Why Sean Penn says COVID vaccines 'should be mandatory'

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Sean Penn has been striving to set an example within Hollywood for how to live responsibly in challenging times. Whether offering free COVID-19 tests at last summer's Black Lives Matter protests or having his own "COVID wedding" to Leila George, the actor has made a point of following the guidelines recommended by scientists and experts. In July, Penn once again took a stand for his deeply-held beliefs when he refused to return to the set of Gaslit — a Starz limited series about the Watergate scandal co-starring Julia Roberts — unless the entire cast and crew were vaccinated.

"This is one of those things that should be mandatory," Penn tells Yahoo Entertainment during a conversation about his latest directorial effort, Flag Day, which opens in theaters on Aug. 20. The actor and filmmaker also likens vaccine mandates to driver's licenses, calling them "no different than having everybody being able to drive 100 miles an hour in a car." (Watch our video interview above.)

US actor and director Sean Penn poses during a photocall for the film
Sean Penn poses during a photocall for the film Flag Day at the 74th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in July (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP) (Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

While he's a vocal proponent of mandatory vaccinations, Penn does make allowances for those individuals who are unable to receive any of the COVID vaccinations currently on the market due to underlying health conditions. But he also admits that he's "frustrated" with the resistance he's seen among America's unvaccinated population who are able to receive a vaccine but have been hesitant to schedule their first dose. "There's different kinds of hesitancies, and so I don't think that there's much excuse to not know the informational available anymore," he says.

"That's part of why I think it should be mandatory," Penn continues. "A resistance that's just based on a certain kind of... lack of imagination and understanding of anything that's helpful to the human race, I've become very frustrated by that. But I can only work within my own bounds and say that, for me, it should be mandatory."

CANNES, FRANCE - JULY 11: Sean Penn attends the
Sean Penn attends the Flag Day press conference during the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival (Photo by Kate Green/Getty Images)

Penn isn't the only actor making the public case for vaccinations in the wave of rising case numbers due to the widely circulating Delta variant. In a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Matt Damon stopped short of calling for make vaccines to be made mandatory, but strongly encouraged holdouts to trust the science. "It’s a personal choice. That’s the beauty of America, it’s a free country," remarked the Stillwater star. "And none of us would have it any other way. But I fall heavily on the side of trusting science more than something you read on Facebook."

By stepping away from Gaslit, Penn is one of the first major Hollywood stars to make mandatory vaccination a requirement for returning to work on a film set. And because of his actions, it's possible that other Hollywood studios and celebrities will make the same choice. In the current absence of a federal vaccine mandate, Penn believes it's up to private individuals and companies to take the necessary steps to increase America's vaccinated population at a crucial time in the arc of the pandemic. "I think that the movie business [and] all business need to take the lead and to be not so timid," he says.

– Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Jimmie Rhee

Flag Day premieres in theaters Aug. 20