Sean Penn Interviews Iranian Frontrunner for ‘S.F. Chronicle’

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By: E&P Staff

Actor Sean Penn, reporting from Iran this week for the San Francisco Chronicle, snared a scoop worthy of a Broder or Brownstein, interviewing Muslim cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who leads the opinion polls in the coming elections.

Penn also told Iranian film students that those chanting ?Death to America? were only hurting their cause.

Penn, 44, asked Rafsanjani about a panel of religious hardliners barring hundreds from running in tomorrow’s presidential elections.

Rafsanjani replied that Iran is allowing eight candidates to run for president — certainly a greater number than American voters faced last November. “If the number of candidates is a proof of democracy, we are … better than the Americans in this regard,” newspapers quoted Rafsanjani as telling Penn.

The actor caused a stir when he attended Friday prayers last week and heard the ?Death to America? chants. But on a visit to Iran’s Film Museum in Tehran this week he told a student that those oft-heard chants hurt Iran-U.S. relations.

“I understand the nature of where it comes from and what its intention is,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s productive because I think the message goes to the American people and it is interpreted very literally.”

Asked whether his idea about Iran had changed since arriving in the country, he said: “I hope my ideas are ever-changing.”

Last Sunday, security men briefly confiscated Penn’s video camera as he observed a protest rally by about 300 women in Tehran.

He previously wrote about a visit to Iraq in 2003 for the Chronicle. His friend Phil Bronstein is editor of the newspaper.

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