EW When did you decide you wanted to make Into the Wild into a film?
PENN When the book first came out, I wandered into a bookstore, saw it on the shelf, judged the book by its cover, took it home, read it twice, finally fell asleep, woke up, and started trying to see if the rights were available. I had a very strong feeling that this thing was dying to get out of the pages and onto the screen.
EW You traveled to just about every location McCandless visited. What was your favorite?
PENN Capital A-L-A-S-K-A. If you asked anybody in my cast and crew, I think they’d say the same. We made four shooting trips there during different times of the year. I call it nature on steroids. It’s a brand-new place every season.
EW You’ve never acted in the films you’ve directed. Why is that?
PENN I never made the candy I ate, either. If I have a choice of eating it, or making it, [laughs] I’m going to eat it. I mean, I’ve done pretty much every job that there is to do on movies. The actor’s job’s the toughest, but the director’s job is the most rewarding.