Sean Penn

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"You can't get paid $20 million for the kind of movies I want to do," says Sean Penn. "There've been a couple of times when I've gotten the offer to do the odd one that'll make the bank big forever. But you start on page one of the script, knowing what the money is, and you're praying that you're gonna find some reason to do it... and you can't find a reason."

Double Oscar-winner Sean has always had a love/hate relationship with Hollywood, primarily because he prefers to work on the fringes of the industry rather than going for big bucks. His artistic integrity has been called arrogance by some, but it has also allowed him to hang onto the "best-of-his-generation" tag he earned during his early days on screen.

The son of blacklisted actor-turned-director Leo Penn and his actress wife Eileen Ryan, Sean was born in Burbank, California, in 1960. After dropping out of Santa Monica College where he had enrolled to study auto mechanics, Sean took up an apprenticeship with LA's Group Repertory Theatre in the late Seventies. He remains one of those Hollywood rarities: a star who was trained on the stage. And in 1981, he made his Broadway debut in a production of Heartland.

Hollywood came calling, however, and the same year Sean was cast in a supporting role in the military drama Taps. His performance drew widespread acclaim and by 1982 he'd landed top billing in the hit teen flick Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

It should have signified the arrival of the big time, but unlike most actors he shifted genres instead of sticking to a signature role. That versatility became a problem; there was no one Sean to identify with. And he earned a reputation for volatility following a brief but highly-publicised marriage to Madonna and various fallings out with the entertainment press.

After finishing 1990's State Of Grace - where he met future wife Robin Wright Sean "retired" from the big screen to concentrate on writing and directing. His first effort, The Indian Runner, hit cinemas a year later to good reviews. But his desire to finance a second project led him back to the screen for 1993's Carlito's Way opposite Al Pacino.

Politically outspoken, with a reputation for shunning awards ceremonies, Sean was not expected to show up at the Oscar gala when he was shortlisted for Mystic River in 2004. But - reportedly out of respect for the film's director Clint Eastwood - he was there to pick up the best actor gong on the night, and receive a standing ovation from the audience.

In 2009 it was a mellower Sean who accepted his second Academy Award for his role as gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk in Milk. "I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me," he told the audience. In addition he has three other best actor Academy Award nods. These came for his performance as a death-row inmate in 1995's Dead Man Walking, his Thirties jazz guitarist in Woody Allen's Sweet And Lowdown, and his portrayal of a mentally challenged man in I Am Sam.

Acting accolades have not kept Sean out of the director's chair. He's been widely applauded both for his 1995 effort, The Crossing Guard and 2001's The Pledge, both of which starred close friend Jack Nicholson.

In 1996, Sean and Robin married and moved to the peaceful environs of Marin County, Northern California, in search of a "normal life". The couple have two children, Dylan Frances and Hopper Jack, born in 1991 and 1993 respectively. Eleven years on the couple filed for divorce.
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