Sean Penn: The actor turns a page

Sean Penn, author

The young Sean Penn gave as good as he got with Ray Walston in the 1982 film "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." These days, Penn is looking beyond the world of movies, as he tells Tracy Smith, on his own home turf...

For Sean Penn, Malibu, California, is more than just his current address; it's home. He lives just two blocks from his 90-year-old mother.

Forty-something years ago, he was just another beach-blonde local kid who surfed when he could, and studied (when he had to) at Malibu Park Junior High. He even got himself elected as the boy's vice president.

Smith asked. "Is there anything that you would tell this kid if you could go back and tell this kid something, the young Sean Penn?"

"Yeah, there's a lot of things that I would tell him," Penn laughed. "Sure. You don't necessarily change so much, but you do collect a lot of information along the run."

"So, what would you tell him?"

"Here are the bad choices that you are going to make. And there's nothing that's going to stop you from making them. But check out how funny it is. You know? You'll get through them, and everything will be all right."

And he's done okay.

Two-time Oscar-winning actor-director Sean Penn talks to Tracy Smith about writing his first novel, "Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff." CBS News

Young Sean Penn, of course, went on to create some of the most celebrated roles in cinematic history, with five Oscar nominations and two wins: first as the anguished father of a murdered girl in "Mystic River," and later as California's first openly-gay elected official in 2008's "Milk."

But now, after nearly 40 years in the business, Penn says the thrill is gone.

"Do you still enjoy acting?" Smith asked.

"No, no."

"That pains me to hear you say that."

"It shouldn't," he said. "I think that this has been true for some time. It can be great when you're working with good actors or good directors or good writing as an exercise. But do I have a belief that it has a lasting value? Maybe I could make the argument intellectually. But I don't have a visceral -- I'm not in love with that anymore."

Sean Penn in (clockwise from top left) "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Carlito's Way," "Mystic River," "Sweet and Lowdown," and "Milk." Universal Pictures/Warner Berothers/Sony PIctures Classics/Focus Features

What he does seem to love is spending time at home, cigarette in hand, putting thoughts on paper.

"No more typewriter. I don't do that anymore. I used to, when it was a typewriter, but I don't know how to use a computer, so I do a lot of pacing, smoking, and dictating."

"Come on, you don't know how to use a computer?" asked Smith.

"No. Just lazy!"

Well, maybe not too lazy: Penn's just come out with his first novel, the dark comedy *Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff," published by Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster (a division of CBS).

Simon & Schuster

Like his character in 2015's "The Gunman," the protagonist of Penn's novel is an assassin, but one who doesn't use a gun. Bob Honey is a septic tank salesman-turned-assassin who kills people with a mallet.

"Yeah. I mean, everything's a metaphor for something," Penn said.

But the satire can also get pretty grim, like when Bob Honey sends a threatening letter to a make-believe president.

Smith asked, "Do you worry that people won't get the joke?"

"You know, some people are gonna get this book and some people are not gonna get this book," Penn said. "Some people I think will really enjoy it, others will loathe it. And that really is like what I'd say about me, you know?"

Loathe him or love him, Sean Penn is nearly as well-known for his activism as for his acting. There's the ongoing aid mission he founded in Haiti after the place was leveled in the 2010 earthquake.

And before that, there was New Orleans in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina turned the city into a sodden mess, and anyone with a boat suddenly became a first responder. Penn also used a borrowed boat to rescue people trapped by the rising waters -- not far from the New Orleans neighborhood where Smith met Penn last month.

"It's gotta be cool to feel like you were a part of that, a little part of that, you know?" asked Smith.

"Well, at least that I wasn't not a part of it," Penn said.

"Do you have any idea how many people you rescued?"

"We had 40 people we were able to get out of the water on that first day."

Of course, his humanitarian work is often drowned out by the tabloid babble -- like the persistent story about Penn taking a baseball bat to his then-wife Madonna back in the 1980s.

So, in 2015, when director Lee Daniels told the Hollywood Reporter that a star on his show accused of spousal abuse wasn't doing anything "different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn," Penn sued him for defamation, and Daniels wound up apologizing.

Smith asked, "Why did you feel -- when there's so much stuff out there about you, a lot of which is untrue -- why did you feel like you needed to take a stand when Lee Daniels said that about [you]?"

"There was a story which involved violence against a woman in my life. And which had never -- not only did this insane, you know, hitting someone in the head with a baseball bat story never happen, but no violence had happened. Which, you know, she [Madonna] was very quick to say also.

"And for me, it was an important thing. 'Cause I'm not a guy quick to, you know, try to litigate things. And I don't want to spend my life in depositions. But in this case, it was important."

Then there was the uproar over his 2015 meeting with escaped drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. 

Smith asked, "Do you wish that you never did it? That you never met with El Chapo?"

"No," said Penn. "Look, I have regrets, but I don't go back and say, 'I wish I didn't do something.' I would have liked a greater conversation about the demand side of this so-called war on drugs. And I thought, you know, that there's another kind of conversation that it got turned into, a kind of sensationalized sideshow, was discouraging."

But if Penn is disillusioned with Hollywood, it hasn't seemed to rub off: Hopper Jack and Dylan, the son and daughter he had with his ex-wife Robin Wright, are both actors themselves.

And Dad still has projects in production. But he says it might be time for him to exit the stage.

Smith said, "People love your acting work. Is there a part of you that mourns the idea that that's gone? That you're just gonna give that up?"

"No. Things can kind of morph. Since I was probably 30, I've had intermittent offers to write a memoir. My magic number would be something like 77, you know? Maybe by then someone has a story to tell. Tell it then."

"You said a memoir at 77. We just talked to Herman Wouk not too long ago. He did his at 100. So, you could even wait that long, really."

"I'm not sure," Penn said, holding up his cigarette.

"Do you feel the effects of those things?"

"Sure, they're terrible. Yeah."

"So come on. You have incredible will, I'm sure."

"Yeah. I'm gonna stop 'em."


"Don't know."

"How many times have you said that?"

"It's quite a conversation I have with myself throughout most of every day."

"Do you really think you will quit eventually?"

"I hope to. And I hope to write another book. And I hope to live another day."

For more info:

Story produced by John D'Amelio.