Sean Justin Penn (born August 17, 1960) is an American actor, film director and political activist. He has won two Academy Awards, for his roles in the mystery drama Mystic River (2003) and the biopic Milk (2008).
Penn began his acting career in television with a brief appearance in a 1974 episode of Little House on the Prairie, directed by his father Leo Penn. Following his film debut in 1981's drama Taps and a diverse range of film roles in the 1980s, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Penn garnered critical attention for his role in the crime drama Carlito's Way (1993). He became known as a prominent leading actor with the 1995 drama Dead Man Walking, for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination and the Best Actor Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Penn received another two Oscar nominations for Woody Allen's comedy-drama Sweet and Lowdown (1999) and the drama I Am Sam (2001), before winning his first Academy Award for Best Actor in 2003 for Mystic River and a second one in 2008 for Milk. He has also won a Best Actor Award of the Cannes Film Festival for the Nick Cassavetes-directed She's So Lovely (1997), and two Best Actor Awards at the Venice Film Festival for the indie film Hurlyburly (1998) and the drama 21 Grams (2003).
Penn made his feature film directorial debut with 1991's The Indian Runner, followed by the drama film The Crossing Guard (1995) and the mystery film The Pledge (2001). In 2002, Penn directed one of the 11 segments of 11'09"01 September 11, a compilation film made in response to the September 11 attacks. His fourth feature film, the biographical drama survival movie Into the Wild (2007), garnered critical acclaim and two Academy Award nominations.
In addition to his film work, Penn is known for his political and social activism, most notably his criticism of the George W. Bush administration, his contact with the Presidents of Venezuela and Cuba, and his humanitarian work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Penn also attracted media attention for his previous marriages to Madonna and actress Robin Wright.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Personal life
- 4 Political and social causes
- 5 Controversies
- 6 Filmography
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Penn was born in Los Angeles County, California, the son of actor and director Leo Penn and actress Eileen Ryan (née Annucci). His older brother is musician Michael Penn. His younger brother, actor Chris Penn, died in 2006. His paternal grandparents were Jewish emigrants from Lithuania and Russia, while his mother is a Catholic of Irish and Italian descent. Penn was raised in a secular home, and attended Santa Monica High School. He began making short films with some of his childhood friends, including actors Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, who lived near his home.
Penn appeared in a 1974 episode of the Little House on the Prairie television series as an extra when his father, Leo, directed some of the episodes. He launched his film career with the 1981 action-drama Taps, where he played a military high school cadet. A year later, he appeared in the hit comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in the role of surfer-stoner Jeff Spicoli, with his character helping popularize the word "dude" in popular culture. In 1983, Penn appeared as Mick O'Brien, a troubled youth, in the drama Bad Boys. The role earned Penn favorable reviews and jump-started his career as a serious actor.
In 1985, Penn played Andrew Daulton Lee in the film The Falcon and the Snowman, which closely followed an actual criminal case. Lee was a former drug dealer by trade, convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union and originally sentenced to life in prison, later being paroled in 1998. Penn later hired Lee as his personal assistant, partly because he wanted to reward Lee for allowing him to play Lee in the film; he was also a firm believer in rehabilitation and thought Lee should be successfully reintegrated into society, since he was a free man again. In 1986, Penn starred in the drama At Close Range. He stopped acting for a few years in the early 1990s, having been dissatisfied with the industry, and focused on making his directing debut.
Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor five times, he has won the award twice. The Academy first recognized his work in nominating him for playing a racist murderer on death row in the 1995 drama film Dead Man Walking. He was nominated again for his comedic performance as an egotistical jazz guitarist in the 1999 film Sweet and Lowdown. He received his third nomination after portraying a mentally handicapped father in 2001's I am Sam. Penn finally won for his role in the 2003 Boston crime-drama Mystic River. In 2004, he played a disturbed man bent on killing the president in The Assassination of Richard Nixon. That year, he was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In 2006, Penn portrayed governor Willie Stark (based on Huey Long) in an adaptation of the classic American novel All the King's Men. The film was a critical and commercial failure, named by a 2010 Forbes article as the biggest flop in the last five years. In November 2008, he earned positive reviews for his portrayal of real-life gay-rights icon and politician Harvey Milk in the biopic Milk, and was nominated for best actor for the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards. The film also earned Penn his fifth nomination and second win for the Academy Award for Best Actor. In 2010, he starred as Joseph C. Wilson in Fair Game, a film adaptation of Valerie Plame's 2007 memoir. He co-starred in the drama The Tree of Life, which won the Palme d'Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
In 1991, Penn made his directorial debut with The Indian Runner, a film based on Bruce Springsteen's song "Highway Patrolman", from the Nebraska album. He also directed music videos, such as Shania Twain's "Dance with the One That Brought You" and Lyle Lovett's "North Dakota" in 1993, and Peter Gabriel's "The Barry Williams Show" in 2002. He has since directed three more films, all of which were well received by critics: the indie thriller The Crossing Guard in 1995, the mystery film The Pledge in 2001, and the biographical drama survival film Into the Wild in 2007. Penn is currently working on The Last Face, in which he will also star.
Penn was engaged to actress Elizabeth McGovern, his co-star in 1984's Racing with the Moon. Penn's personal life began to attract media attention when he married pop singer Madonna in 1985. The two starred in the panned and much-derided Shanghai Surprise, directed by Jim Goddard, and Madonna dedicated her third studio album True Blue to Penn, referring to him in the liner notes as "the coolest guy in the universe". The relationship was marred by violent outbursts against the press, including one incident when he was arrested for assaulting a photographer on a film set; Penn was sentenced to 60 days in jail in mid-1987, of which he served 33 days. Later in the marriage, Penn was charged with felony domestic assault, a charge for which he pleaded to a misdemeanor. Penn and Madonna divorced in 1989.
He soon began a relationship with actress Robin Wright, and their first child, a daughter named Dylan Frances, was born in 1991. Their second child, a son whom they named Hopper Jack, was born in 1993. Penn and Wright married on April 27, 1996, and lived in Ross, California. The couple filed for divorce in December 2007, but reconciled several months later, requesting a court dismissal of their divorce case. In April 2009, Penn filed for legal separation, only to withdraw the case once again when the couple reconciled in May. On August 12, 2009, Wright Penn filed for divorce again. The couple's divorce was finalized on July 22, 2010, with the couple reaching a private agreement on child and spousal support, division of assets, and custody of Hopper, who was almost 17 at the time. As of June 2014 he is dating actress Charlize Theron.
Penn has been active in supporting numerous political and social causes. On December 13–16, 2002, Sean Penn visited Iraq to protest the Bush Administration's apparent plans for a military strike on Iraq. On June 10, 2005, Penn made a visit to Iran. Acting as a journalist on an assignment for the San Francisco Chronicle, he attended a Friday prayer at Tehran University. On January 7, 2006, Penn was a special guest at the Progressive Democrats of America, where he was joined by author and media critic Norman Solomon, Democratic congressional candidate Charles Brown, and activist Cindy Sheehan. The "Out of Iraq Forum", which took place in Sacramento, California, was organized to promote the anti-war movement calling for an end to the War in Iraq. On December 18, 2006, Penn received the Christopher Reeve First Amendment Award from the Creative Coalition for his commitment to free speech. In August 2008, Penn made an appearance at one of Ralph Nader's "Open the Debates" Super Rallies. He protested the political exclusion of Nader and other third parties. In October 2008, Penn traveled to Cuba, where he met with and interviewed President Raúl Castro. In February 2012, he stood beside Hugo Chávez while Venezuela supported the Syrian government during the 2011–2012 Syrian uprising.
Criticism of President Bush
On October 18, 2002, Penn placed a US$56,000 advertisement in the Washington Post asking then President George W. Bush to end a cycle of violence. It was written as an open letter and referred to the planned attack on Iraq and the War on Terror. In the letter, Penn also criticized the Bush administration for its "deconstruction of civil liberties" and its "simplistic and inflammatory view of good and evil." Penn visited Iraq briefly in December 2002. "Sean is one of the few," remarked his ex-wife Madonna. "Good for him. Most celebrities are keeping their heads down. Nobody wants to be unpopular. But then Americans, by and large, are pretty ignorant of what's going on in the world." The Post advertisement was cited as a primary reason for the development of his relationship with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. In one of his televised speeches, Chávez used and read aloud an open letter Penn wrote to Bush. The letter condemned the Iraq War, called for Bush to be impeached, and also called Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "villainously and criminally obscene people.". In August 2007, Penn met with Chávez in Caracas for two hours, after which Chávez praised him for urging Americans to impeach Bush. Penn also visited a new film studio on the outskirts of Caracas, though he did not speak publicly.
On April 19, 2007, Penn appeared on The Colbert Report and had a "Meta-Free-Phor-All" versus Stephen Colbert that was judged by Robert Pinsky. This stemmed from some of Penn's criticisms of Bush. His exact quote was "We cower as you point your fingers telling us to support our troops. You and the smarmy pundits in your pocket– those who bathe in the moisture of your soiled and blood-soaked underwear– can take that noise and shove it." He won the contest with 10,000,000 points to Colbert's 1. On December 7, 2007, Penn said he supported Ohio Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich for U.S. President in 2008, and criticized Bush's handling of the Iraq war. Penn questioned whether Bush's twin daughters supported the war in Iraq.
In September 2005, Penn traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to aid Hurricane Katrina victims. He was physically involved in rescuing people, although there was criticism that his involvement was a PR stunt as he hired a photographer to come along with his entourage. Penn denied such accusations in an article he wrote for The Huffington Post. Director Spike Lee interviewed Penn for his documentary about Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.
Support for same-sex marriage
On February 22, 2009, Penn received the Academy Award for Best Actor for the film Milk. In his acceptance speech, he said: "I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone!"
2010 Haiti earthquake: Manager of relief organization and tent camp
After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Penn founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, which has been running a 55,000 person tent camp. Due to his visibility as an on-the-ground advocate for rescue and aid efforts in the aftermath, Penn was designated by president Michel Martelly as Ambassador-at-Large for Haiti, the first time that a non-Haitian citizen has been designated as such in the country's history. Penn received the designation on January 31, 2012.
Penn gained significant attention in the Pakistan media when he visited Karachi and Badin in 2012. On 23 March 2012, he visited flood-stricken villages of Karim Bux Jamali, Dargah Shah Gurio and Peero Lashari in Badin District. He was accompanied by US Consul General Willian J. Martin and distributed blankets, quilts, kitchen items and other goods amongst flood survivors. On 24 March 2012, Penn also visited Bilquis Edhi Female Child Home and met Pakistan’s iconic humanitarian worker Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilquis Edhi. He also laid floral wreaths and paid respect at the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi.
Release of Jacob Ostreicher from Bolivian prison
Penn is believed to have played a role in getting American entrepreneur Jacob Ostreicher released from a Bolivian prison in 2013, and was credited by Ostreicher for having personally nursed him back to health upon his release.
Defense of Hugo Chávez
In March 2010, Penn called for the arrest of those referring to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as a dictator. The two were friends, and when Chávez died, Penn said: "Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of Vice President (Nicolás) Maduro. Today the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have."
Falkland Islands controversy
In February 2012, Penn met with the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires where he made a statement on the long-running dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands, saying: "I know I came in a very sensitive moment in terms of diplomacy between Argentina and the UK over the Malvinas islands. And I hope that diplomats can establish true dialogue in order to solve the conflict as the world today cannot tolerate ridiculous demonstrations of colonialism. The way of dialogue is the only way to achieve a better solution for both nations."
The comments were taken as support of Argentina's claim to the islands and evoked strong reactions in the British media, with one satirical article in The Daily Telegraph requesting that Penn "return his Malibu estate to the Mexicans". Lauren Collins of The New Yorker wrote: "As of today, Sean Penn is the new Karl Lagerfeld—the man upon whom, having disrespected something dear to the United Kingdom, the British papers most gleefully pile contempt".
Penn later claimed that he had been misrepresented by the British press and that his criticism of "colonialism" was a reference to the deployment of Prince William as an air-sea rescue pilot, describing it as a "message of pre-emptive intimidation". He claimed that the Prince's posting meant "the automatic deployment of warships", and stated: "My oh my, aren't people sensitive to the word 'colonialism', particularly those who implement colonialism." In a piece written in The Guardian, Penn wrote that "the legalisation of Argentinian immigration to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands is one that it seems might have been addressed, but for the speculative discovery of booming offshore oil in the surrounding seas this past year". He further wrote that "irresponsible journalism" had suggested "that I had taken a specific position against those currently residing in the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, that they should either be deported or absorbed into Argentine rule. I neither said, nor insinuated that".
Oscar green card joke
While presenting the award for Best Picture at the 87th Academy Awards, Penn said, "Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?" before presenting the award to Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman. This caused some people to be offended by the comments, deeming them racist towards Latino Americans, and offensive to those who attempt to legally immigrate into the United States. Iñarritu said that it was a joke between him and Penn, who worked together on 21 Grams, and that he found it "hilarious". Penn later went on record defending his comments, saying, "I have absolutely no apologies. In fact, I have a big fuck you for every...anybody who is so stupid not to have gotten the irony when you've got a country that is so xenophobic. If they had their way, you wouldn't have great filmmakers like Alejandro working in this country. Thank God we do."
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Sean Justin Penn; born August 17, 1960, in Santa Monica (some sources cite Burbank or Los Angeles), CA...
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- Hugo Chavez's death draws sympathy, anger
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|40x40px||Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sean Penn.|
|40x40px||Wikiquote has quotations related to: Sean Penn|
- Sean Penn at the Internet Movie Database
- Sean Penn at the Internet Broadway Database
- Guardian Interview, April 8, 2005
- Esquire magazine interview/profile
- Sean Penn's visit to Iran at the San Francisco Chronicle
- Smiles for Smirks by Sean Penn, The Huffington Post, April 21, 2009
- Sean Penn on Managing a Tent Camp of 55,000 Displaced Haitians – video report by Democracy Now!
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