Sean Penn’s first stab at a book, “Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff,” will bring him to Seattle’s Moore Theatre on April 11. It’s getting mixed reviews, but that part doesn’t matter to him.
Everyone wants Sean Penn to stop smoking.
“Please don’t smoke anymore,” Stephen Colbert pleaded on his show the other night.
“Job security for oncologists,” Penn replied, tapping an ash.
On CBS “Sunday Morning,” another show on which Penn puffed throughout his interview, correspondent Tracy Smith asked: “Do you really think you will quit eventually?”
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“I hope to,” Penn said.
One thing the two-time Oscar winner is determined to give up? Acting. He’d much rather write.
His first stab at a book is “Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff,” an acid trip of a novel that will bring him to Seattle’s Moore Theatre on April 11. He will be interviewed onstage by musician and writer Duff McKagan.
“Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff” follows a septic-tank salesman who becomes a contract assassin who kills people — most of them elderly — with mallets.
There’s a lot more packed into its 128 pages: A chubby ex-wife, a hairless love interest. A threatening letter to the President of the United States. A barge on the Pacific. A poem about the #MeToo movement. And a lot of alliteration. (“Vex of vertigo.” “Croaks, crisps and collapses.” And so on).
Where did this all come from?
“The first part is the kind of divorce proceeding I’m in the advanced stages with the movie business,” Penn said in a recent phone interview. “The greatest strength you can have working in the movie business is when the teacher’s report says ‘Plays well with others.’
“My sense, my side of the story is that wherever ‘others’ are — in this whole new dynamic of streaming and the way people are selling more than making movies — I felt increasingly apart from that, from playing with others.
“I wanted to do something where there were no others, and express freely and get it done the way I see it without the pressure of other people’s money and egos and in any other way they may try to wake me up in the middle of my dream.
“And this is the way to do it.”
Penn, 57, was talking from a house on Magaziner Street in New Orleans, where he is filming the Hulu series “The First,” from “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon. The series follows the first human mission to Mars. The astronauts, their families, the crew on the ground.
I asked Penn to describe his surroundings.
“I am looking at my 5-month-old golden retriever, Flyboy, and I’ve got CNN with the sound off and the picture board with the Earth and Mars and the navigation of how to get there,” he said.
His current mission, though, is a nationwide book tour. There was talk of author Tom Robbins interviewing him on his stop here, maybe his friend Eddie Vedder, but Penn’s team finally settled on musician and author Duff McKagan.
“I got occasional updates,” Penn said. “I wanted an author who doesn’t hate the book.”
David Pitt, of Booklist, swooned: “Penn takes on an ambitious challenge here, and succeeds spectacularly.”
And then, among several other pans, there was Claire Fallon, of The Huffington Post, who studied English literature at Princeton University, lives with six bookcases and called Penn’s book “an exercise in ass-showing, a 160-page self-own.”
I don’t know if I would go that far. But it did make a certain kind of sense when Penn said that he didn’t sit in front of a computer and look at what he was writing. He paced, smoked and dictated his prose to his assistant.
“I went in stages,” he said of his writing process, adding that the first version was “a whimsy piece” and was “not suitable for publication.”
The whole thing started as an audiobook he claimed had been written by someone named Pappy Pariah, who he met in Key West in 1979. The response was tepid, he dropped the pseudonym and started revisions in earnest.
“I think the intention was that it would have some little impact on the election if it caught an audience, but it didn’t,” he said of his early attempt. “Then after the election that I had no success in manipulating — I guess I didn’t have enough Russian blood — I started to really go at it.
“I had forgotten that not everybody was in my head about things, or the way that I say things. So I had to go back and find language that was at least decipherable.”
He wrote in between film projects, finishing the book in about two years.
“It is a book that is meant to be a little bit of work,” Penn said. “I didn’t try to make it an easy read, per se, because of the nature of the character, Bob Honey.
“It took a lot of thought for me. The point of this was to share it, the language and the attack on it.”
Penn doesn’t feel vulnerable to critics. He doesn’t even care what his kids think. He’s just having a great time as an author. Writing. Laughing. Smoking.
“At this stage in life, and the fun I had writing this,” Penn said, then paused. “I have to tell you, I have been the last 26 years, among other things, a parent. And my kids, both of them, see me mostly as a guy who, when he thinks something is funny, will laugh when no one else does.
“And I get to giggle a lot writing these things,” he said. “It would be really cool if other people giggle. I’m pretty proud of this thing and I hope people enjoy it.”