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CNN Larry King Live

Encore Presentation: Interview With Sean Penn

Aired September 17, 2006 - 21:00   ET


SEAN PENN, ACTOR: All right, Larry, do the line.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: All right. You work for me 'cause I'm the way I am and you're the way you are and that's just an arrangement found in the natural order of things.

PENN: Oh, that's good.

KING (voice-over): Tonight, Sean Penn, unscripted, on screen. He's been a stone surfer, a condemned killer, and an angry, anguished dad. Off screen, he's tangled with the tabloids, married and divorced Madonna, and rode to the rescue in New Orleans. He opens up about the tragic death of his brother Chris, his controversial trip to Iraq, and a lot more.

The man Brando called the best actor alive, Sean Penn for the hour, next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: Good evening.

It's a great pleasure to welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE, Sean Penn the man the late Marlon Brando told me is the best living actor, the Oscar winner, sometime social activist. He's been to Iraq twice. He's been on this program.

And, his new movie "All the King's Men" opens September 22nd. I have seen advanced previews of this movie. It is sensational. I remember the original with Broderick Crawford, which won Academy Awards. This is going to do the same and it's going to win another one for you. In my humble opinion, you will win an Academy Award. We'll talk a lot about that later.

PENN: All right.

KING: And a lot of things to talk about. It's been a mixed year for you. You have a great movie coming out. But you started with the family tragedy.

PENN: Yes.

KING: How was that? How do you deal with that? Were you close? PENN: Yes, we were very close. The thing that summed it up the best for me was a friend of mine, who I saw a couple of days after it happened, saw me and walked across a lobby, I was in a hotel, and he said "It's a stinker."

KING: You know we know about the loss of parents. That's supposed to happen. Parents die before us.

PENN: Yes.

KING: The loss of children that's the worst of all as you portrayed in "Mystic River." No one could display it better. The loss of a sibling what's it like?

PENN: It's a piece of you, you know. I'm one of three, so I'm either my right, left arm or the center of it at various times and each was the other. So, I intermittently have lost my right arm, my left, or the center. But it's life and people go through that.

KING: A long time getting over it?

PENN: That won't happen. I don't think you get over it.

KING: You don't get over it?

PENN: I don't think so. I don't want to.

KING: Meaning you want to keep him?

PENN: Yes.

KING: Did you know there were problems? I'm not going to dwell on it. I just...

PENN: Well, the problem was weight. He had -- he had certainly been a fantastically self-abusing guy over periods of his life, but that wasn't the case in the end. I mean, it was a natural death, but a natural death that was brought on, you know, by some hard living but particularly weight.

KING: Were there interventions, people trying to help?

PENN: Back when he had issues of various kinds?

KING: Yes.

PENN: Yes. Yes, my brother Christopher was a bull of his own. He lived, you know, as full a life as you could live by 40 and I've got no choice but to look at it that way, you know that that's, you know, he lived the life he was going to live.

KING: Do we know the cause? Do they have -- what are they...?

PENN: Well, the coroner's report is natural causes, you know, enlarged heart I think was the primary issue behind that.

KING: How good an actor was he?

PENN: Oh, he was -- I think that he was a size of soul that nobody else had, and if, you know, this isn't a brother talking. I mean all anyone need do is watch the ironically titled "The Funeral" that my brother Christopher was in, and it's a piece of work that always inspired in me, I mean he was a size of talent and a size of person that I don't think anybody else had.

KING: You worked with him, right?

PENN: Yes.

KING: In what, "At Close Range"?

PENN: Yes.

KING: What was that like?

PENN: It was terrific. It was one of our fonder memories really, and my mother worked on that as well.

KING: Yes.

PENN: And they had some good scenes on that together. Unfortunately, we didn't work together enough.

KING: Did you use similar techniques?

PENN: No, there was nothing similar about my brother Chris and I, no.

KING: How would you describe yours? Are you a -- are you like Anthony Quinn used to say, Anthony Quinn told me "I marinate. I don't act. I marinate the role?"

PENN: Well, I think it's different with every movie or every play that you do. You approach things differently based on the directors that you're working with, and they often say about a director, it's his job to create an environment, that each director only has their own nature and talent, and what kind of an environment they want to create that's productive. And so following that lead, in many ways, you try to find the part of your own craft that functions well with that director.

KING: So are you good with directors?

PENN: It depends on which director you ask.

KING: What happens when you disagree? Do you win because you're Sean Penn?

PENN: You can't win with a director. You can win a battle, but you can't win a war. If you try -- at the end of the day, he's going to write the movie again in the editing room, and it's going to be something that has the limitations and also the expanse of his imagination in terms of the tone of every nuance of the movie. So if you struggle through on a day where you have an idea that differs from him, finally if he doesn't understand it, it might be good, it might be bad, but if he doesn't understand it, it's not going to fit with the sum total of the picture.

KING: I want to talk about a couple of things currently making news and get into other things. I want to get into Katrina. I want of course to get into this incredible movie, "All the King's Men." You won't see a better movie. Maybe you'll see one as good, but you won't see a better movie.

What do you make of that whole Mel Gibson thing?

PENN: Well, I make a few things out of it. I don't know him well. I know him a little bit. I've -- the aspect -- I separate the celebrity part of it. I don't think we should be hearing about him necessarily any more than we should hear about anybody else.

That's the way I think about this. I don't think it's the price you pay. That's just my feeling about it.

KING: In other words it's not about ...

PENN: I think you should be able to -- no, it's our business. It's our business when anyone commits a crime, it's our business when anybody adds anything hateful to the culture. That makes it our business. But I'm just saying, try to calm down on the hype a bit that is related to his celebrity.

I think that the signs were there that there is a problem in his thinking and maybe a very ugly one. When he was interviewed about his father's statements earlier, when he had had his movie about Christ, "The Passion," and there were some issues -- I think that whether it's your father or not, when he says things that are obscene, that if that is taken on in the press, you've got to reject it. It doesn't matter who it is. He should have.

KING: Should it then affect whether or not we go to his movie?

PENN: That's up to everyone else to decide. I'm not going to comment on that.

KING: It's a personal decision.

PENN: Yeah. Yeah. I mean -- these were very ugly things. They weren't illegal things to say. And so, I think that I -- I think Elia Kazan was a great director. I think he was also a Judas of idealists at one time. Does that make -- it doesn't matter. I think if you're going to get something out of it that's going to expand what you feel about the world out of their art, then fine. So if somebody responds to Mel Gibson's art, let them make the choice.

KING: Do you think people say what they mean when they're drunk?

PENN: They say what they mean at the time. Or what feels good to say at the time. KING: We'll be right back with Sean Penn. You'll see him starting September 22nd in "All the King's Men." Don't go away.


PENN: What do you make of the whole Tom Cruise thing? There's unbelievable attention paid to this because he jumped on the coach or has a religion.




JAMES GANDOLFINI, ACTOR: I watched a lot of actors, but Sean is one that I watch. You just watch him while he's in a scene with you and you learn.

JUDE LAW, ACTOR: I was able very often to sit back and just watch him work. I've never worked with anyone as inventive or as driven to find a refresh something, that you feel you've (inaudible) but could get better.

ANTHONY HOPKINS, ACTOR: He is so focused on what he's doing, and that's the mark of a great artist.


KING: We're back with Sean Penn, the man the late Marlon Brando called our best living actor. I think most critics would agree with that.

When someone says something like that, how does it make you feel? You know you're good. You've got to know you're good.

PENN: All I've got to do to calm down is see Daniel Day-Lewis in "The Ballad of Jack Rose," and I know there's no such thing as the best living actor, because something like that comes along and you get very humbled very fast.

KING: Do you often see things that you said, God, I would have liked to have done that?

PENN: No, not too often.


PENN: No, because it always looks like a lot of work to me. In fact, even the things that I do, you know, it's always a kind of dread that comes right before starting, because you do increasingly have a sense of what the investment will be of energy, of, you know, engagement in something. So it's only sometimes I'll look back and I'll say, boy, am I glad I did that.

KING: I want to get to Katrina and New Orleans and the movie. What do you make of the whole Tom Cruise thing? There's unbelievable attention paid because he jumped on a couch or has a religion.

PENN: I just don't think it's going to matter at all. I think Tom Cruise has -- he is a movie star, and he's not going to stop being a movie star. He's a complicated person. I used to know him better than I do now. Always liked him a lot, but ...

KING: Hard working actor.

PENN: Oh, he's a hard working person. I don't -- I hear all the things anybody else hears. I, you know, certainly know him to be a terrific guy. That's been my whole experience with him, and often a very terrific actor. It's just not -- it doesn't matter. None of this stuff is going to matter in the long run. He's going to do what he wants to do.

KING: How's your life, now, by the way?

PENN: Very good, thank you.

KING: Everything good?

PENN: Well, yeah.

KING: You've got a great wife, right?

PENN: I do. I have a very great wife. Great kids.

KING: Still live in San Francisco?

PENN: Yeah.

KING: Why?

PENN: It's quieter. Quieter than here. Los Angeles or New York, and also for my kids, it's better to be in a place -- the people where I live are generally less concerned with the sort of trivial interests of Hollywood. They might like a movie here or there, but I don't think that that interests...

KING: They don't gawk, right? Paparazzi don't follow you around?

PENN: No, not at all.

KING: Kind of nice?

PENN: Very nice, yeah.

KING: Also, ain't a bad scenic place?

PENN: It's a beautiful place to live, yeah.

KING: OK. New Orleans.

PENN: Mm-hmm.

KING: Katrina and this film. Did they coincide?


KING: Were you finished with the film?

PENN: Yeah we had finished -- for a couple of months had finished the film, and then Katrina happened.

KING: Did you grow attached to the city?

PENN: Yeah. I've been long attached to that city. I used to -- from the time I got my driver's license I was kind of a road rat and would often drive cross country. And generally speaking, driving cross country is just an excuse to go to New Orleans, and so I spent a lot of time there over the years.

KING: When Katrina hit, and you saw all you saw, and you'd just been there filming, right? What did you make of it?

PENN: Well, it was -- you know, it was, oh, well, it's happened, because of course as everybody knows, this has been discussed -- this was a daily discussion in New Orleans.

KING: You mean what happens if.

PENN: In all the years that I've been traveling New Orleans, never two days didn't go by where somebody didn't talk about the fact that it's below sea level, and that if a major hurricane hit, they might be in big trouble.

KING: So a surprise we couldn't call it.

PENN: No. What I was surprised by is what we've all talked about. Or shocked by, which was the response. Which would have been the case whether it was New Orleans or some other kind of devastation somewhere else. I mean, it was just an unheard of lack of response that happened.

But I wasn't surprised. I was shook up by it, of course. It was very -- becomes very real very fast when you start to see images of these people in this kind of desperate situation, and it became people very quickly, because one of the things about New Orleans is that it's such an iconic place, where there's a tendency to think, oh gosh, what's going to happen to the French Quarter? Well, what's going to happen to the guy down the block from the French Quarter really hit home on this one.

KING: You went there, didn't you?

PENN: Yes.

KING: How soon after?

PENN: I got there on day four.

KING: Hoping to help? PENN: Yeah.

KING: And even got some bad -- they saw you carrying a gun or something? What?

PENN: There were a lot of things that happened. It was a chaotic time, but it was a pretty simple thing, really. We saw that not enough was getting done. For a couple of days, it felt like you might get in the way, and then I went down there with a friend, and we were able to just get a boat out in the water and help people out of the water, and go back out and do it again.

So it was kind of a no-brainer, and kind of shamefully so, because there should have been more support there.

KING: What about to see people in that kind of situation? Never seen that before.


KING: How did they deal with it?

PENN: Well, I think everybody is in shock at the time. Four days in, and most of the people I saw were people who had been on the water in the dark for four days. When we got into New Orleans, it was already midnight the first night we got in, and it was black. I mean, there was no light on the city, and every turn you would make you would run into trees and water, or a checkpoint, where they wouldn't let you pass. And so to find our way to someplace we could stay the night was already tricky. And you wake up in the morning to this thing, and you'd go out and you'd realize those people are out there in a swamp throughout that night that I spent on a floor in a house in the Garden District.

And then we got out there, and it was very -- but it was a very complex situation. We had a lot of people that were not willing to get on a boat and get out.

KING: Back with Sean Penn. You'll see "All the King's Men" on the 22nd of September. Don't go away.


PENN: Is that my daughter in there? Look at me! Is she in there? Is that my daughter in there? Is that my daughter in there?



KING: That's a clip of Sean Penn in the aftermath of Katrina.

Did you get ticked when some people thought you were -- this was a celebrity? You know that kind of -- celebrity approaching the scene. PENN: You know what? You've got to do it, and they're going to always say that. It doesn't matter. I just by policy reject thought of it.

KING: You tune it out.

PENN: Yeah.

KING: Always been able to do that?

PENN: Well, I don't mean that I'm always able internally to do it. I mean that externally, that's my policy. That's why -- like I'm answering you now, you know, I'm human, I'm bothered by that kind of pickiness and all that kind of thing, but less bothered, you know, over time. And in particular in this situation, because we knew that we were able to help some people, and that's what we went down there for.

KING: You weren't going there for Sean Penn publicity.

PENN: Yeah. You know, the thing is -- it's kind of a sad comment that people feel that they have to do this, take it off of me for a second. But I see it happen to other people, also, when they do it.

And by the way, I also see people going out there and searching for publicity. I mean, that's a real ...

KING: That also happens.

PENN: Sure, and I think it's dazzlingly amusing. And it happened a lot related to some things down there. But we just spent 12 seconds talking about that, and it takes us off the point. It's, I think, again, there were people down there. You know that if you can help, you do it.

KING: Why do you think the reaction was so bad? I mean, no one would deliberately not react. What do you think went wrong?

PENN: I think, you know, it's dangerous these days to talk about things that are considered not sober criticism, but there is systemic racism. That is a fact of our world. And I think that this was not a case of individual racism in leadership. I think there were a lot of other issues involved. I think there were a lot of -- you know, they have planning commissions and all kinds of things that work out strategies from angles, and suddenly there were a lot of openings that happened, and I think if people work harder when the gaps that need to be closed to help people are not going to take away an opening that they have.

And then I think that there is the kind of general distance that races feel between each other that made it a little less of a media image that was sympathetic to people.

KING: The story of Louisiana politics as depicted in "All the King's Men." Can we relate that today? PENN: I hope so. Yeah. You know, I -- it's -- I guess you can't avoid saying it's a political film because of the territory of it. God knows there are some very invested people in politics involved in the making of films. James Carville, Mike Medavoy, Amy Pascal, who all have very strong feelings politically also.

So I'm sure everybody's interest in that game plays out in it but finally it's a conversation I had with Steve Zaillian.

KING: The director.

PENN: Right. Because he -- the experience I have through him was to be able to not think of it as externally that way. And so I've got to kind of leave it to audiences to interpret whatever parallels they might.

KING: But that character that you play, basically Huey Long, fictionalized version of Huey Long, the famous "spread the wealth" former governor of Louisiana, is a character who becomes affected by power, and then absolute power destroys him. Right?

You can relate that to any political figure today, couldn't you?

PENN: Well, in 1932 Huey Long said something very interesting. It was, "Fascism will come to America, but likely under another name, perhaps antifascism."

KING: We'll chew (ph) on that for a minute.

We'll be right back with Sean Penn. The film is "All the King's Men." Don't go away.



KING: Some other things. Iraq. Getting any better?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen to me, you hicks. That's right. I'm not the only one here. You hicks, too. They fooled you too, just like they fooled me a thousand times. But it's time I fooled somebody. It's time I fool them. Them big city (inaudible) hick haters. I'm running for governor on my own. I'm coming for them and I'm coming for blood!


KING: That might be the scene of the year, by the way. Getting that accent, hard?

PENN: Yeah.

KING: How do you work it? What do you do?

PENN: Well, you decide what you're going to do in terms of what the history of Huey Long was that inspires Willy Stark, and how Willy Stark is a fictional character of Robert Penn Warren. And so do you have an obligation to him being regionally exactly from the place in Louisiana, and that's -- why not start there ...

KING: So what do you listen to?

PENN: So you go there. You go there to those counties -- those parishes where people have more that kind of accent versus the New Orleans -- and New Orleans is very interesting. You know, there is a whole New Orleans accent that sounds very much like a Brooklyn accent, and it's very confusing down in New Orleans. It's such a hodgepodge down there.


PENN: But further north in Louisiana, where Huey Long was from, you find a very different thing. And also then there's the evangelical influence of -- upon a lot of these people, particularly orators of the time. And so spend a lot of time -- make a lot of tapes, and I worked with Tim Monich, who is a legendary of the moment dialect coach, I've worked with him many times before. And he stays on top of you on the set all the time.

KING: When you have a dialect, and doing a movie like that, do you use it in social situations at night?

PENN: For months.

KING: You become Southern?

PENN: You know, it just tends to happen, yeah. It follows through. And it's more musical than we've got here anyway.

KING: What do you make of Jude Law's performance?

PENN: Fantastic. He just came and knocked the doors down with a kind of -- you know, because it is in the thing -- or, it's one of those things that has a very flamboyant leading male character, and then the one who is a kind of internal conscience and anchor of the piece. And very rarely does somebody accomplish that on the level that Jude does here. I mean, he really brings just a kind of startling amount of weight to it, and I loved working with him.

KING: And Anthony Hopkins. Have you ever worked with him?

PENN: I had been wanting to, do want to. He's just one of those touched guys, he's one of the special ones.

KING: And when you act with someone like that, is that really a high?

PENN: It makes it easy not to feel like you're the best actor around. You know? Yeah, no, it's just, you know, I think that you get into -- anytime you get into, in any of our jobs, you know, a place of kind of mutual respect, it gives clarity to everything else. And no, this was a very particular situation. We had producers who believed in the movie. We had a studio that believed in the movie, and we had a director who wrote, who adapted, had lived every beat that every actor had to live in this thing when he wrote. And then was there, and Steve Zaillian also is -- who is really the star of this movie, as far as any of us, the actors are concerned. He's just a guy of such elegance and so respectful of actors and really makes it work.

KING: Wrote "Schindler's List," right?

PENN: Yeah.

KING: Wow. And we should not not mention James Gandolfini.

PENN: Fantastic James, yeah.

KING: He also got the accent down.

PENN: That whole cast is ...

KING: It ain't the "Sopranos", folks.


KING: That scene where you push him. Boy, that's something.

What did you think of when you saw it? What's it like for an actor when he sees it finished?

PENN: Well, I saw it several times. Steve let me, and you know, speak my mind about what I thought about various things, and even during the course of the time that he was working on it. And then he has 40 other people whispering in his ear, and somehow at the end of the day he made a lot of adjustments, none of them ours, and all of them better than the ones that we had.

KING: They are.

PENN: Yeah. This is, again, this is a movie that I think everybody involved is very proud of, and I think that starts with Steve.

KING: It ought to be.

All right. Some other things. Iraq.

PENN: Mm-hmm.

KING: Getting any better? The military now controls itself.

PENN: No. It's -- I think -- to me the situation is pretty simple. I mean, the devastation of the situation is pretty simple. Right now, you know, what these party clowns like Don Rumsfeld could be described as, as far as I'm concerned, except for the enormous damage he's done this country and mankind -- and our president -- and saw that they're getting out there and they're beating this drum, to drown out, as they did in 2002, to drown out other -- in that case it was Enron. Now we have another situation, so this war on terror, boom, boom, boom. Drown out the reality of what's really happening.

I think the American people have a choice. In my idea, it's about an eight to 10-year proposition of Iraqis and Americans and others dying in Iraq. The same amount will be dead of Iraqis, innocent, in 10 years without the Americans as they will with the Americans there. We'll just have more Americans dead.

So shamefully, we have to -- it's what Nixon called peace with honor, to get out of Vietnam.

I think that "cut and run" is something that's meant to make people feel like cowards if they do it. Well, we did make a mistake. It is time to pull our troops out. It's time to rebuild our military because we've got a bad world and they've inflamed terrorism around the world. I think that's very clear to most people.

So what's happened there is a civil war that's going to get worse with us or without us. It's time for us to strengthen ourselves and to try to help them through diplomacy and with money.

KING: But when the president says we should support emerging democracies, because democracy is better for the world, is that -- isn't he right?

PENN: I think he's devastated our democracy. I think you have to start with our democracy. He's made us divided. I have a lot of very good friends who are Republicans, who are right-wing Republicans. And when you are with people and you talk to people as people, and not as Republicans and Democrats, you find that's why his numbers are down. Because people have common sense. They're going to vote in a few months, and they're going to say, well, are we going to be suckers again? Are we going to be suckers to partisan policy and politics and all of that stuff?

By the way, no Democrat that doesn't have a plan to get our troops out of Iraq should be voted for. Not one of them. You know, there's got to be some courage expressed, and that's what I'm worried about is we're not going to have good choices.

KING: More in a minute with Sean Penn, who stars in "All the King's Men." Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Am I hallucinating here? Just what in the hell do you think you're doing?

PENN: Learning about Cuba and having some food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Spicoli, you're on dangerous ground here. You're causing a major disturbance on my time.

PENN: I've been thinking about this, Mr. Hand (ph). If I'm here and you're here, doesn't that make it our time? And certainly there's nothing wrong with a little feast on our time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're absolutely right, Mr. Spicoli. It is our time. Yours, mine, and everyone else's in this room.


KING: Tell me about the hair.

PENN: It's -- I'm a hair actor.

KING: I'll get back to Iraq in a minute. What's it like for you when you see that? How old were you?

PENN: Twenty, 21. Something like that.

KING: That was your first?

PENN: It was my second. I did "Taps" with Tim Hutton before that.

KING: Oh, that's right. That was a good movie. Good movie.

What do you see when you ...

PENN: I seem, you know, these faces -- I'm 46, and so at 46 you still remember that like yesterday, and you look at all these young people and you say, gosh, I wonder why I haven't seen that person in all these years, and if you saw them it would some old guy like you find out -- like I find out I am when I see movies I'm in.

KING: I got you.

Back to Iraq. Would you leave? Just leave?

PENN: Well, I think there are three Iraqs. Or there are four Iraqs. And I think that there is something -- you know, I'm not a military strategist, but that puts me on par with our military strategists. So I think that you have Kurdistan. We have an obligation to the Kurds there. You've got Sunnis and Shiites, who once got along. You have Iran. Iran is definitely beating us, and we're very, very stupidly taking the bait, or exploiting the opportunity to take the bait. I never know how diabolical to see these people -- they're either diabolical or stupid, these people being our government.

But I think that there are probably some very legitimate notions about maintaining some kind of military support for the Kurds during a time of stabilization that will have to happen within that country. But we -- where once upon a time, there were no al Qaeda or other foreign fighters in Iraq, we have now certainly brought a terrible, terrible, devastating human situation that it can't be solved military. KING: What do you mean ...

PENN: I think, yes, we should definitely start getting our kids out and saving their lives.

KING: What do you mean by taking the bait in Iran? What bait are we taking? Trying to get the U.N. to sanction them?

PENN: Well, sanctions is a great ...

KING: Trying to prevent a nation that might be a great problem from having nuclear bombs.

PENN: I was just in Havana this last Christmas and I sat with Fidel Castro for an hour and a half. And I have, let me say, very mixed feeling about Fidel Castro, but not so mixed about his politics, which I largely reject because of the way that he functions.

However, as a believer, I have mixed feelings in his belief in what he does. There are many things to admire. It is very clear that he believes that he is still standing in Cuba because of our sanctions, because of what is in effect in Cuba, an embargo, because of the fact that French ships, or whoever wants to trade with Cuba, if they dock in Cuba they can't use that trip to then come to port in the United States, it's six months more.

Sanctions have only ever done two things. They have helped leaderships use the United States as a scapegoat, and I say the United States, not the U.N. and they've been able -- and they've devastated the people of those countries.

KING: Except they worked in South Africa.

PENN: The sanctions were part of what worked in South Africa. I think also you had a situation in South Africa where the United States policy had a humanitarian vested interest. That's rare.

KING: What would you do about Iran?

PENN: Well, the first thing that people have to know about Iran is that Ahmadinejad ...

KING: You've been there, right?

PENN: I've been to Tehran. Ahmadinejad is -- anyone on the street, it does not take a sophisticated political analyst, you know, it could be an actor from Hollywood -- can go to Iran and find out very quickly that Ahmadinejad is not the leader of Iran. Ahmadinejad is not the leader of Iran anymore than Khatami was the leader of Iran.

One of the issues with the Khatami regime that disappointed Iranians so much was the fact that he wasn't able to legislate any of the freedoms. So why was that? It was because he was in a sense appointed by the Supreme Leader. That is the case with Ahmadinejad as well. There is -- but you have -- but Iran is, of all the countries I've traveled, I mean, including our Western allies, the place where I found people to be most sort of like Americans.

KING: Pro-American, right?

PENN: Well, for the moment.

KING: Yeah.

PENN: We've got to be very careful about that, and understand that, you know, this is an aging set of people who lost a million people in between in the Iran-Iraq War. They are a country still in mourning. That's one fiftieth of their population.

And then you have this dominant number, this majority of young people, who, whether they are devout Muslims or not, are the truest believers in separation of church and state. And that is what allows democracy for those who choose democracy.

KING: Sean Penn is our guest. "All the King's Men" opens on the 22nd. We'll be right back.


KING: Knowing how strong your philosophy is, could you play any role? Could you play a right-wing zealot?




PENN: But there is going to be blood on my hands, be it the blood of American soldiers or of Iraqis, either military or civilian. To live with myself, I don't want that blood to be invisible.


KING: How did you find the Iraqi people?

PENN: Very warm. It's interesting. Just watching that reminded me, because it's very different than Iran. Most Americans would think that Iranians are Arabs. They're not. Just so people know, they're Persians. But there is a difference. You know, I'm not -- you know, I was in each place for -- Iraq twice, five, six days, and then the same thing in Iran, so that's the experience I'm speaking with.

But I found them to be incredibly warm people, very sweet people. That's another thing about this -- that is the thing about war, that really it's very hard to argue with people -- you know, if we were attacked, man, I'd be right next to Toby Keith in the trench. If we were attacked in our country.

Now, we were attacked on 9/11, and we were right to go to Afghanistan. Then that was exploited, and we were suckered into our own macho ego of this idea of being tough guys. But people who want to be tough guys ought to really know what war is, and I -- some of the people I met in Iraq -- I mean, this young girl that I -- I'm very close with her mother and her brother, who had already been maimed in the '98 Basra attack, American attack.

They were on their way into Baghdad and she had her jaw and her tongue shot out. This is a 19 year-old girl.

And I think that people have to look -- have to follow that bullet trajectory and see what that is and who it's happening to, before they start pounding. And out of that, before you're going to let that happen, or let your American son go, you've got to really say, wait a minute, how do you know they have nuclear weapons? Why do you want to go there?

And if you don't do that, then you're just a sheep and you're not macho, you're a little man, and those people are little men that brought us into that war.

KING: Do you think your government is devious or wrong?

PENN: I think that they're both. I think there's a lot of -- this is where they have been so successful. To say they're devious is to take the attacks of my friends like Christopher Hitchens, who is a friend of mine and a wonderfully articulate men, and there are many -- he is the most talented of the supporters of that war.

But the people in government who are doing it, it has been proven that they deceived us. I mean, over and over again, and to say that they're deceiving us is to be a conspiracy theorist. But conspiracy doesn't happen in America, as Gore Vidal said, because conspiracy doesn't happen in America. And all you've got to do is be willing to believe that, and you are sacrificing your children's future.

KING: Right away, knowing how strong your philosophy is, could you play any role? Could you play a right wing zealot?

PENN: Yeah. There's things I believe some of them believe. I mean, it's -- again, you know, right wing, it's all this stuff about the vocabulary of it, that in particular the Republican Party has been very successful in manipulating. And as soon as we stop talking about -- there is a wonderful linguist, George Lackoff, who has written extensively about that. And you know, it's like the Democrats being the ones who will say, you know, who are going to tax you. But they're also adopting Republican terminology of tax burden. Well, that means whoever is the taxer is the burdener. Right?

KING: Yeah.

PENN: But what about civic responsibility? What about it's good to pay taxes to get -- don't you want your streets done? Don't you want to play your police? Don't you want to pay your teachers? Don't you want to pay for health care? Don't you want to? If you don't want to, then you join al Qaeda and get the F out of here. You know? KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Sean Penn. In those moments, we'll try to draw him out a little. The man is just wishy-washy. Runs down the middle. You've got to deal with it.

"All the King's Men" opens the 22nd. Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put me down! Put me down!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll recommend you for the Silver Star. It's the most courageous thing...

PENN: Captain, you say one more word to thank you, and I'm going to knock you right in the teeth. (inaudible). You understand? Property. It's about property.



PENN: You don't want to do it, don't do it. Oh, you're looking for a raise. I'm going to give you $100 raise whether you want it or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I wanted more money, I'd make it.

PENN: You want to tell me you work for me for love?.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know why I work for you, but it ain't for love or money.

PENN: That's right. It's not. And you don't know why. But I do.


PENN: Boy, you work for me because I'm the way I am, and you're the way you are.


KING: A lot of great writing and great acting. "All the King's Men" opens the 22nd. A terrific, terrific movie. It stars, of course, Sean Penn, our guest. There's a report that you're going to do the Richard Clarke book?

PENN: Oh, we've had some discussions about it. It's a little early for me to be talking about it, because it's just something I've spoken to the director about.

KING: You agree with that book, I guess.

PENN: Well, I mean, it's a -- he had some fairly provocative truths to share.

KING: What are you -- anything definitely set?

PENN: I'm directing a movie now. We're on a little break right now, because we had to schedule for weather and some issues with an actor's weight adjustments, things like that.

KING: What are you directing?

PENN: It's from John Krakauer's book, "Into the Wild."

KING: Whoa. Who's in it?

PENN: Emile Hirsch plays the lead.

KING: Do you like directing?

PENN: Oh, I love it, yeah.

KING: Directed before?

PENN: Yeah. I've made a few movies.

KING: The kick is you're the controller, right? The director -- all movies are the director's product.

PENN: You know, I think it's -- I do get to pick the family I'm working with, and that's a nice thing. And it's just a more complete process to be able to be involved in.

KING: What was it like to be directed by Clint Eastwood?

PENN: It's as good as you would want to think that it is.

KING: Because?

PENN: Because Clint Eastwood is who he says it is, and because it's simple. I've said this before about him. What's interesting about a guy with that kind of quiet power, which he has, you know, for real, is if you had a closed-circuit camera watching that set for all the weeks we shot and you didn't know who Clint Eastwood was, if you can imagine that, you wouldn't know who the director is. Because he just does -- everybody is watching so carefully, and he just does this and the camera is rolling. It's so effortless, and he's just there -- you know, he's there for the movie. And he's smart enough, intelligent enough for that to mean a lot.

KING: But he got all that power out of "Mystic River" from the actors, didn't he? He got the tone ...

PENN: Yeah.

KING: When you did that now famous scene of the daughter's death, which is shot from above, how hard was it? Where do you get that from to find that agony?

PENN: Well, you avoid it until the moment it has to happen, then you do it and you try not to think about it again.

KING: Did you have to do many shots of it?

PENN: Well, Clint's pretty quick, so he respects actors, but he also respects them enough to put it on now. It's like, this is it, go.

KING: You'd work with him again?

PENN: In a heartbeat.

KING: Thank you, Sean.

PENN: Thank you very much.

KING: Sean Penn.