Just a few weeks after returning to the US following his pedestrian flee from Ukraine to Poland, Sean Penn says he considered joining Ukraine’s resistance against Russia. In an interview with the new quarterly magazine Hollywood Authentic, the actor said he only would’ve stayed in Ukraine longer to join the country’s armed forces.
“The only possible reason for me staying in Ukraine longer last time would’ve been for me to be holding a rifle, probably without body armor, because as a foreigner, you would want to give that body armor to one of the civilian fighters who doesn’t have it or to a fighter with more skills than I have, or to a younger man or woman who could fight for longer or whatever,” Penn said. “So, where I am in life is short of doing that, but if you’ve been in Ukraine [fighting] has to cross your mind. And you kind of think what century is this?”
The actor added that he first began conversing with President Volodymyr Zelensky over Zoom about making a documentary on the country for Vice. He was in Ukraine working on the project in February when Russia began their invasion. Zelensky praised the filmmaker, issuing a statement that read in part: “Sean Penn is demonstrating bravery that many others have been lacking, in particular some Western politicians.”
“This was early on in the pandemic in the US,” Penn recalled. “We first started discussing a potential documentary about his country that wasn’t focused particularly on the war. And since then there’s been a lot of exchanges between us. Then I went and met him face to face the day before the invasion. And I was with him during the invasion, on day one.”
While the trajectory of that documentary has likely changed course, Penn said that he still plans on returning to the ravaged country. “My intention is to go back into Ukraine,” he said. “But I’m not an idiot, I am not certain what I can offer. I don’t spend a lot of time texting the president or his staff while they’re under siege and their people are being murdered.”
But filmmaking isn’t the only thing on Penn’s agenda. Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), the nonprofit he founded while volunteering in the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, is currently offering support to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
While CORE is now run by co-founder and CEO Ann Lee, Penn added he wants to “get hands-on” in the wake of the Ukrainian refugee crisis — a sharp turn from the nihilistic stance he held back in January.
“I’ve got plenty to do with CORE on the receiving side of refugees in Poland,” he said. “I’m shooting more for the documentary, but I’ll be doing a last-minute assessment of what value that will have. People will argue this, and there’s a million debates that I understand, but long term, we don’t have any tangible evidence that documentaries really change anything. We just don’t. We only know they can give hope.”
This month, Penn will appear as US Attorney General John Mitchell in Gaslit, a limited series about Mitchell’s wife Martha’s involvement in breaking the Watergate story.