The 25 Greatest Actors of the '90s

By EW Staff
August 07, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

“He’s an incredible presence. You can’t not watch him. And on top of everything else, he’s really funny. It would be joyous to see that side of him again.” — DIRECTOR AMY HECKERLING (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH)

For a man who began his career playing surfer dude Spicoli, Penn remains among the most serious of American actors. So serious, in fact, that he once “retired” from the profession because he was repulsed by his own performances. Having survived a career-threatening pretentious streak as a director (The Crossing Guard), in his latest work, Penn, 37, suggests that he’s just getting warmed up. When he’s on, few actors can match his heat.

DON’T MISS: Carlito’s Way (1993), Dead Man Walking (1995), She’s So Lovely (1997)

NEXT: Hurlyburly; Terrence Malick’s war drama The Thin Red Line; Woody Allen’s next (untitled) project