Oprah Talks to Sean Penn
Oprah: What really happened?
Sean: Three incidents in a row is what happened. There was a guy who had lied to my face years before, and after I'd had a few, I hit him. I didn't want him to get back up because he was bigger than me, so I picked up a chair. That became "assault with a deadly weapon," which I had reason to believe could be reduced to a simple battery thing that I could fight. While I was awaiting arraignment a week later, I was driving back from San Pedro—I'd been drinking and the cops pulled me over. A week after that, I was on a movie set and this guy took a picture in the middle of a scene. I went over and said something to him, and he spit at me. So I hit him. With three arrests in three weeks, I had to do time. Many of the details didn't come out because I made a deal for 60 days that ended up being 34.
Oprah: How was jail?
Oprah: Bet you read a lot.
Sean: I was able to send my reading material ahead of time. They have to go through every page to make sure you're not hiding contraband. When I got there, I found out what concentrated time will do. After two days, I'd read everything, including the complete essays of Montaigne. A lot of guys in prison are incredibly well read.
Oprah: They're reading stuff I wish I had time to read. What did your marriage to Madonna [which ended in 1989] teach you?
Sean: It was a good thing. Well, it was a miserable marriage, but I like her a lot. It got me steps further and clearer into knowing what I wanted. I still had a lot of demon doors to go through.
Oprah: For a shy guy, that marriage must have been like stepping into the reinvention pool of life.
Sean: When we married, there was no anticipating what was to come.
Oprah: Had she done Material Girl?
Sean: I met her on the shoot of that video. Madonna had done Like a Virgin, so she was a phenom, but nothing could have told anybody what would happen next. I describe that marriage as loud. That's how I remember it. And frankly, I don't recall having a single conversation in four years of marriage. I've talked to her a couple of times since, and there's a whole person there. I just didn't know it.
Oprah: What was going on while you were married?
Sean: I don't have a clue. I was 24 when I married, and I was just living in my own head. Who was it that said, "Men are vain, particularly young men"? That was me—and I sure liked to drink a lot. I'm not saying it was meaningless. I've carried over the lessons to things more applicable now.
Oprah: What is it about you and Robin that works?
Sean: It's a meant-to-be deal. I trust her. But none of it comes easy.
Oprah: In your ad in The New York Times [in 2003], you included a quote by William Saroyan: "In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches." Is that how you live?
Sean: I certainly aspire to. Those words make more sense to me than the Bible. It's shorter, and it says it all to me. If I'd written that, I'd feel I never had to write again. And that was written by a wife beater, by the way.