Sean Penn: His Life and Times

Sean Penn: His Life and Times

by Richard T. Kelly

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Brash, iconoclastic, controversial, intelligent and "the best actor of his generation," all have been used to describe Sean Penn. Throughout his remarkable career in the dramatic arts, as well as his occasionally explosive personal life, Sean Penn has proved he rarely plays by the rules. A tumultuous marriage to Madonna, stints in jail, and other forms of


Brash, iconoclastic, controversial, intelligent and "the best actor of his generation," all have been used to describe Sean Penn. Throughout his remarkable career in the dramatic arts, as well as his occasionally explosive personal life, Sean Penn has proved he rarely plays by the rules. A tumultuous marriage to Madonna, stints in jail, and other forms of hell-raising marked Penn's younger years, along with some stunning performances on film. Later, Penn emerged as a brilliant director, devoted father, contentious political activist…and reluctant actor, capable nevertheless of breathtaking performances (Dead Man Walking, Sweet and Lowdown, Mystic River, and 21 Grams). Illustrated with over seventy-five black and white photographs and drawing on exclusive interviews with Penn and his family, friends and colleagues (Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Woody Allen, Susan Sarandon, Bono, Christopher Walken, Angelica Huston, and many more), Kelly creates an engaging, richly detailed and multi-faceted portrait of an uncompromising American artist in this exclusive and engrossing authorized biography.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Like its subject, Kelly's biography of the idiosyncratic Oscar winner pulses with insight. Composed as an oral history, film writer Kelly's book boasts the full participation of the actor, whose volatile relationship with the press initially gained him more fame than his talent. Penn's skills manifested themselves early on: as a 14-year-old extra for a Little House on the Prairie episode, Penn refused to eat lunch because "I thought you should stay with your character in the situation." Featuring commentary from Penn's entire family (including wife Robin Wright Penn but minus his late father, actor/director Leo Penn) and actors like Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper, Kelly's book forges further beyond the usual Hollywood bio by interviewing several men Penn has portrayed in film (such as convicted spy Andrew Daulton Lee, whom Penn played in 1985's The Falcon and the Snowman). "He wants the tough substance," television executive John Sykes says, an observation that may seem obvious in light of Penn's challenging films and his burgeoning political involvement, but that in the context of this book, which also highlights Penn's repeated reluctance to act, deepens the portrait of the actor. Structured chronologically, the book may offer opportunities for Penn's less rapturous fans to skip over certain sections, but the oral history format-so well suited for a subject who engenders countless stories-is perfect here. Photos. (Nov. 29) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A star-studded cast comes together with relative unknowns to chat about their buddy Sean. Shying away from the standard hagiographic strategy-dark, troubled thespian is constantly misunderstood by the dull masses and those Hollywood suits-British journalist/documentary filmmaker Kelly relies instead on a galaxy of interviewees ranging from actors Christopher Walken, Angelica Huston, and Jack Nicholson to Penn's mother and a gaggle of his less famous friends. Son of a devoutly Catholic Irish-Italian actress and a Russian-Jewish journeyman director, Penn grew up pretty wild in Malibu, surfing, drinking, getting into trouble, and screwing around making short movies with friends like Emilio Estevez. After some hardscrabble theater work in Los Angeles and later New York, he got a major role in the 1981 film Taps. Fast Times at Ridgemont High followed soon after. His career since has hardly been a smooth upward climb: downs include the sad, crass failure of Shanghai Surprise, and his increasingly impressive work as a writer/director (The Pledge, The Crossing Guard) has not yet achieved much commercial success. Given the wealth of voices here, it's easy for Kelly to resist the authorial urge to pontificate about the meaning to Penn's life; instead, he lets its enjoyably random chaos wash across the page. One person after another attests to Penn's mule-headed nature and his monkish devotion to the craft of acting, which includes such irritating-to-coworkers quirks as insisting on being referred to by his character's name and acting rude off-camera to people he was supposed to hate on-camera. Great stories include the anecdote about Penn and some friends getting a private serenade from Jewel-untilshe was interrupted by a bang: the actor had just shot a rat with a laser-sighted Glock. One of those rare oral biographies that's admiring yet still honest. Agent: Tara Hiatt/Faber & Faber

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Canongate Books
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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sean Penn

His Life and Times

By Richard T. Kelly

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Copyright © 2006

Richard T. Kelly

All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-84195-623-6

Chapter One

"I kind of see Sean in ... that particular heroic ... moment, the 1950s and 1960s.
Antonioni, Rossellini, Pasolini ... I see those aspects in him, but also very American
aspects-Brando, James Dean. I see Sean with Kerouac, or the young Bob Dylan. But I
don't really see him in corporate America, 2004." -Anjelica Huston

"Sean and I have a good time together, no doubt about that. I remember when we were
scouting The Pledge, I got up the next morning for breakfast and there was Sean asleep
under the piano. I thought, 'Here's another reason we get along. Another Irishman who
don't wanna get up in the morning.'" -Jack Nicholson

"What is the sequel? Spicoli Goes to College? Spicoli couldn't have got into college ...
Spicoli Goes to Rehab? Spicoli Gets Out of Jail After Fifteen Years for Pot Possession
and Reenters Society? That is a movie, I suppose. Neither Sean nor I have ever been so broke
that we've had to think about it seriously." -Art Linson, producer, Fast Times At
Ridgemont High

"And I, stupidly, hit him. And he went down. And then I made the mistake. He was
bigger than I was. I didn't want him getting up, so I picked up a chair-not thinking, I
just went from a misdemeanor handbook to a felony, assault with a deadlyweapon-just
thinking, 'I want to let him know not to get up.'" -Sean Penn

"But the very last day of shooting, Sean finished a little before I did [and] he went away
and shaved, and cut his hair. And then when he came down to the set it was one of the
most jarring things that I've seen.... You know, you just eventually trick yourself into
thinking this is your reality.... I'm sure that Sean had to disengage ... he drove across
the country after that, and I can't speak for him, but I don't know how he could have
gone through the part and not been pretty deeply affected." -Susan Sarandon, on Penn
in Dead Man Walking

"So much of being an actor in movies-especially if you're a leading character in a
piece-is that all-day everyday thing of catching a light here, hitting a mark there ...
connecting with another person in the scene, creative choices ... The concentration ... is
So it's a big fuckin' school's-out-for-summer feeling when you're done.... You're
starting life again, and you can just be free." -Sean Penn


Excerpted from Sean Penn
by Richard T. Kelly
Copyright © 2006 by Richard T. Kelly.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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