Sean Penn Thrives On Political Activism

Actor Sean Penn presents the life achievement award onstage during the 35th AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Al Pacino held at the Kodak Theatre on June 7, 2007 in Hollywood, California.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty for AFI
Sean Penn has experienced backlash for talking openly about his political beliefs, but sees such discussion as more respectable than promoting movies.

"There's baggage attached to coming out publicly on stuff, but there's baggage — in my view, more damaging baggage — to goin' and (appearing) ... on Jay Leno's show, philosophizing about 'Uncle Buck' or whatever you're hawkin'," the Oscar-winning actor tells Esquire magazine in its September issue, on newsstands Wednesday.

Penn, 46, has bitterly criticized President Bush, toured Iraq to observe the war there and helped rescue workers with door-to-door searches for survivors after Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans.

"The exemption they make for actors — because you occupy the position they only dreamed about as a child, you can't be an American, too," he says. "You don't get both, because that's just too much."

When asked if he wants the United States to win the war in Iraq, Penn replies: "I think we're past that point in human evolution where there's such a thing as winning wars."

He met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last week, the latest in a series of celebrities and public figures to visit Chavez, including Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte and Cindy Sheehan, who became a peace activist after her soldier son was killed in Iraq.

During his trip to Venezuela, Penn said he was visiting "as a journalist and so I owe it to that medium to wait until I've digested, fact-checked and finished my journey here" before saying more. He thanked Chavez for the visit.

Penn's next project is behind the camera, as co-writer and director of "Into the Wild," which will be in theaters Sept. 21.