Sean Penn is a polarizing figure in the film industry not only because of his political opinions, but also because of his opinions on the industry as a whole. In an interview with Esquire, Penn reveals quite a bit about his opinions on Hollywood and what he feels are the causes of the decline of quality in Hollywood productions.
Penn reveals that he has little ego about his acting ability — which has brought him two Oscars — when he says, “In my teens, I fell in love with the movies. And so when I got involved in the movies, I was a genius in terms of how the movies that were made in the generation that inspired me got made — but now the financing wasn’t there to do ’em anymore. Trauma. I’m caught in a business that I’m in love with the idea of — the whole process that’s possible. Only now they’re not making movies — they’re representing them.”
As for what he means by studios “representing movies,” he uses his soon-to-be-released movie, Gangster Squad, as an example to say that he feels most actors simply aren’t doing good movies because they’re obsessed with money. He points out, “I just did this picture that I enjoyed doing. Gangster Squad. But I do think that in general the standard of aspiration is low. Very low. And mostly they’re just doing a bunch of monkey-fuck-rat movies, most actors and actresses. And I blame them just as much as I do the business. I know everybody wants to make some money, everybody’s got a modeling contract, everybody’s selling jewelry and perfume. I’m blinded by it.”
In his opinion, Penn seems to be saying actors are either making art or making crap, and he uses Robert De Niro as an example. He also ties the decline in art to the decline in human intimacy, saying, “When I was growing up and somebody like Robert De Niro had a movie come out, it was a cultural event. Because he had such a confidence and a single mission that was so intimate. But when people start using themselves as instruments of a kind of consumerist mosh pit, they’re helping that take over. I mean, you are a soldier for it or you’re a soldier against it. That’s all there is to it. And we have so little of that intimacy left, it’s no wonder that interpersonal relationships have become text relationships. It’s a texting orgy. When is somebody gonna sit there, with their mate or their child, and just look them in the eye and say, ‘I love you?’ When is that life? I’m just not a big-budget kinda guy, you know?”
However, the most curious part of the interview comes when Penn starts talking about actors he respects. He says, “I don’t know the young actors as well, I’m not as aware of who’s out there, but when I think of the crew around my age: Daniel [Day-Lewis], Philip [Seymour Hoffman], Javier [Bardem], Josh [Brolin], Jessica Chastain — who is fucking Stradivarius — what a group! There’s a group that could be in all the classic pictures right now. Like the classics of the seventies or the classics of the forties. I think of that group of actors and it’s like, ‘Gimme a camera, I got an idea!'”
Hmmm… while Penn isn’t wrong in the sense that the names he mentions are all incredibly talented actors and generally within ten years of his age, he seems to be unaware that Chastain, who is reportedly thirty-five years old, is almost twenty years younger than him. To put it another way, she was five when he starred as Spicoli.