The word “statuesque” is often used to describe a certain kind of movie star, but it applies to Sean Penn in a very different way. Sculpted upper arms visible underneath the sleeves of his T-shirt, his facial muscles look like they’re cut out of marble as his gaze fixes on the horizon. The only sign of life is the American Spirit cigarette on which Penn drags repeatedly, in flagrant violation of the smoking ban at the Carlton Hotel here in Cannes.
Every moviegoer knows what strength lies within. It can take on the most varied of forms --the bitter avenger, as in “Mystic River,” for which the 51-year-old won his first Oscar; the campaigning liberator, as in “Milk,” which brought him Oscar number two; or the bizarre, as in his latest film.
“I admit that I’ve always been driven by some sort of anger."
In “This Must Be the Place,” he plays a washed-up former rock star, a mixture of Robert Smith and Ozzy Osbourne, who travels around the U.S. in search of a fugitive Nazi war criminal who tormented his father. Ask Penn where this energy comes from, and he won’t say.
“I have no interest in analyzing myself,” he says laconically, in a tone that makes it sound like he’s gurgling pebbles. Penn’s voice and gaze then trail off into the ether before he decides to give an insight after all. “I admit that I’ve always been driven by some sort of anger. An anger that is completely undeserved. I wouldn’t recommend it as a source of motivation, but it’s always worked for me.”
Check out the January 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands December 13) for more of the article. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.