Sean Penn is just trying to promote his new film, “The Gunman,” but people keep bringing up the Oscars and that whole “green card” joke he made when “Birdman” won Best Picture.
“I’m always surprised by flagrant stupidity. I keep having more hope,” he says. “I have absolutely no apologies. In fact, I have a big f— you for anybody who is so stupid not to have gotten the irony when you’ve got a country that is so xenophobic. If they had their way, you wouldn’t have great filmmakers like Alejandro [Gonzalez Inarritu] working in this country. Thank God we do.”
As for critics who lambasted the actor for insensitivity on the immigration issue, he has some even more direct words: “I think they can be a bit more cheerful,” Penn says with a shrug. “I think what’s most offensive is we’re attaching a protective sensibility to something which is meant to create self-censorship in people’s interactions. I think that when somebody as special as Alejandro makes a film as special as ‘Birdman’ was, that if he has a friend on stage, that maybe that friend wants to let him know that he won privately for a moment before the room knows and he did, cause there was a history there. So I wanted him to know it first, and that’s who I was talking to, so I don’t give f— about all those other people.”
But about “The Gunman.” It’s directed by Pierre Morel, who made Liam Neeson an action star with “Taken.” And given that Penn is also a respected actor of a certain age, natural comparisons have been drawn — not that he agrees with the assessment. “I thought Harrison Ford made a whole career on this stuff and I didn’t think it was considered, like, a new trend or anything like that — what I call geri-action,” Penn says. “But there are aspects of this that have nothing to do with that, also. Admittedly there’s a tremendous amount of action, one can’t say it’s not an action movie, but it’s a different kind of movie also because it’s not a ‘wink at the audience’ movie. This is more straight.”
But action is action, and Penn, who got in impressive shape for the film — a shape he shoes off by ditching his shirt whenever possible — didn’t escape entirely without injuries. “Little ones,” he admits. “We got away without anything serious happening. There was an extraordinarily achy body at the end of the film, but that’s accumulative.”
Even if “The Gunman” enjoys “Taken” levels of success, he’s not necessarily eyeing a franchise, and not just because of the aches and pains. “I’ve never looked at a movie as beyond a movie, and in that case I wouldn’t allow myself to think about that. I hope the best for this movie, we worked hard, a lot of people have worked hard and invested in this. I got projects I want to direct and that’s what I want to focus on.”
Of course, ask him immediately after he’s finished filming, and he’d tell you he’ll never make another movie again, sequel or no sequel. “I think if I can remember what it feels like after it’s done, that I would never do it again,” Penn admits. “But it’s a perishable awareness.”
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick