Sean Penn Opened Up About The ‘Cold, Ugly Feeling’ Of Meeting Putin, And How He Initially Intended His Zelensky Film to Be ‘Lighthearted’

One of the more surreal, yet somehow not totally surprising, moments involving Vladimir Putin’s late-February 2022 invasion of Ukraine was the detail that Sean Penn happened to be in the country. Penn was on hand to co-direct a documentary about President Volodymyr Zelensky’s rise from actor/Jon Stewart-like figure to a national leader. Once Zelensky refused to leave Ukraine, he entered folk hero status, but Penn needed to leave Ukraine for safety reasons. The At Close Range actor later described how, before fleeing to Poland on foot, he considered “taking up arms against Russia” but then grew more realistic about the situation.

These days, Penn is absolutely fine about being banned from entering Russia, but he’s reflecting upon how he did meet Putin in 2001 while previously in the country to promote The Pledge at the Moscow Film Festival. In an interview with The Independent, Penn recalled being whisked off alongside co-star Jack Nicholson to meet Putin, who Penn describes as a “creepy little bully” who gave him “a cold, ugly feeling.” Here’s more:

“We were put in a convoy. We knew that Putin was going to be the honoured guest. In the nature of that time and space, we accepted the invitation. We got in this convoy. And we were going as fast as they wanted to drive, with no care for whether it might have presented danger in the villages we drove through. When farmers with pony-driven carts were trying to come across, the security people in our vehicles would lean out the window to baton them away. It was so needlessly aggressive.”

Penn also reflected upon how he initially began his Ukraine-set documentary with a much more “lighthearted” tone than what eventually materialized for obvious reasons. As explained above, Penn began by hoping to pinpoint what took Zelensky from playing an everyman who accidentally becomes president in Servant of the People to being a sort-of everyman who becomes president.

Things took a turn, and the resulting movie, Superpower (also directed by Aaron Kaufman), has premiered in Berlin and will hopefully be in front of the general public soon. It sounds like a more valuable contribution than when Penn farted next to El Chapo while engaging in “experiential journalism.”

(Via The Independent)