Sean Penn recounts his secret visit with Stephen Harper
By Jake Wray, Contributor
It was January 14. My day was a mess of memos, phone calls, text messages, saying one thing but meaning another, emails stored in draft form, running off for a quick piss, completing email drafts, sending emails, and triple-deleting them. A Conservative horror show for the single most progressively-inclined man left standing. I was sitting in my room at the Sandman Hotel Calgary City Centre with my colleague, Colin.
Colin and I had met once or twice, but no time was as significant as this. Colin is the platypus who rides a horse. Whether he’s standing in the midst of a scrum, a pub, or a McDonald’s, his overwrought banality, slight body odour, and forgettable smile have a way of defusing suspicion.
We quietly made our plans, sensitive to the paradox that also in our hotel is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Colin and I left the hotel, winced at the winter air, and walked the 83 blocks to a constituency office, where we’d meet the fellow we expected to interview.
Flash frame: Why is this a paradox? It’s paradoxical because today’s Canada has, in effect, two Prime Ministers. Among those two Prime Ministers, it was not Justin Trudeau who Colin and I had planned to see as we watched Friends reruns upstairs. It was not he who necessitated weeks of clandestine planning. Instead, it’s a man about my age, though absent any human trigonometry that may provide us a sense of buoyed palatability.
At 53 years old, in ’14, I was filming The Gunman, unneeded in the modern cinemascape, while he was hand drawing fantasy oil barrels, that, if real, might be the only path for he and his family to dream of beyond peasant farming.
They call him Harpo. Or “Thievin’ Steven.” Stephen Joseph Harper. The same Stephen Harper who—only three months earlier—had been humiliated at the polls by the Trudeau government and stunned the country with his extraordinary escape from the helm of the CPC.
The trust that Harper extended to us was not to be fucked with. This was to be the first interview Harper had ever granted outside an interrogation room, leaving me no precedent by which to measure the hazards.
We’d left the hotel at 5 p.m. By 7 p.m. we’d arrived at the constituency office. I resolved to open the door. I moved. I did open the door. And when I did, there he was.
Canada’s most famous prime minister: Stephen Harper. My mind was an instant flipbook of the hundreds of pictures and news reports I had scoured. There is no doubt this was the real deal. He was wearing a lame navy blue suit, and he appeared remarkably well-groomed and healthy for a man who only recently experienced the unified ire of essentially every single Canadian.
He turned his back to us, and we were intercepted by a staffer who had the look of a used car salesman. The staffer whisked us into a small, cramped waiting area, out of sight from the former prime minister. The staffer explained that we would be allowed to ask three pre-approved questions. We were given three minutes to formulate and submit our questions. We quickly scribbled our questions onto a Quizno’s napkin that Colin found in his back pocket. The staffer then took the questions and disappeared.
After waiting about 45 minutes, I lumbered over to the potted hydrangea to take a piss. Dick in hand, I do consider it to be among my body parts vulnerable to the wiles of irresistible conservative types, and take a fond last look, before tucking it back into my pants.
The staffer returns as I am doing my belt back up.
“Sorry,” says the staffer. “Stephen is feeling pretty tired today. Shall we reschedule for next month?”