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Oprah: Go figure. I love that quote. Now that I know he was a wife beater, I'll have to rethink that. What do you know for sure, Sean?

Sean: In The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Sam says, "Certainty is the disease of kings, and I'm not a king." In acting and moviemaking, the greatest thing is not knowing. What I know for sure is that it's all a mystery—and it's good that way. Words limit us, because words are about right or wrong, good or bad. You have a truth that's bigger than those words, and you follow it and it tells you what to do. And unless you're pathological, that's generally productive.

Oprah: What is your ultimate truth?

Sean: Change. When Marlon Brando died, I was talking to somebody about this. Once upon a time, it might have served an actor to try to be the best. That's not going to happen now. There's never going to be a better actor than Marlon Brando. There will be different actors. What he's done is infinite. You can find new poetry in his work every time you look at it. You're never going to have better music than Tchaikovsky. We're liberated from being better. I'm not going to have a better day, a more magical moment, than the first time I heard my daughter giggle. Tomorrow's not going to be better than that. So why invest in better? If God spoke to me right now and told me that I would never have greater stimuli than I have right now, that wouldn't worry me. It's all about how you celebrate the stimuli you have.

Oprah: I love that. Is that why you've skipped awards ceremonies?

Sean: There is no best performance. But not going to awards ceremonies has more to do with my social discomfort than with a purist thing. God forbid you get drunk beforehand and they call you up there. Then there's the media thing. They start acting like high-schoolers, pitting people against each other and betting in Vegas. Bill Murray and I are supposed to hate each other. It's all so sophomoric.

Oprah: Why did you go to the last Academy Awards?

Sean: Before I was nominated, my mother called me up and said, "Captain Kangaroo died today. He was 76. I'm 77. You're taking me to the Oscars ball this year." I said, "Mom, I'm not even nominated." She said, "Don't be silly!" Then I felt I'd been given a big gift by Clint Eastwood to do Mystic River. Clint was like a life lesson for me. Also, there was so much going on in the world that I would have been embarrassed at being perceived as taking some kind of a stand about that [the awards].

Oprah: How was Clint a life lesson?

Sean: He has a quiet dignity. He was very strong and great to be around.

Oprah: What did it mean to you to stand before your peers and accept that Oscar?

Sean: It was a relief to have the night over with. I don't care what anybody says, you're surprised when you hear your name called. It's like if you scratch one of those tickets, you never expect it to say you've won $25. So the surprise makes me nervous. I saw my mother's face and Clint's face, and that was going to bust me. I had to look past them.

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