Penn tells of Macau arrest for murder attempt

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 12:00am

Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn was arrested for attempted murder in Macau before escaping from his jail cell and fleeing to Hong Kong, a new biography reveals.

The former Hollywood hell-raiser dangled a photographer over a ninth-floor hotel balcony in the former enclave during the filming of Shanghai Surprise in 1986 after catching him in his room.

He was arrested and put in a cell with his personal assistant, who helped him hold the photographer over the balcony, but they escaped and jumped on a jetfoil to Hong Kong.

The extraordinary incident is revealed in interviews Penn gave author Richard Kelly for his biography Sean Penn: His Life and Times. He does not identify the hotel.

Penn was then 25 and married to Madonna. They had travelled to Macau tailed by a massive media circus for the filming of the movie, regarded as one of Hollywood's worst-ever films.

The actor recalled how after walking into his hotel an intruder 'lunged at him'. Helped by his personal assistant who was also his kickboxing coach, the actor 'grabbed the guy, ran him through the room to the balcony and hung him over - on the ninth floor'.

It was then that Penn claims he realised the intruder was in fact a paparazzi photographer, one of scores following the couple because of the intense interest in pop queen Madonna and her new husband.

Police were called and Penn said: 'Five minutes later I'm in jail, on a stone floor next to my friend, and everyone's talking Portuguese.'

But the actor noticed the cell door was ajar and fled with his assistant before jumping on a jetfoil to escape Macau. Penn was later given a pardon by the Portuguese government, he said.

The incident took place a year after the couple married in August 1985. They were to divorce four tumultuous years later.

His arrest in Macau was never reported, although the couple were widely reported to have had run-ins with photographers in London, Hong Kong and Macau while they were on location for the film.

Filming in Macau was abandoned with no explanation at the time, although one report said the film's executive producer, ex-Beatle George Harrison, flew to Macau to try to defuse tensions between Penn and the media.

Madonna complained afterwards that the press had been 'unbelievably vicious and rude', and said: 'When we were filming in England it was like the third world war.'

The couple's antics earned them the nickname 'the Poison Penns', and even Harrison complained about Penn's surliness.

Despite the intense media interest, the film was a huge flop, costing US$15.5 million to make and earning a measly US$1.1 million.