BERLIN (AP) — Just hours before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, actor Sean Penn had his first on-camera encounter with the country’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“It was like realizing, that he was born for this moment,” Penn recalled in an interview with The Associated Press at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday, a day after the festival premiere of his documentary “Superpower”. ”
Penn and his co-director Aaron Kaufman were in kyiv filming a profile of the comedic actor who became president when war broke out. It would be the image of the president entering the room for that first interview that would have the greatest impact on Penn.
“It’s hard to explain, but there was a willingness to react to something that no one had ever faced before,” Penn said.
At a press conference also on Saturday, Penn said they returned to the hotel after the interview and the shelling began that evening. When they first met Zelenskyy, he had “a real suit and a real desk”.
“The next time we saw him he was in camouflage and his country was at war,” Penn said.
The outbreak of war sent the documentary down an unexpected path. The film contains other interviews with the President conducted over the past year.
After completing the project, the couple continued to talk off-camera. Zelenskyy presented the Hollywood star – who has been involved in many international humanitarian and anti-war efforts over the years – with the Ukrainian Order of Merit last year. Penn also received a plaque on a Kyiv walkway honoring world leaders who have shown solidarity with Ukraine.
Penn told the AP that people would be very surprised by Zelenskyy’s “mastery of the machinery of government.”
“Not just his, but everyone he depends on, his sense of mapping diplomatic territory,” he said. “He’s on fire. He has this extreme gift for politics.
Penn recalled the “civility” he saw leaving Ukraine through the Polish border days after the invasion began.
“No one was honking. No one was trying to go around the other and take and there was a kind of silent acceptance,” Penn said during the interview. “You know, and it was about families torn apart. Some, most remain torn.
On a subsequent visit to Ukraine, Penn loaned one of his two Oscars to Zelenskyy, telling him, “When you win, take it back to Malibu.”
“The Oscar is right there in his office and he’s ready to be melted down at any moment,” Penn said at the press conference after threatening to melt down his awards in public if Zelenskyy wasn’t on the telecast. from last year’s Oscars.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not include a video speech from the president, opting instead for a moment of silence in support of the Ukrainian people. Zelenskyy addressed the opening of the Berlinale on Thursday, urging artists and filmmakers to voice their support for Ukraine.
Penn said at the press conference that the Oscar gift was inspired by his “continued shame on the management of the Academy, the film academy, for choosing to feature Will Smith punching Chris Rock rather than the most great symbol of cinema and living humanity”. today on their show.
Penn’s two Oscars were both 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”.
While it’s not uncommon for entertainment personalities to support a cause, “Superpower” sees Penn travel to the frontlines of war to speak to soldiers in the trenches. As for her drive and determination, the star couldn’t tell you where that came from.
“I could make up any number of answers,” he joked to the AP. “It’s something I don’t really think about, even though I’ve been asked many times. … I don’t have the words for it.
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