Sean Penn's allegiance to his upcoming film "At Close Range"--in which he had a creative hand--turned the usually press-shy camera-buster into a willing interview subject.

The press push that started with a glowing Vanity Fair cover piece and continued with an incisive (and not so glowing) American Film profile includes upcoming stories in Elle magazine, USA Today and USA Weekend.

But at least two publications turned down a shot at Hollywood's young lion. Why? "One said they'd read enough about his bad-boy ways," said a source.

But Vanity Fair found Penn a pussycat (headline: "(He) charmed the pants off (writer) James Wolcott"). Penn told Wolcott that he thinks he got his bad rep because "my face looks like the face of somebody who would try to do bad things."

American Film's Margy Rochlin asked Penn why he hadn't tried to rectify his false image with the press. His answer (she found it in her notes; it wasn't in the article): "To rectify is to recognize. . . . I'm not going to protest what they say about me because I feel that if it sits negatively with them that it adds a negative to their soul that should be negative. And I wish them all the pain that comes with it."

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