Monday 26 February 2018

On Sean Penn: 'They say it's never a good idea to meet your idols but they're wrong'

Around 2010, I got a call from a friend – Dave Walsh, the head of security at Samsara in Dublin's Dawson Street. Dave is a great guy who has battled bravely against Parkinson's disease. He was helping organise a fundraiser and asked if I could help out with giving out the raffle prizes.

I willingly accepted but on the night of the event I arrived early and was sent to wait in a roped-off area of the La Stampa bar as a lot of the guests had still to arrive. As I sat there having a beer with Noel Hendrick, my all-time favourite actor, Sean Penn, and his entourage including young movie director Brinton Bryan, sat down beside us. I was star-struck, but copped-on enough to know the rules about this kind of encounter in Ireland.

So I just sat there, staring straight ahead, not wanting to disturb Mr Penn.

At one point, I found myself at the bar waiting to order alongside Penn's manager. As we stood there, a couple of rugby people asked me for a photo. I happily obliged and, drink in hand, headed back to my seat and Noel.

Beside us I could see Penn's manager whispering something to Sean, who then turned to me and said: "I'm sorry, but should I know you?"

"No," I replied embarrassed, "you shouldn't. But I know you."

After that, I spent one of the best evenings of my life with one of the most charming men I've ever met. We discussed what kind of movie roles Noel and I could play: I reckoned I would have been a great hard man, like him in 'Mystic River', but Penn argued it should be something a little softer.

We drank beers and shots, then he disappeared back to his room and, when he came back, he'd smuggled in some poitin. Suitably lubricated, we chatted about sports, movies and life.

In the end, Noel and I lost track of time: it was late and most of Sean's entourage had already left to go to another high-brow function, but Sean and Brinton wanted to stay. Dave Walsh arrived to take me to the fundraiser.

As I unsteadily rose to my feet, Sean asked me where I was going and, on hearing that it was a fundraiser in aid of the battle against Parkinson's disease, he immediately volunteered to help.

Dave was delighted, suddenly he had an old, half-baked RTE rugby pundit and a two-times Oscar-winning superstar to help.

Really, I found Penn a normal guy who wasn't into all the fanfare and hoopla that goes with celebrity status. He was just happy to have a drink with a couple of normal plebs. He was funny, smart and down-to-earth.

The fundraiser broke up and Sean indicated that he wanted to go to an early house but, on second thoughts, we all decided enough was enough. We hugged each other goodnight.

The next day as Noel came out of a shop in town, the window of a big black car came sliding down and there was a slightly shook Penn waving out and saying, "How are ya, Noel?"

They say it's never a good idea to meet your idols, but they're wrong.

Irish Independent

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