Sean Penn has helped raised millions for Haiti, but he claims that not every guest at his annual Help Haiti Home gala is as charitable as he would expect.
The star-studded event raised $6 million this year, but in the latest issue of Haute Living, Penn says, “There are a few extraordinary people that come, but then you have a room that is full mostly of people that are not giving anything.”
He adds, “They eat, stargaze and watch the band but, honestly, I don’t think there’s a person in that room that can’t afford $25. I always wonder about that.”
Penn’s philanthropic work in Haiti began in 2010, when he decided to take a two-week trip to the crippled nation to “lend a hand” distributing medicine.
Before leaving on his humanitarian mission, the actor received an invaluable piece of advice that he chose to ignore. “[Someone told me,] ‘Don’t stay more than three months in a disaster zone without taking a couple of weeks off,’ ” Penn recalls.
Instead, he decided to stay for 9 months straight. “I made the mistake of not taking that advice,” he admits. “I think I went a little kooky.”
But something about the island nation captivated Penn’s imagination. “It really just happened this way: once I got to Haiti, like so many other people, I fell in love with it — the people there, the possibilities that is has.”
However, Penn knows that his extended stay does not make him a local. “[Once you] start to get a feel for the place, [you] know you’ll never really know the place,” he explains. “[You] know that you’re going to have to use your best instinct[s] about who to trust, who to learn from, who to question, who to challenge and be challenged by. It’s a long process, but we’ve had a lot of success.”
When he founded J/P Haitian Relief Organization (HRO) in 2010, it began as an emergency relief organization made up of just 32 Americans. Now, the project has expanded to nearly 200 mostly Haitian members. The goal is to transfer the previously-built medical, educational and community development centers entirely to the Haitian people.
The organization is making progress but it still has a long way to go, especially with the massive setbacks caused by Hurricane Matthew earlier this year. In an effort to step up their involvement, Penn and J/P HRO recently announced their participation in Haiti Takes Root, a 10-year, $300 million initiative between the Haitian and French governments, as well as billionaire Sean Parker’s The Parker Foundation.
He’s also gearing up for a return to the screen, and will begin shooting The Professor and the Madman with his costar Mel Gibson this Fall. Penn and Gibson have been considering making the film, based on Simon Winchester’s 1998 book of the same name, for 12 years.
Penn will star as ‘Madman’ Dr. W.C. Minor in the true story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Minor submitted more than 10,000 entries to the dictionary as an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. “We just didn’t [work together before],” Penn says of Gibson. “I don’t know why. [But I took the role because] it’s a great project, I get to work with Mel and it’s a beautifully written script.”