Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.

Sean Penn

His Life and Times

by Richard T. Kelly

“Kelly draws on a rich array of exclusive interviews. . . . Film buffs and aspiring actors and screenwriters . . . will find much to enjoy.” –Judith Wynn, The Boston Herald

  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 512
  • Publication Date January 26, 2006
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8419-5739-5
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

An authorized biography in the form of an oral history, Sean Penn is a fascinating portrait of the actor and director hailed by Time magazine as “a worthy heir to Brando and Dean.”

Sean Penn had barely hit our movie screens before he was hailed as “the best actor of his generation.” Then, his tumultuous marriage to Madonna turned his life into pulp fiction, even landing him in jail. But Penn was made of sterner stuff, reemerging as a brilliant director, devoted father, occasional hell-raiser, and reluctant actor, capable of breathtaking performances (Dead Man Walking, Sweet and Lowdown, Mystic River, and most recently, 21 Grams). He also found his political voice, inspired by the example of his father, Leo, a decorated World War II serviceman whose acting career was cruelly curtailed during the 1940s blacklist era.

Illustrated with over seventy-five black-and-white photographs, and drawing on exclusive interviews with Penn, his family, friends, and colleagues (Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Woody Allen, Susan Sarandon, Bono, Christopher Walken, Angelica Huston, and many more), Kelly creates a richly detailed and multifaceted portrait of an uncompromising American artist.


“Kelly draws on a rich array of exclusive interviews. . . . Film buffs and aspiring actors and screenwriters . . . will find much to enjoy.” –Judith Wynn, The Boston Herald

“Wonderfully engaging.” –Douglas Brinkley, Los Angeles Times

“Like its subject, Kelly’s biography of the idiosyncratic Oscar winner pulses with insight. . . . The oral history format–so well suited for a subject who engenders countless stories–is perfect here.” –Publishers Weekly

“Given the wealth of voices here, it’s easy for Kelly to resist the authorial urge to pontificate about the meaning to Penn’s life instead, he lets its enjoyably random chaos wash across the page. . . . One of those rare oral biographies that’s admiring yet still honest.” –Kirkus Reviews


“I kind of see Sean in . . . that particular heroic . . . moment, the 1950s and 1960s. Antonioni, Rossellini, Pasolini . . . I see those aspects in him, but also very American aspects–Brando, James Dean. I see Sean with Kerouac, or the young Bob Dylan. But I don’t really see him in corporate America, 2004.” –Anjelica Huston

“Sean and I have a good time together, no doubt about that. I remember when we were scouting The Pledge, I got up the next morning for breakfast and there was Sean asleep under the piano. I thought, ‘Here’s another reason we get along. Another Irishman who don’t wanna get up in the morning.’” –Jack Nicholson

“What is the sequel? Spicoli Goes to College? Spicoli couldn’t have got into college . . . Spicoli Goes to Rehab? Spicoli Gets Out of Jail After Fifteen Years for Pot Possession and Reenters Society? That is a movie, I suppose. Neither Sean nor I have ever been so broke that we’ve had to think about it seriously.” –Art Linson, producer, Fast Times At Ridgemont High

“And I, stupidly, hit him. And he went down. And then I made the mistake. He was bigger than I was. I didn’t want him getting up, so I picked up a chair–not thinking, I just went from a misdemeanor handbook to a felony, assault with a deadly weapon–just thinking, ‘I want to let him know not to get up.’” –Sean Penn

“But the very last day of shooting, Sean finished a little before I did [and] he went away and shaved, and cut his hair. And then when he came down to the set it was one of the most jarring things that I’ve seen. . . . You know, you just eventually trick yourself into thinking this is your reality. . . . I’m sure that Sean had to disengage . . . he drove across the country after that, and I can’t speak for him, but I don’t know how he could have gone through the part and not been pretty deeply affected.” –Susan Sarandon, on Penn in Dead Man Walking

“So much of being an actor in movies–especially if you’re a leading character in a piece–is that all-day everyday thing of catching a light here, hitting a mark there . . . connecting with another person in the scene, creative choices . . . The concentration . . . is all-consuming. . . .  So it’s a big fuckin’ school’s-out-for-summer feeling when you’re done. . . . You’re starting life again, and you can just be free.” –Sean Penn