Sean Penn on “The Tree of Life”: “I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script”

Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life has been bestowed with many rave reviews from critics and moviegoers and even won the prestigious Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but one person who doesn’t seem very impressed with the finished film happens to be Sean Penn, who has a brief, but significant, role in the film.

In an interview published in France this week, Penn revealed that he found Malick’s script to be superior to the finished movie.  “I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context!”  Furthermore, Penn doesn’t spare Malick any criticism, adding, “What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.”  Tree of Life wasn’t the first time Malick and Penn worked together — Penn starred in Malick’s The Thin Red Line — so it isn’t like the writer/director and actor got off on the wrong foot.  In his New Yorker piece, Richard Brody argues that Penn is mistaken, suggesting that “Malick’s methods don’t let the actor employ much of his accustomed technique, but this doesn’t at all lessen the beauty and the impact of his performance,” and goes even further to claim that Penn’s Hollywood stardom left him unhappy with being in such a small role: “Penn brings an acid yellow to the glass-and-metal grays of his scenes, and it adds something important to the film; but he doesn’t get to do the kind of showy and theatrical performance for which Oscars are won. The star system, the flatteries of celebrity—and, for that matter, the temperament that makes a person become an actor in the first place—contribute much to an actor’s sense that a movie is, or should be, all about him.”

Whether or not Brody is correct in his analysis is something only Sean Penn could answer, but at the very least it appears Penn and Malick had very different visions of what the film was supposed to convey — something that says quite a lot about how differently a director and and an actor might approach the same material.

via The New Yorker


  1. Ken Murray via Facebook

    August 23, 2011 at 9:04 am

    God I hated that movie

  2. Daily Actor via Facebook

    August 23, 2011 at 9:08 am

    It was the best Discovery Channel doc ever. There was a movie in there?

  3. Ken Murray via Facebook

    August 23, 2011 at 9:09 am

    I know seriously. A bunch of us after the interview with Elizabeth Olsen yesterday were talking about it and how there’s supposed like a 6 hour cut of it. I was like what was cut Hubble 3D? Could have done without the dinosaurs

  4. Daily Actor via Facebook

    August 23, 2011 at 9:11 am

    I’m interviewing Elizabeth next week. Looking forward to talking with her.

  5. Ken Murray via Facebook

    August 23, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Smart girl. It was her and Sean Durkin the writer/director. He looked at the ground alot when he talked, she was vibrant, funny, smoking hot 🙂

  6. Daily Actor via Facebook

    August 23, 2011 at 9:12 am

    No argument there 🙂

  7. Ken Murray via Facebook

    August 23, 2011 at 9:13 am

    I did a round table interview and someone brought up the nudity and she was kinda like whatever, it fit the movie. One guy was like you dont want to see you naked because the character is so vulnerable. I’m like you don’t want to see HER naked? What?

  8. Erin Cronican

    August 23, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I completely agree with Sean Penn – the movie, while beautiful, didn’t make a whole lot of sense from a story standpoint, and actors typically use the story ground and drive their performance. As an audience member, this made the film hard to accept, but once I gave up my expectations, I think I was able to enjoy the film for what it was.

    Sean Penn did, what I think, was characteristic work (wonderful, at that) and I doubt he’s complaining about the movie for the reasons that Richard Brody suggests. I find it dismaying that Brody thinks that if Sean Penn is unhappy with the way a film turned out, that must be because the role wasn’t big enough for him (wtf?) It seems like a dig at the way Penn works, which really isn’t relevant to Penn’s assertion.

    I’m interested to read the New Yorker article to get the full perspective…. thanks for posting!

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