Backstage with Sean Penn

You actually remember Harvey Milk. Now that you’ve won the highest honor in Hollywood, what does it mean to you to be able to tell his story?


That means a lot to myself and to everybody involved not only in the movie, but anybody who believes in equal rights for human beings. And certainly what I mentioned from the stage earlier tonight… to see this culture of ignorance that breeds this kind of hateful expression – that people have the signs outside essentially telling you you’re less than human… There’s nothing more important than the themes in this movie. There’s nothing more important. So to be part of something like that is a privilege.


What would you say to those people who were holding those signs at Sunset and Highland?


I’d tell them to turn in their hate card and find their better self. These are largely taught limitations and ignorance … it’s very sad in a way, because it’s a demonstration of such emotional cowardice – to be so afraid of extending the same rights to fellow man that you’d want for yourself. I would ask them not to tempt those of us to be as angry at them as they attempt to be.


Tonight in your acceptance speech you mentioned Obama. What would you like to see him do in relation to gay rights?


We know that his public position in relation to gay marriage has not been officially supportive of that. I would like to believe that that’s a political stand right now and not necessarily a future one or a felt one. I don’t think that any of us will long be able to take that position. It’s inevitable… because it’s not a human luxury, these are human needs and they will be gotten. He’ll adapt. Right now, I’m more interested in what we’re gonna do in showing him we’ll support him in taking those kinds of initiatives. He’s got people dying right now en masse and people desperately poor en masse and I think those two emergencies need to be taken care of before me making too much comment about civil rights. But the day is gonna come, and it’s gonna come quickly.


You spoke very emotionally about your competition with Mickey Rourke. Could you speak about your relationship and what you feel about him and how you guys have grown together?


I’ve known Mickey for over 25 years and I can’t speak for his consistent sense of me because he’s an excellent bridge burner at times but we’ve had for the most part a very close friendship. He’s somebody that I’ve alternately looked up to and advised. He quite literally had me almost throughout "The Wrestler" weeping. He’s one of our most talented actors. He always was. You know, comebacks are funny. But everyone in this room has to make a comeback every day. Life’s tough. I think what’s sensational about him is what has always been sensational about him. He’s one of the greatest talents we have.


One of the signs said ‘Heath is in hell’… What do you think about that?


I don’t know what that means. If we dismiss these comments instead of commenting on them…it’s just meaningless gibberish. We’ve gotta be bold enough to focus on people who know what they mean.