Sean Penn has described President Vladimir Putin as a “vessel of nothingness,” and said if he was in a position to tell him something directly, he would “say it by arming Ukrainians completely. Yesterday.”
The Hollywood actor and activist was in Kyiv on Wednesday, Sept. 6 for the Third Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen conference organized by Olena Zelenska with the theme “Mental Health: Fragility and Resilience of the Future.”
At a press conference during the event, a Kyiv Post reporter asked Penn: “All the issues we’re discussing here today and all the issues Ukrainian society is facing right now are ultimately caused by one man and that is Vladimir Putin.
“If there was one thing you could say to him right now, what would that be?”
Penn responded by saying the “best definition that most people have ever heard of ‘evil,’ is the absence of good.”
“I think what I see in that person is an absence of anything even vaguely interesting, it’s like a vessel of nothingness,” he said.
Penn went on to note the comments made in his new documentary about Ukraine titled “Superpower,” in which someone describes Putin as a “gangster with nukes.”
“So, I think that if I were in such a position as some of our leaders are, to say something to Vladimir Putin, I would say it by arming Ukrainians completely. Yesterday,” he said.
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Penn said he feels that the dropping of nuclear bombs by the US in 1945 still affects the “psychology of the United States,” adding, “If your greatest courage is caution, there’s nothing left.”
When asked if he thought the US has been too cautious in supplying Ukraine with the weapons it needs to fight Russia’s full-scale invasion, he simply replied: “Yes.”
Penn started filming his documentary about Ukraine’s war in 2021, several months before Russia’s full-scale invasion, with the intention of examining how Volodymyr Zelensky, an actor and comedian, had become president of his country.
However, from the first day of filming in Kyiv and his initial interview with Zelensky, the project took an unexpected direction which, in Penn’s own words: "A lighthearted tale of this comedic actor who had been elected president of Ukraine… became witness to a historic leader and his country’s war for freedom."
That first interview with Ukraine’s President coincided with the launch of Russia’s massive attack and was conducted in a bunker as the first missiles hit the capital.
Penn decided at that point to change the direction and tenor of the project. It was to become an examination of how and why the war started and, as time passed, the indomitable spirit of the country, its people and its leader.
The press statement released with the trailer for the film, first shown as a “work in progress” at the Berlin Film Festival, describes the documentary as presenting Zelensky as "a leader stepping up to embrace his country’s destiny."
It adds: "Overnight, he became the most significant wartime leader of the modern era. This onetime actor turned president is leading his country in conflict with a nuclear superpower, becoming a crucible of history.”
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