Mystic River Man
"Hollywood is much more creatively corrupt than it is economically [corrupt]. It takes $1 for them to kill their dreams. Their dreams are worth more than $1." Sean Penn
First catching attention while playing Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Sean Penn later earned three Best Actor Academy Award nominations for starring in Dead Man Walking (1995), Sweet and Lowdown (1999) and I Am Sam (2001). Penn eventually won an Academy Award for Best Actor for portraying a tormented father seeking vengeance for his daughter's murder in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (2003). He also played roles in such films as Bad Boys (1983), At Close Range (1986), Casualties of War (1989), Carlito's Way (1993), She's So Lovely (1997), The Game (1997), Hurlyburly (1998, as Eddie, reprising his stage role), The Thin Red Line (1998), 21 Grams (2003), The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004) and The Interpreter (2005). He will also star in the upcoming films All the King's Men and In Search of Captain Zero.
The Academy Award-winning actor also tried his hand in directing. He helmed The Indian Runner (1991) and two films starring Jack Nicholson: The Crossing Guard (1995) and The Pledge (2000). Sean Penn was listed on John Willis' Screen World’s "Promising New Actors of 1984" and Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" (October 1997).
On a more personal note, the 5' 10” tall actor-director gained public attention when he married pop diva Madonna in 1985. After their divorce, Penn became involved with actress Robin Wright, whom he married in 1996. Sean Penn was also linked to such names as singer Jewel Kilcher (a.k.a. Jewel; born in 1974), actress Susan Sarandon (born on October 4, 1946; dated briefly in 1984), Elizabeth McGovern (born on July 18, 1961; engaged in 1983; separated in 1984) and actress-photographer Pamela Springsteen (sister of Bruce Springsteen, briefly engaged).
Childhood and Family:
“Family makes me feel there's a reason I'm alive... I'm feeling my life, which I didn't always do partly because I'd be drunk a lot.” Sean Penn
The second son of actress Eileen Ryan and blacklisted director (during the 1950s) Leo Penn, Sean Justin Penn was born on August 17, 1960, in Santa Monica, California. Along with his brothers Chris Penn (actor; born on June 10, 1962) and Michael Penn (singer/songwriter-turned- director; born on August 1, 1958), Sean grew up in a community occupied by such potential celebrities as actor Martin Sheen’s sons Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez.
Young Sean Penn studied Auto Mechanics and Speech at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, California, but left after a one-quarter semester. As acting beckoned, Penn studied acting with Peggy Feury and later with the Group Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles, California.
On August 16, 1985, Sean Penn made headlines when he married pop queen Madonna (a.k.a. Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone; born on August 16, 1958), but they divorced on January 10, 1989. From 1991, Penn lived together with actress Robin Wright (born on April 8, 1966), whom he met on a set of State of Grace (1990). They have two children: daughter Dylan Francis Penn (born on April 13, 1991) and son Hopper Jack Penn (born on August 6, 1993; named after family friends Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson). Sean Penn and Robin Wright eventually exchanged wedding vows on April 27, 1996.
All the King's Men
"I'm in the showbiz because I need money!" Sean Penn
A local theater activist during his teens, Sean Penn apprenticed for two years with the Group Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles and directed a one-act play, "Terrible Jim Fitch." He also worked as an assistant to actor-director Pat Hingle. First appearing with an unaccredited role on an episode of "Little House on the Prairie" in 1974, Sean Penn debuted professionally as a guest star, on a December 1979 episode of the TV series "Barnaby Jones." 19-year-old Penn then drove cross-country to the Big Apple and landed a film-acting debut as a mutinous cadet at a military school in the sleeper drama Taps (1981), alongside Oscar-winning actor Timothy Hutton and future star Tom Cruise. That same year, he played a supporting role in the CBS movie The Killing of Randy Webster, and debuted on the Broadway stage in a production of "Heartland."
Fast-talking stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli, in Amy Heckerling's high school comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), was Penn’s first breakthrough feature role. He then starred in the acclaimed rough urban melodrama, about life inside a teenager jail, Bad Boys (1983, as Mick O'Brien), in Louis Malle caper comedy Crackers (1984) and made his first romantic lead, opposite Elizabeth McGovern, in the period romance Racing with the Moon (1984). Penn then returned to the Broadway stage to costar with Val Kilmer, Jackie Earle Haley and Kevin Bacon in "The Slab Boys." The next year, Penn delivered a noticeable performance as real-life spy Daulton Lee, who sold CIA secrets to the Russian KGB, in John Schlesinger's political thriller The Falcon and the Snowman, and portrayed Christopher Walken’s son in the chilling At Close Range (1986, also with brother Christopher and mother Eileen Ryan).
After starring opposite then-wife, pop queen Madonna in the awry Shanghai Surprise (1986), a tedious adventure set in 1937 China, Penn went to act in a Los Angeles stage production of David Rabe's "Hurlyburly" and hosted NBC’s "Saturday Night Live" in October of 1987. Father Leo then directed Penn in Judgment in Berlin (shown on TV as Escape to Freedom) and Dennis Hopper paired him with Robert Duvall in the solid drama Colors (1988, as a cop). Penn also made his first film with director Brian DePalma, playing a brutal US soldier in the Vietnam tale Casualties of War (costarring Michael J. Fox) and appeared alongside Robert De Niro, playing a comic crook, in the uneven comedy We're No Angels (both in 1989).
Entering the new decade, Penn appeared as an undercover cop in the mob melodrama State of Grace (1990, alongside future wife Robin Wright). He also made his directional and writing debut in the 1991 peculiar, but interesting, Indian Runner, the little seen feature about two brothers (played by David Morse and Viggo Mortensen) with different views on life in the wake of the Vietnam War. The film was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s song “Highway Patrolman” from the Nebraska album. Two years later, Penn formed Clyde Is Hungry Productions. He also returned to the screen and played the supporting role of corrupt attorney David Kleinfeld in the Brian De Palma mob movie Carlito's Way (1993, costarring Al Pacino). In 1995, Penn sat in the director’s chair helming the dark drama The Crossing Guard, starring Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston. The film, which he also wrote and produced, also featured his mother, father, and wife Robin Wright. He also directed the Lyle Lovett music video "North Dakota."
Penn’s first Best Actor Academy Award nomination knocked in 1995 after Penn brilliantly portrayed a death row convict, searching for salvation, in Tim Robbins’ critical and popular success Dead Man Walking (costarring Susan Sarandon). Two years later, Penn appeared in Oliver Stone’s poorly received U-Turn (with Nick Nolte and Jennifer Lopez) and became Michael Douglas’ brother in David Fincher's hit psychological thriller The Game. Penn next costarred as a lovesick, jealous husband in She's So Lovely (co-starring John Travolta and wife Robin Wright Penn). The film, which he also executive-produced, won Penn the Cannes Best Actor Award.
In association with the Helicon Theatre Company, Penn executive produced a Los Angeles stage production of Irish playwright Graham Reid's "Remembrance" (starring his parents). In front of the camera, Penn played the lead role of Sgt. Eddie Walsh in Terrence Malick's return to directing after an absence of 20 years, in the star-studded, critically acclaimed World War II drama The Thin Red Line (1998). He also reprised his stage role of Eddie, a Hollywood agent permanently wired on coke and grass, for the screen version of David Rabe's "Hurlyburly” (1998, co-starring with Kevin Spacey) and appeared as a cameo in Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich (1999). The second Best Actor Academy Award nomination came in 1999 after Penn starred as the wacky '30s jazz guitarist in Woody Allen's period comedy Sweet and Lowdown (1999, alongside fellow Academy Award-nominee Samantha Morton).
Entering the new century, Penn returned to stage, opposite Nick Nolte, in Sam Shepard's play "The Late Henry Moss." He subsequently appeared in Julian Schnabel's art-house rendering of Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas’ Before Night Falls (2000), Kathryn Bigelow's The Weight of Water (screened at film festivals; released theatrically in USA in 2002; Penn played a poet entangled in a small town murder mystery) and starred with Kristin Scott Thomas in Phillip Haas' adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novella, Up in the Villa (with Kristen Scott Thomas), a film set in the expatriate society of 1938 Florence.
Sean Penn nabbed a third Best Actor Academy Award nomination for portraying a mentally disabled father fighting for custody of his seven-year-old daughter (played by Dakota Fanning) in the feature I Am Sam (2001, opposite Michelle Pfeiffer). Meanwhile, TV viewers watched Penn make several appearances in a reoccurring guest role on the NBC sitcom "Friends." Also in that year, Penn directed Jack Nicholson and Robin Wright Penn in his third feature film, the psychological drama The Pledge, and narrated Stacy Peralta's skateboarding documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys (screened at Sundance; released theatrically in USA in 2002). He also had a small role in the romantic film It's All About Love (2002).
Penn eventually took home a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Jimmy Markum, a tormented father seeking vengeance for his daughter's murder, in Clint Eastwood’s emotional drama feature Mystic River (2003, alongside Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins). After winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2004, Sean Penn said, "If there's one thing that actors know —other than there weren't any WMDs— it's that there is no such thing as best in acting."
With an Oscar under his belt, more divergent roles rolled in. Penn was offered the role of an incurably ill college professor in Alejandro González Iñárritu's urban drama 21 Grams (2003) and Sam Bicke, an emotionally, socially disconnected 1974 businessman, in The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004, opposite Naomi Watts, Don Cheadle and Jack Thompson), a true-story based movie about a man who tried to capture a jet and crash it into the White House. More recent, Penn starred as a federal agent assigned to protect an African-born U.N. translator (played by Nicole Kidman), in Sydney Pollack’s thriller The Interpreter. He will soon complete the film version of the Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All the King's Men, playing Southern politician Willie Stark, and is set to play a role in In Search of Captain Zero.
"One of the reasons people sell out so quickly is because even the talented think they're frauds. It's a culture that doesn't encourage people to believe in the work they do. You're told to second-guess yourself all the time. That's where I think a little hostility and arrogance can save you. And I've never been lacking for either." Sean Penn