Sean Penn calls Putin a 'creepy little bully' and recalls meeting him

Sean Penn brands Putin a ‘creepy little bully’ as he recounts moment he met him with Jack Nicholson but actor heralds Zelensky’s ‘extreme gift for politics’ in his handling of Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine saying ‘He was born for this moment’

  • Sean Penn remembered meeting Vladimir Putin in 2001 with Jack Nicholson
  • He was speaking at the Berlin Film Festival after premiere of film Superpower 

Actor Sean Penn has branded Putin a ‘creepy little bully’ as he recounted meeting him while heralding Zelensky in his handling of Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine. 

In an interview at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday, a day after the festival premiere of his documentary Superpower, Penn recalled meeting Putin in 2001. 

Meanwhile, Penn, 62, praised Zelensky for his courage and his war effort – after meeting with Ukraine’s leader just hours before war broke out on February 24 last year. 

Superpower was initially intended as a comedic profile of Zelensky, but after war broke out it explored his courage in the face of the war.  

Describing meeting Putin 12 years ago, the Mystic River actor said he and Jack Nicholson had travelled to the Moscow Film Festival for the premiere of his film The Pledge. 

Sean Penn (left) is pictured meeting Putin (right) with Jack Nicholson (centre) in 2001 after going to the Moscow Film Festival

The actor spoke at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday, a day after the festival premiere of his documentary Superpower

The two actors were taken in a convoy to the house of Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar-winning filmmaker and Putin supporter. 

There, they met the Russian president. Penn said he had a bad feeling about Putin, who he said is a ‘creepy little bully’. 

Penn said: ‘We have two choices. We show the world that bullies with nukes win or we take our chances and fight for the life that we all deserve.’ 

Sean Penn also met with President Volodymyr Zelensky on camera just hours before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year. 

Penn and his co-director Aaron Kaufman were in Kyiv to film a profile of the comedic actor-turned-president.  

Upon seeing his first interview, Penn said: ‘It was as if he was realizing himself, that he was born for this moment.

‘It’s hard to explain, but there was a resolve in reaction to something that no one has ever faced before. 

At a press conference also on Saturday, Penn said they returned to the hotel after the interview and the shelling started that very night. When they first met Zelenskyy, he had ‘a proper suit and a proper office.’

‘The next time we saw him, he was in camos and his country was at war,’ Penn said.

Superpower was initially intended as a comedic profile of Zelensky, but after war broke out it explored his courage in the face of the war. Penn and Zelensky are pictured in Kyiv on November 8

The outbreak of war sent the documentary on an unexpected track. The film contains further interviews with the president conducted over the past year.

After completing the project, the pair have continued to speak off camera. 

Zelenskyy presented the Hollywood star – who has been involved in numerous international humanitarian and anti-war efforts over the years – with the Ukrainian Order of Merit last year. 

Penn was also given a plaque on a Kyiv walkway honoring world leaders who have shown solidarity with Ukraine.

Penn told the AP that people would be most surprised by Zelenskyy’s ‘command of the mechanisms of government.’

‘Not only his, but all of those upon whom he is reliant, his sense of mapping the diplomatic territory,’ he said. ‘He´s on fire. He has that extreme gift for politics.’

Penn recalled the ‘civility’ he saw when leaving Ukraine via the Polish border a few days after the invasion began.

‘No one was honking. No one was trying to drive around the other and take and there was a kind of quiet acceptance,’ Penn said during the interview. ‘You know, and these were families being torn apart. Some, most remain torn apart.’

During a later visit to Ukraine, Penn loaned one of his two Oscars to Zelenskyy, telling him: ‘When you win, bring it back to Malibu.’

‘The Oscar is there in his office and it´s ready to be melted anytime he wants to melt it,’ Penn clarified in the press conference after threatening to smelt his awards in public if Zelenskyy was not on the program for last year’s Oscar telecast.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not include a video address from the president, opting instead for a moment of silence in support of the people of Ukraine. 

Zelenskyy did address the opening of the Berlinale on Thursday, exhorting artists and filmmakers to express support for Ukraine.

Penn said at the press conference that the gift of the Oscar was inspired by his ‘continuing shame towards the leadership of the Academy, the motion picture academy, in choosing to present Will Smith smacking Chris Rock rather than the greatest symbol of cinema and humanity living today on their broadcast.’

Penn’s two Oscars both were for best actor, in 2003 for ‘Mystic River’ and in 2008 for ‘Milk.’ His previous directing credits include ‘Flag Day,’ ‘Into the Wild’ and ‘The Pledge.’

‘Superpower’ sees Penn travel all the way to the front line of the war to talk to soldiers in the trenches.

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