I recently caught the first two episodes of The First, the new Hulu series starring Sean Penn as a respected astronaut who’s under pressure to lead another mission to Mars after a previous attempt ended in tragedy. The show, in my humble opinion, is actually pretty good. Unlike a two-hour movie, a television series offers the chance to go slowly and take more time with story, characters, relationships and nuance. The First, which was created by House of Cards (U.S.) creator and show runner Beau Willimon, looks like it’s in no rush. I am, thus far, engaged.
As I started to watch the show, Sean Penn immediately grabbed me. Not just because of his performance, which is good. He’s always been an actor who delivers, even in sub-par projects. What initially struck me most was his face.
Sean Penn has aged. What I find most striking and refreshing is that he makes no attempt to hide it or even mute it. In striking contrast to the mysterious but ultimately obvious efforts to look younger in Hollywood, the closeups of Penn’s face on the show are akin to full-frontal nudity. It’s shameless age, with no fucks given.
When it comes to the pressure to look younger, women get the brunt of it. You can hardly find a female celebrity who hasn’t had something done, whether it’s the full kit, lip plumping, cheek implants or a squirt of Botox into the forehead. Just follow @celebface on Instagram to see closeups and some before and after images that will lift your brow line naturally.
Men do it, too. Rupert Everett, a once very handsome man, is barely recognizable to me today. Kenny Rogers and Burt Reynolds, god rest his handsome soul, ended up looking like crazy old Asians after their facelifts. Tom Ford, a man I really admire, has frozen his forehead into an utterly featureless stretch of skin that betrays his age and life experience. And after seeing the last two Mission Impossible movies, it’s become obvious to me that Tom Cruise has also fallen under the influence.
But not Sean.
And not only has he avoided knives, needles or any ostensible effort to look younger, he looks as if he’s fully embraced his age. His is a face with mileage. It’s the face of a man who’s indulged in liquor and cigarettes, a man who has known pain and heartbreak, a man who has smiled and frowned, a man who has lived without hiding from life’s provocations.
He’s not the only one. I think of people like Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Sam Elliott, Vanessa Redgrave and others. These people have aged, continue to look their age and, to me, get even more interesting. I could look at their faces all day.
What Sean’s face has is a quality that only comes with age and experience. It’s a quality bypassed by other nervous aging men who’ve been smoothed out by nips, tucks and injectables. It’s the quality of looking interesting – a quality that cannot be bought, only earned. And it looks glorious.