Oprah Talks to Sean Penn
Oprah: Are you one of those people who can leave the character in the trailer and come home and take the kids out?
Sean: No. I don't necessarily bring home every tragedy I'm playing. But there are rhythms. What I took home with Assassination was deep insecurity and failure.
Oprah: And Byck moving into his psychosis.
Sean: Right. I live in the energy and rhythm of the character. To some degree, that's true of every actor I've worked with.
Oprah: When you're playing a role like Byck, how difficult are you to live with?
Sean: That wasn't a pretty time.
Oprah: When you watch the film now, what do you think?
Sean: I get a kick out of it. I see all the funny stuff.
Oprah: And what might that be?
Sean: Oh, I mean cringe funny. When my wife, Robin, and I saw it, she had her fingernails in my hand. She was like, "I'm married to that man?"
Oprah: When you look at it in terms of people who feel disenfranchised, do you think it's more relevant now than it was four years ago?
Sean: Oh, yes. It's also politically provocative. There's a linguistics professor over at Berkeley [George Lakoff] who says that since 9/11, people don't vote based on self-interests or national interests—they vote their identity. If one considers George Bush to be a person whose fundamental nature is deep insecurity, as I do, do people take comfort in the familiarity they have with that? With his fear? With his identity not of courage but of bravado? I think they do. The law I have in movies is that people don't always know when they're being lied to, but they always know when they're being told the truth. So there's a consciousness now that seems not to want to know the truth—and to be grateful for that. You go with what's comfortable when you don't feel you can take comfort in what's going on. I see a lot of the Bush administration in Sam Byck. Sam acts with an absolutism in lieu of wisdom.
Oprah: What made you write the open letter to President Bush in the Washington Post in 2002, urging him not to wage war on Iraq?
Sean: I was going nuts with all these chicken hawks on TV talking their garbage. An actor's job is to look for truth in people's behavior. And I don't mind saying that I consider myself an expert. I knew what I was hearing was full of shit. And I know that my kids are going to grow up in the result of it. Bit by bit, it got me nuts. Angry.
Oprah: You knew you'd get criticism. What was your intention in writing the letter?
Sean: Somebody had to. Part of my anger was about Hollywood. Everybody was being quiet. I probably would've written the letter sooner if I hadn't thought so-and-so would do it before I did. I was like, "Let's get this conversation started."
Oprah: Did it work?
Sean: It helped. I didn't want to keep working in a movie business that was silent about this. I was ashamed of it.