Sean Penn is reclining in writer Hunter S. Thompson's Kahala Mandarin ocean view suite where the actor is finishing reading aloud some 40 pages of Thompson's cult classic, "The Curse of Lono."
Honolulu MarathonJapanese entrants down by a third
draws movie interests
By Tim Ryan
Smoking his umpteenth cigarette for the day, Thompson is grinning as Penn, in a cap with a Tahitian logo, a dark, long-sleeved shirt and black leather jacket, tries capturing the tone and cadence of the prose.
"That description is as relevant today about the (Honolulu Marathon) as it was 20 years ago when I wrote it," says Thompson, 63, to race president Jim Barahal sitting on a sofa.
Thompson is in Hawaii to cover today's marathon for espn.com. Penn is here to shadow Thompson and "to feel out the Hawaii territory" that was covered in "Curse" because he plans to produce and direct the film in partnership with Thompson.
"This is an initial hit ... a reconnaissance through sport," says a very relaxed Penn.
In the 1980 "Curse," journalist Thompson drags artist Ralph Steadman to Hawaii to illustrate an article on the Honolulu Marathon. Steadman eventually deserts Thompson but is kept up to date by Thompson's letters, concluding with his now well-known, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Woven throughout the narrative is a sarcastic recounting of Captain Cook's "Last Voyage."
The actor isn't worried that Thompson's biting remarks, and "exaggerations" about some aspects of the Hawaiian culture will be upsetting. "If the story is well told 'Lono' will be a love letter to Hawaiians but in its own irreverent way," Penn promised.
"I love Lono and especially Pele," Thompson said. "Anybody who roams the islands as a haggard old woman carrying a bag of fruit and then a teenage girl with holes cut in her shirt so her nipples are out is fine with me."
Thompson appreciates cultures who have "gods of mischief."
"Christianity is the only religion without an outlaw god like Bacchus," says Thompson.
Penn has made a career of doing films that speak to the heart and emotion rather than relying on special effects. In his next film "I Am Sam," Penn plays a mentally handicapped father trying to win custody of his children.
The Sept. 11 attacks has helped create "windows of opportunity" for people who write "warmer things," Penn says. The ensuing war on Afghanistan has also stirred strong emotions from the two men.
"It's a dumb way to react. Just because we have the most bombs in the world doesn't mean we have to drop them all on people who eat rocks for breakfast," Thompson says.
"I haven't been convinced that Osama Bin Laden or anyone you can put on trial right now was responsible for what happened."
Thompson takes a deep breath, then lights another cigarette.
"I know this is treacherous territory but someone has to go there ... what we are doing is oppressive."
The United States is "number one in the world in military power (and the massive bombing) harks back to Nixon," Thompson says.
Penn also is skeptical.
"Would we have the same resolve and would our principles be as strong if we weren't number one, or would it challenge us to think it out more and not throw around all kinds of childish rhetoric about good and evil," Penn said. The room falls silent and Thompson says "but getting back to the marathon."
"I remember it's 26.2 miles," he says. "I like the athleticism and precision of racing as opposed to just running. World class runners ... don't make noise when they run but it's a whole different sound back in the pack with the slapping and pounding."
Thompson was invited to ride in the pace car and is reminded the race begins at 5 a.m. "A very, very good reason to stay up all night," he says, grinning. "I used to run but I used stimulants to enjoy the journey."
As of last night Penn was "threatening" to run the marathon barefoot. "I've requested the committee to come up with a harness unit that would let me pull Hunter in a side car so he could report the race as it's happening," says Penn who lights a cigarette staring across the room at Thompson.
"Where ever the doctor goes I'm there."
The Honolulu Marathon