We talk to Sean Penn about filming his latest film in Dublin

Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film ‘This Must Be The Place’ stars Sean Penn as Cheyenne, a faded rock star who finally faces his demons. Cheyenne lives a quiet life in Dublin with his wife Jane (Frances McDormand), but when his father, a holocaust survivor, dies in New York City, Cheyenne leaves Dublin for the first time in years and journeys to America to say goodbye. While there, Cheyenne sets out on a road trip across the country to find a former Nazi who tormented his father. As he travels, Cheyenne meets people who change him, and changes the people he meets as he searches for himself, and peace.

Cheyenne’s journey in ‘This Must Be The Place’ starts in Dublin, the place where he is spending his retirement. The production was based in Dublin for several weeks in 2010 before moving to Michigan. The film makes use of familiar Dublin landmarks, including the Aviva Stadium and The Pepper Canister Church. David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads, wrote the original music for the film and indeed the film’s title is a tribute to the Talking Heads song ‘This Must be The Place’ (Naïve Melody).

Sean, what was it like working in Dublin while making this film?
A: Well I have spent a lot of time in Dublin in the past, and it was always quite a spunky city. It is suffering a tremendous recession. The streets are alive two days a week, it’s a picture of an economic problem that has been spinning around the world. Nonetheless we had a great time, because Ireland’s greatest natural resource is, after all, the Irish.

Q: How did you and Paolo Sorrentino end up working together?
A: It really happened at the Cannes film festival, I was participating in the Jury and among the film’s that were given awards was Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘Il Divo’. At the end everyone gets on stage for a group photo – I was standing next to him, his English, which is better today was pretty broken then, so I just said something like “Any time, any here”. Then he just went ahead and wrote the script, about a year later he called me up and said “Sean, I have written you this script” and I got this wonderful script from him.

Q: How did you create the character of Cheyenne?
A: Paolo and I talked at some length about the aspects of depression, and the way that would affect the physicality of it. He had very clear ideas of the physicality in terms of the visual, the look of the character. It’s an unusual kind of plan, to work with a director like this. So many of the things that he gives the actors that are in our domain to create, you will always have a challenge waiting for you. He provides so much of it, you might as well listen. I think, to me, it’s very fair to say that this is one of the very few film masters going right now. Somebody who’s going to make cinema for a long time, in a way that will inspire us. So as an actor, you are also an appreciator of him, and you try to take a lot of inspiration from him. It’s like we went to different schools together, he played piano, I turned the pages. I was there to turn the pages.

What were your visual references for the character? Robert Smith from the Cure springs to mind?
There were pictures of him among the gallery of things that Paolo showed me at the beginning, I was really willing to be painted by Paolo so the look was very much his idea and the voice just came from reading the script.

Q: Did you your own personal feelings on rock and roll help to build the character?
A: I think that rock and roll is a place that’s very important because it counters what I think, has become a disease of polite society. That’s what rock and roll always has been.

Can you talk about the theme of vengeance in the film?
A: Recently in the United States, vengeance was cast and completed in the killing of Osama Bin Laden and throughout the culture, there were different responses to that. I think that, in this film, the only way it plays a part is that binds itself into the expectation, in that it is pursued but not thought out. It just happens as a way to assimilate the circumstances. I think it’s only in that way that you can really, philosophically, nail it onto this picture.

Words – Brogen Hayes

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE is at Irish cinemas from March 23rd