Sean Penn Says He Was Told to ‘Get the F*ck Out’ of Ukraine While Filming Documentary

The Oscar winner was filming a documentary about political efforts in Ukraine prior to Russia's invasion.
Sean Penn seen answering questions during a press conference in Krakow. (Photo by Vito Corleone / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
Sean Penn
Sipa USA via AP

Sean Penn has been filming a documentary with Vice Studios in Ukraine since November 2021, but not even Russia attacking the nation has hindered his dedication to the doc.

The two-time Academy Award winner formerly shared that he was “thinking about taking up arms against Russia” to stay in war-torn Ukraine longer, but eventually left the nation for safety concerns.

During a panel discussion as part of Fox News’ “Special Report,” Penn opened up about being told by a former National Security Advisor to flee the nation.

“I just heard from [Former National Security Adviser] Robert O’Brien and he said to get the fuck out,” Penn recalled alongside O’Brien at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda, California, in a conversation moderated by Fox News host Bret Baier.

The “Milk” actor described being warned about not going to Ukraine ahead of the Russian invasion.

“Our government is extremely good at caution,” Penn said. “American diplomats had been pulled out of and other Foreign Service officers pulled out of Kyiv. [People said,] ‘Don’t go. There’s nobody there. There’ll be no calvary,’ and so on.”

Penn continued, “I was speaking to Robert [O’Brien] the whole time here. He knows the region much better than I do, and I made it. We calculated that it would be fine, whatever happened. I don’t think anybody wanted to give up a level of denial that [the war] would happen because they would be giving up hope that [the invasion] wouldn’t happen.”

Penn previously met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prior to Russia’s attack and detailed witnessing the stark difference following the country being thrust into war.

“We met with [Zelensky], a man in a suit, and the next morning the Russians invaded. We went back. We were with President Zelensky and waited for him at a meeting point. And the next time I saw him, he was in camos and the world had changed,” the “Gaslit” star said.

Upon his return to the U.S., Penn threatened to “smelt” his Oscars if Zelensky was not invited to the 94th Academy Awards. While it is unclear if the Ukrainian leader was asked to attend or not, he did appear at the 2022 Grammys via satellite.

The Ukrainian government issued a statement regarding Penn’s access for the political documentary, writing, “The director specially came to Kyiv to record all the events that are currently happening in Ukraine and to tell the world the truth about Russia’s invasion of our country. Sean Penn is among those who support Ukraine in Ukraine today. Our country is grateful to him for such a show of courage and honesty.”

The statement, provided to Newsweek through the Ukrainian Embassy, added that Penn is “demonstrating bravery that many others have been lacking, in particular some Western politicians. The more people like that — true friends of Ukraine, who support the fight for freedom — the quicker we can stop this heinous invasion by Russia.”

In recent years, Penn famously interviewed drug kingpin El Chapo for Rolling Stone and traveled to Iran to cover the War on Terror for The San Francisco Chronicle. His international humanitarian efforts were chronicled in the 2020 documentary “Citizen Penn.”

Penn also noted that he intends to return to Ukraine when the time is right. “I’m not an idiot, I am not certain what I can offer,” Penn said to Hollywood Authentic. “I don’t spend a lot of time texting the president or his staff while they’re under siege and their people are being murdered.”

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.