Oscars Rewind – 2004: Sean Penn takes the stage

Sean Penn and Clint Eastwood may not see eye to eye when it comes to politics, but these two great personalities and talents made movie magic in 2003 when they teamed up in “Mystic River.” And on February 29, 2004, both were present at the 76th Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood when the film, directed by Eastwood and starring Penn as an ex-convict turned convenience store owner , earned Penn his first Academy Award.

Politics and personnel.

After being announced as the winner by Nicole Kidman, Penn took the stage in a fitted Giorgio Armani suit and accepted the award, making references to his two children with then-wife Robin Wright Penn and the Iraq War in his speech.

“If there's one thing actors know, other than that there were no weapons of mass destruction, it's that there is no 'best' performance,” he said. “And that is demonstrated by these great actors with whom I was nominated, as well as the Giamattis, Cages, Downey Jrs., Nicholsons, etc., who were not nominated. We know how great you all were. My daughter Dylan and my son Hopper find it presumptuous and embarrassing to write a speech, so I'm going to try it without doing it. God, I really thank Clint Eastwood professionally and humanly for coming into my life. The great, great cast I got to work with, my friends. … Where are you going? [Writers] Dennis Lehane, Brian Helgeland. Mother. Dad. Robin, for being an eternal emotional inspiration on this roller coaster that I am learning to enjoy.”

Robin Wright and Sean Penn would remain married until 2010.

Penn had clearly been on track to win an Oscar at some point; The question was when. He had been nominated in the leading actor category three times before that night, in 2002 for “I Am Sam,” in 2000 for “Sweet and Lowdown” (his co-star in that film, Samantha Morton, was also nominated for an Oscar in 2004 ) and in 1996 for “Dead Man Walking.” The latter film was directed by Tim Robbins, his “Mystic” co-star, who was in the audience with his then-partner, Susan Sarandon; Penn and Sarandon had briefly been romantically linked. Penn also once dated Charlize Theron, who would win the lead actress award that night. Hollywood is complicated!

But also in the audience was Eastwood, who seemed pleased by Penn's praise. But as Penn told Oprah Winfrey in a 2005 interview, he had initially rejected the “Mystic River” script when Eastwood first presented it to him. “I wasn't interested because the subject matter was too similar to a movie he had just made,” Penn said. “But I really like Clint and we've had a lot of laughs. A year later, he called again and I thought, “This guy will never talk to you again if you reject him.” I was about 10 pages into the script when I called him and said, 'This just hits me.'”

tough competition

The actor was facing serious competition. Johnny Depp earned his first nomination for “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and would earn two more nominations in the future. Ben Kingsley, nominated for “The House of Sand and Fog,” already had a 1983 Oscar for “Gandhi” and two other nominations. Jude Law earned his second nomination, but his first, for a leading role, for “Cold Mountain,” and Bill Murray earned his first and so far only nomination for “Lost in Translation.”

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