Film: Interview - Sean Penn: ACTING? IT'S A PENN IN THE BUTT...; Sean Penn Reveals Why He Prefers Life Behind the Lens
Wallace, Richard, The Mirror (London, England)
Sean Penn is the last of the Hollywood mavericks. His "you talking to me?" facial expression can transform into an aggressive snarl or cherubic grin in the flicker of an instant. He wears the rare talent he possesses lightly and resolutely refuses to play the power games which make up so much of modern-day movie-making.
For the past three years he's worked on films virtually back to back. His latest role is a 1930s jazz musician in Woody Allen's Sweet & Lowdown. It was an experience which Penn is clearly ambivalent about.
"I took a crash course in learning to play the guitar," he remembers. "I had a lot of songs to learn in a short time, so I just had to keep the guitar in my hand. It's funny, I always wanted to learn to play guitar, but it was a chore. When the movie was over, I put the guitar down and didn't want to touch one again."
Not that Penn seems to care less about his work in front of the camera, as he likes just one in four of the films he's acted in. For instance, he never even saw the brilliant Carlito's Way, in which he played a coked-out lawyer. Yet he loved Hurly-Burly - a bitter, but little seen, Hollywood satire released earlier this year in which, once again, he was mesmeric.
Penn, who is now 38, insists he's going back to concentrating on directing and forgetting about acting, a vow he tends to make every four years or so.
"There's no point in being dramatic, but it's going to be quite a while before I act in another film," he says. "I don't take a lot of enjoyment from it. At the same time, however, I've tried to make a point of doing things that push me one way or the other. I feel that my tool kit has grown and I can build a character better, but I don't get excited about it any more. I try to do the best I can, but it's a job, as opposed to directing, which I find thrilling. Acting is always a struggle. I don't enjoy it so much."
This assessment is apparently shared by the producers of the Allen film. Word on the set was that Penn called in sick so many times, a lawsuit was threatened. Penn's publicist says there is no basis for the lawsuit, but Sean admits he hates being away from his wife, actress Robin Penn Wright, their daughter, Dylan, seven, and son, Hopper, five. …