’d probably kill me for saying so.”

It takes some getting used to. When the man sitting in front of me says, “these days, it’s like instinct has become archaic because there’s so much neurotic subterfuge between ourselves and our instincts now”, it’s odd to see the words coming out of Sean Penn.

His conversation is full of statements like this.
“The greatest violence,” he says, for example, “is when you attack somebody with the notion that they’re hopeless; that they can’t change. That is violence.”

All in all, Penn comes over as a man trying to deal with the conflicts these realisations might bring; between how he should be and how he is, or was.
“I don’t know what’s a good thing, what’s a bad thing anymore,” he sighs at one point. “It’s real easy to get confused in this new age,” muttering something about “this secondary questioning of ourselves, re-organising of our thoughts to accommodate social behaviour and all of that.”

His first film, ‘The Indian Runner’, he acknowledged at the time, was about the struggle to find a place in society for masculinity and this still seems to be his most consuming obsession.

When ‘Vogue’ asked him for his definition of being a man recently, his answer was pure Robert Bly.
“(it’s) accepting enough responsibility for male tenderness to not have to call it your feminine side… And try to find some balance, so that you have peace in your life and don’t violate too many other people’s peace.”

Though he still doesn’t particularly enjoy interviews, when he does do them, he seems to use them as confessionals, virtually as therapy, presenting himself as a man almost content to be bearing his burden, baring a bleeding soul almost as crumpled as his suit. (As Sarandon scoffs, “Sean’s whole life is angst.”)

He has talked openly of his hurt at the break-up with Wright, who starred with him in ‘State of Grace’. At one point, she even, rather presciently asks him, “So. You get nostalgic for mayhem ?”

“I would never end a relationship where there were kids. She just doesn’t love me. She thinks I’ve got horns on my head.”

In the end, he can’t help confirming, “I probably had it coming to me.”

Sometimes in interviews Penn sounds as if just wants to try out some of the self-examination he has undergone out on someone else; see how it sounds.

“The romantic relationship is about how the other person allows you to feel about yourself,” he says. “Just the freedom to be who are is 80% of making a relationship work. Then you both get 10% to throw in your personal things.”

But the dominant theme of his life nowadays seems to be guilt; tortured remorse.

Even as far back as ‘At Close Range’, he played a son betraying his father. In ‘State of Grace’, he was a “Judas cop” tormented by the guilt of setting up his best friend. His two screenplays are riven with it.

The first, ‘The Indian Runner’, is based on a good brother/bad brother scenario. David Morse plays a cop (already haunted by the guilt of having shot a young hoodlum, and having lost his father’s farm) who has to deal with the return of his younger brother, Frank (Viggo Mortensen), a wild, emotionally desperate, criminal, back from Vietnam.

A line in ‘The Indian Runner’ acts as a perfect summary for his second film, ‘The Crossing Guard’.
“What do you want ?” Mortensen asks Morse. “To guilt me to death ?”

‘The Crossing Guard’ is about “what you do with unbearable loss ?”, unending guilt and grief.

This time, the self-destructive machismo and flailing emotion comes from (a terrific) Jack Nicholson.

Nicholson and Anjelica Huston play a couple coping/failing to cope with the death of their daughter in a hit-and-run. While Huston attends a support group for bereaved parents, Nicholson is seeking solace in whisky, strip bars and confrontation.

When the driver responsible (played again by Morse) is released from jail, Nicholson sets out to absolve his grief – and guilt – by going to kill him, no matter what the cost to himself or to Huston. Only to find the driver’s own grief – and guilt – is such, he is prepared to let him.

When I ask him what it is he feels so guilty about, Penn actually blushes, like someone who doesn’t know what to say because they’ve expressed it in the only way they know how already – in the films.

“I’ve got my past regrets. Nothing I find so unfamiliar or uncommon. I can think back to particular events in my younger life that were significant,” he mumbles. “It’s present grief, you know ? When you write, you certainly write a letter to someone.”

Penn’s fascination with such wayward, wounded, characters is obviously close to home, and he’s said of who ‘The Crossing Guard’s drink-driving element, “there but for the grace of God go I”.

The characters he is drawn to seem to have the same things in common: volatile, mean, idealistic: variants on the noble savage. They are men set on destroying themselves, out of guilt at an inability to love/be loved, be part of a family, their failure to be a son or a brother or husband.

It’s easy to assume the wild, unmanageable, Viggo Mortensen character in ‘The Indian Runner’ was based on Penn. But reading interviews with his brother Chris, on his own drug-ravaged inclination towards mayhem, perhaps this is doing Penn a disservice, and begins to explain the dichotomy.
“I had a gun and I’d wake up every morning thinking, ‘will I have to kill someone today’,” his brother told one paper in a piece titled ‘Brother Sean Saved My Soul’.

In both films, his main characters are men bearing the burden of being tough guys who can’t admit, underneath they’re still just children.

Are you saying all men are boys ? I ask him.
“Well, yeah,” he mumbles, rather unconvinced. “And all boys are men.”

The part of Matthew Poncelet in ‘Dead Man Walking’ is almost like the third part in Penn’s trilogy. The moral – “every man is worth more than their worst act” – could certainly be the moral of both his own films. In the end, Penn hasn’t the heart to condemn either Mortensen or the drink-driver in ‘The Crossing Guard’ – no matter what they’ve done.

He won’t judge Poncelet either.
“I feel for the bad guy,” he admits. “Cos he’s got to be hurting.”

The question of Poncelet’s innocence is the most obvious issue central to ‘Dead Man Walking’. When Poncelet screams “I didn’t do it”, Penn points out, either he believes it didn’t commit the crime; knows that he did but can’t accept it; or accepts that he did and is maintaining his innocence “on a higher level.”

“I would say the third makes the most sense to me. To me, you know, there’s no such thing as malice.”

Penn’s bad boys have no other means of expressing themselves, their desperation, without succumbing to violence.
“Can’t you open up to me and talk ?” Morse’s mother asks him in ‘The Crossing Guard’.
“Whaddya mean, open up and talk ?” he replies.

But eventually, in Penn’s scripts, it all comes gushing out. ‘The Crossing Guard’ is over-written, over-wrought and over-reaching, with too many speeches, too many tears and traumas.

But you have to admire him for trying. He’s going for glory, for cinema history, for a poignancy, eloquence and raw honesty, you don’t really get in movies anymore. ‘The Crossing Guard’ is an old-fashioned film, visually stunning, full of grainy slow-mo, and a kind of rough poetry, the sort of great 70s atmosphere that reveals his love of early Scorsese and particularly Cassavetes.

Although one critic suggested Penn the actor could have shown us what these characters were about much quicker than Penn the writer/director does, his promise is there for all to see. At least, he’s taking risks (what else could he do ?) – even talking about getting his actors to play around with their characters to reflect whether they’ve had too much caffeine in one scene or taken too much cocaine the night before. On the set, he would tell them: “if you get lost, keep going.”

When Nicholson had a question, Penn smiles, he would say, ‘I don’t know’ and then shout ‘action !’ ”

Above all what makes ‘The Crossing Guard’ really look out of place, is that whereas the modern trend in movies is for the kind of hollow pop violence typified by Quentin Tarantino – violence as an expression of ecstasy – in Penn’s, films violence is associated with anguish, “with pain and repercussions.” Nicholson’s rage in ‘The Crossing Guard’ is “just a buffer for facing loss.”

“Well, I have good friends who are policemen, who’ve had to take a life,” he explains. “And it don’t matter if you’re shooting a guy who’s got a gun a pointing at you, you’re still taking a life. I don’t know if Tarantino doesn’t understand any of that. I just think that’s not what he’s singing about. The re-manufacture of popular images can be very stimulating. I just don’t find my life is touched.”

The men in Sean Penn’s film are prone to violence, drawn to violence, even addicted to it, so much so even Sarandon speculates whether Penn is too – or was. But they always pay a price.
“I like stories with people who’re smart enough to know they’re destroying themselves,” he smiles. “But knowing doesn’t help them. I’ve seen that alot. I’ve experienced it.”

It’s tempting to interpret all of this as suggesting Sean Penn has finally come to terms with his temper, that he has learnt to turn the other cheek and walk away.

“Yeah, I mean.. it’s a violent world. The time I had most trouble with all of that, I was being put in a corner, you know. My life’s not in a corner in that way anymore. I’ve become a little more bit proud and alot less prideful,” he grins, obviously pleased with his phrase.

You get the impression it’s never going to be easy. You wouldn’t necessarily want to test the theory out on him.

“Everyone’s become so ‘self-possessed’ and ‘peaceful’,” he says with sudden, restless, malevolence, as if this alone was enough to make him want to hurl the table through the window. “You do just go mad at certain points, and you do have to embrace a certain quota of that madness or else you become a flatliner.”

On the plus side, he points out, when you’ve got as bad a reputation as he has, “it makes people think twice about coming to the table when I’m tryin’ to have dinner.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t expect miracles, but, as he says, he’s “getting there… Part of the defence against the flatline syndrome is, it’s easier to self-indulge, self-destruct. But at the end of it, what you want is some peace. It’s important to find some peace in all that madness.”

Maybe the news a few days ago that he has pulled out of the bio-pic of Brendan Behan underlines it. When we met in New York, he admitted he was looking forward to the “research” he’d be doing on Behan’s more wayward days in Dublin – the booze and the banter; the mayhem.

Now though, it seems he has withdrawn from the project because the shooting schedule clashed with the period he’d negotiated with Wright to spend time with his kids. That’s the way things are now for Sean Penn. The proof. So, for now at least, welcome the new Sean Penn.