With the exception of maybe George Clooney, I can't think of another more well-connected actor in Hollywood than Sean Penn. It goes without saying that he has successfully leveraged his acting background to open doors for his philanthropy work - a secondary career that has spawned tremendous work in Haiti and earned him numerous humanitarian accolades.
The full depth of his connections was hinted at this week after Reuters revealed that Penn, 51, played a role in helping to free Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two Americans jailed in Iran for more than two years on charges of espionage. The pair were released after a $1 million was negotiated for their release.
According to the news service, Penn flew to Venezuela some months ago and had a meeting with President Hugo Chavez to discuss the plight of the hikers and what could be done to secure their release.
Venezuela's deputy foreign minister told Reuters that Chavez brought up the case with his Iranian ally, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after being alerted to the Americans' plight by friends in U.S. "intellectual circles."
"The American 'intellectual' who took up the case with him was Sean Penn," the source told Reuters. "Penn was very committed to the case ... He flew to Caracas several months ago to raise it with Chavez and he kept on it."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Penn's rep confirmed his involvement but said the actor would not divulge any additional details.
Beyond this exchange, the actor and Chavez have in the past enjoyed a strong relationship, with Penn regularly defending the president from media attacks in the U.S. "Every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it," he said in 2010. "And this is mainstream media. There should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies."
In response, Chavez praised Penn for expressing his support. "I was reading the declarations from our friend Sean Penn, the famous American actor," he told a televised rally in Caracas. "Penn defended what he considers to be the truth. From here I thank you very much."