Sean Penn tells Piers Morgan that Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars was 'karma' for the Academy not allowing Zelenskyy to speak

Sean Penn has said the Will Smith Oscars slap was “karma” for the Academy for choosing not to allow Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to address the 2022 ceremony following Russia’s invasion.

Speaking to TalkTV's Piers Morgan, the actor said: "Zelenskyy had no intention of being partisan in the United States. It was really to talk about the value of cinema and to thank all of those around the world that were supporting and the Academy. 

"And they traded that for, I guess, the karma of what happened with Will Smith."

In a wide ranging interview covering the entertainment industry, the wars in Israel and Ukraine, and his new documentary Superpower, the Academy award winner said he "bonded" with Zelenskyy while witnessing the leader marshal his nation through the Russian invasion.

Penn visited Ukraine for Superpower, a documentary which chronicles the Russo-Ukraine war from the perspective of Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy.

"The friendship crept up on me by surprise," he said. "When you meet somebody who is in circumstances that reasonably could end in any way you can imagine, you make a decision faster, emotionally.

"There were Chechen kill squads in the streets of Kiev who were targeting him and his family at that time. It was coming from all angles, the potential targeting of government buildings, snipers, everything, and that he was the target.

"I can't speak for him in this, he had a lot of things to respond to, but I felt a friendship, at least from my side, like a bond.

US actor Will Smith slapping actor Chris Rock onstage during the Oscars.

Hollywood actor and film director Sean Penn and Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy.

Penn handing over an Oscar statuette to the Ukrainian president in Kyiv.

Penn said he became wracked by fear for Zelenskyy's safety as Ukraine's leader faced repeated assassination attempts.

"I recognised my affection for him," he said. "When we left Ukraine, it suddenly hit me, what did I do that for? Why did I open myself up to that?

"There was enough reasonable thought that he could be a martyr - there were a couple of months, that first two months, it was a bother.”

Penn described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “terror” for airstrikes on Gaza: "There are certain parallels [with the war in Ukraine]. The wanton disregard for, and proactive attack on civilians, children and infrastructure.

"With the horror of what Hamas has done, to get to a productive result is going to take a very nuanced conversation and the sooner we get to it, the better.

"That could have been my daughter or son at that music festival. I understand the immediate reaction to that, even a long-term reaction to it. We have to say: it will be someone else’s children next time.

"I am a 48% Ashkenazi Jew. I have nothing but love for my ancestry and ancestors. But, Israel has a Prime Minister who is a terror, by any measure of basic political thinking."

Referring to a meeting he had with Russian president Vladimir Putin at a film festival in Moscow in 2001, he said: “He was a bit of a poker-faced fellow. Talked about his kids, there was no politics discussed but I talk about it as a ‘deviant memory’.

"I was looking at somebody who is cutting off babies' heads. I don't like having been next to that.”

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