- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

Sean Penn is going to the United Nations.

The outspoken actor has been granted permission by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to film a new political thriller, “The Interpreter,” at U.N. headquarters, with director Sydney Pollack and actress Nicole Kidman.

This is a first. The world body even rejected Alfred Hitchcock when he hoped to include the landmark Manhattan building in his 1959 movie “North by Northwest.”

Mr. Annan, the General Assembly and Security Council “have given the green light” to filming on the premises, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said at a news conference Friday. She rejected the idea that the United Nations’ long-standing “no filming” policy had been reversed and denied that Mr. Penn or Mr. Pollack had bought their way into the decision.

“All I can say is that the secretary-general and his advisers decided it was in the organization’s interest to bring its work to the attention of the ordinary cinema-viewing public,” Miss Okabe said. She didn’t know whether Mr. Annan had decided to appear in the movie himself, though its plot might appeal to the Ghana native.

Miss Kidman plays a Kenyan-born U.N. interpreter who hears of an assassination plot, ends up a target herself and ultimately prevents the slaying of an African leader during his appearance before the General Assembly. Mr. Penn plays an FBI agent who helps her uncover the sinister plan.

The actor has been busy with his own public outreach in the meantime.

Granted press credentials by the San Francisco Chronicle last November, Mr. Penn toured Iraq for four days and produced a 10,000-word, two-part report for the paper, which ran Jan. 14-15.

“Our aim was to keep them as diaries instead of being about foreign policy or about the overall political situation,” Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein said at the time.

Though rife with descriptions of gunfire and edgy cab rides, Mr. Penn’s reporting did not exactly adhere to his editor’s dictums.

“This is an occupied country. A country at war. Many Iraqis I speak to tell me there is no freedom in occupation, nor trust in unilateral intervention,” Mr. Penn wrote in his first installment.

He also made a controversial visit to Iraq in December 2002, before the arrival of the U.S. military.

“I feel, both as an American and as a human being, the obligation to accept some level of personal accountability for the policies of my government, both those I support and any that I may not,” he said then at a news conference in Baghdad. “If there is a war or continued sanctions against Iraq, the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike will be on our hands.”

Mr. Penn also bought full pages in the New York Times and The Washington Post criticizing the war in Iraq. In the aftermath, the actor became convinced last spring that he’d lost an acting role because of his antiwar position.

He sued director Stephen Bing for $20 million, claiming the director borrowed “a page from the dark era of Hollywood blacklisting” by not casting him in the film “Why Men Shouldn’t Marry.”

The actor has been nominated for an Oscar for his role in “Mystic River,” released last year.

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