Oprah Talks to Sean Penn
Oprah: Is what you wrote in that letter what your friends and associates were talking about?
Sean: At the time, I hadn't been associating with too many people. I get up at 6:45—30 minutes before the kids leave. Robin usually gets things started before we see them off to school. Then we'll go have breakfast and come back here and read. So I was just at home, sitting around. Once the letter was published, it became an invitation for people who wanted to talk about it. That's how I met Norman Solomon from the Institute for Public Accuracy. He's the guy I went to Baghdad with the first time.
Oprah: Why did you go to Baghdad?
Sean: I wanted to have a full sense of the place. I didn't need to be convinced that people are people anywhere. I had that predisposition. But nonetheless, we were going to blow them up, and I felt like I hadn't paid enough attention to the last election. I knew my taxes were going to pay for some of the killing. Other times I could idealistically think about being the kind of person who cares what that means. This was the first time I really did.
After the trip, I realized that you don't have to understand people's religion or culture. You can understand people's hearts—and it's the same heart everywhere. In a sense, I was the choir to be preached to, but you can underestimate the power of preaching to the choir because a lot of times, the choir doesn't do anything.
Oprah: They just "amen" you. After you wrote the letter and took the trip, were you prepared to be called a traitor?
Sean: Oh, yes. I could have written the script of what would happen. I was kind of looking forward to it.
Oprah: You were looking forward to being called unpatriotic?
Sean: More than ever, I knew how patriotic I was. I knew others' responses [sparking more public debate] would have a stronger impact than any letter I could write. I wanted to light the fuse.
Oprah: When the American people started to question whether there had been weapons of mass destruction, did you feel vindicated?
Sean: No. That was coming with or without me. I talked to the weapons inspector [Scott Ritter] who had run the show for UNSCOM [United Nations Special Commission]. He'd been the alpha dog who'd say, "We're going to piss on every wall, and they're going to know they've been inspected." He explained the science to me. It would be easy to think that in a place the size of California with a lot of desolate terrain, you could hide things. You can't. It turns out that each one of a six-man team takes 1,000 square miles with three lasers triangulating them. Anything that's buried, even in mile-wide lead six miles down, they'd detect. All those inspectors knew there was nothing there. It's possible that weapons had been moved out to Syria. But they weren't in Iraq. I don't think that information got out to people enough.
Oprah: How do you define your job now?
Sean: It's all one job. See my hand? Acting is like another side of my hand. As a profession, it mutates into something with broader obligations. I'm not just acting in regional theater. I'm a known person.