By Sean Penn
I’ve pretended to be a lot of different people throughout my career. Some good, some bad, but most of them somewhere in the middle. Where the lines are blurred. Where if you don’t know damn sure who you are today you may wake up as someone slightly to the left of who you were tomorrow. It’s where real people live, between those blurred lines, and God bless them for it. I can’t imagine it’s an easy thing to do, living with such uncertainty. I chose a different life, the life of an actor. The life of a hero.
Instead of living for myself like a coward, I tell the stories of other people. Not just any other people’s lives, but the lives of the very best of us. You see, when a person has a life that’s better and more interesting than the lives of normal, boring people, that person’s life is turned into a movie. The screenwriter’s job is to find these interesting people, listen to their stories and transcribe them into whichever transcription device is popular at the time. In some cases, when the stories aren’t quite interesting enough by themselves, they’ll mix and match different people’s lives into one. If after combining several different people’s collection of experiences into one cohesive narrative doesn’t work, they’ll add vampires and women’s breasts. Women love vampires and everybody loves women’s breasts, so it’s sure to be a guaranteed hit. As long as you don’t have any investigative journalists around, apparently.
What does everyone have against against investigative journalists, anyway? Last I checked they were considered to be pretty cool and sexy. Like in that movie Spotlight. That was one of the sexiest movies I’ve ever seen, and I know it wasn’t the subject matter that was getting me all hot and bothered. It was the red-hot investigative journalism. Come to think of it, that might be the only movie I’ve ever seen with journalism of any kind in it. Truth be told, I never even meant to get into this racket. I had just seen Spotlight, I was drunk and giving an unsolicited anecdote about my penis to a female Rolling Stone writer when I made some joke about Mexico that sounded kind of racist. She looked like she was about to get all uptight about it and I backpedaled away from it so fast and hard that I accidentally promised her I’d do a story about El Chapo and here we are. It wasn’t easy.
Have you ever tried to find a Mexican drug lord on the run? Not that hard, actually. After I checked the bar everybody goes to I checked the bar only some people go to and there he was. He was reluctant to talk to me at first but I convinced him with promises of free alcoholic beverages. He was a little short that week, being hunted by the Mexican government and everything, so it worked like a charm. To be honest by the time we got to the end of the interview I was so trashed that I didn’t remember a goddam thing from the entire night and when I got home I accidentally vomited all over my tape recorder, not that it mattered as I also forgot to turn it on. Which also wouldn’t have mattered, as I didn’t have a tape. Even if I did have a tape, it turns out that what I took home wasn’t even my tape recorder but a handful of vomit I scooped off the table into my coat pocket.
Without remembering a thing he had said, I was sure I was fucked, at first. Then I remembered an old writing technique that my manager taught me when we were writing up my resume; you can just make stuff up. I’m surprised more writers don’t employ this technique. I know life can be interesting, but what’s more interesting than a bunch of cool stuff you made up? I for one would much rather watch stuff about cool fake stuff than watch a bunch of stuff about boring real stuff. Sure, I could have made the drug dealer/gang leader/murderer out to be a bad guy and it would have been easy and exactly what everybody wanted, but it wouldn’t have been a good story and it wouldn’t have been good investigative journalism.
Good investigative journalists don’t care about what’s right or wrong, they only care about shoving real life into that perfect three-act structure that we’ve all grown so accustomed to. Not that you should lie and say anything that you know for a fact isn’t true, but you could ‘forget’ to mention it. That’s just good journalism. That’s why we’re not called ‘100% truth tellers’. Why it’s called ‘the story’ and not ‘the truth’. It’s because none of it’s ‘true’ and it never claimed to be. It’s just journalism which I believe is defined as, “To make a lie sound like the truth and cool and fulfill your personal and political need and also it’s not Sean Penn’s fault Mr. Chapo, so please don’t blame him. He didn’t know anything about the Mexican government following him. Please don’t hurt Mr. Penn, El Chapo.”
“He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing and he’s very, very scared right now.”