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‘The Gunman’ director Pierre Morel says Sean Penn inspired him

For Pierre Morel, the process of working with Sean Penn on “The Gunman” was “one of the more rewarding experiences I’ve had as a filmmaker.” The French director — who began his career as a cinematographer — explained that “Penn is the total package. . . . He co-wrote the script, he delivered perfectly as the star of the film and is also a producer here.”

Asked what he respected most about the two-time Oscar winner, Morel, best known previously for helming “Taken,” said it was all about preparation.

“Sean never once came to the set without being perfectly prepared. He is a total perfectionist, so all of us had to be prepared at all times, too,” added the Frenchman with a big laugh.

The biggest challenge in directing the movie, about a former hitman who becomes a target of his former secret U.S. agency honchos, was merging the very different acting styles of Penn, Idris Elba and Javier Bardem.

“I found it fascinating to just sit back and watch and learn as they did their scenes,” Morel said. “Each man had a different technique, but in the end of the day, their separate approaches all came together and merged very nicely.”

When it was noted that Penn — who appears in numerous scenes shirtless — is in amazing shape for a man in his 50s, Morel himself seemed to be as impressed today as he was watching the totally ripped actor showed up on set in Spain, where most of the film was shot.

“Physically, he is unbelievable. He is in better shape than are most younger men — including men in their 20s. But that physicality, his insistence on doing his own stunts, is just another example of Sean’s attention to the details of what he wants to bring to the table.

“This film is not just another action movie. I think it’s a smart film, with a smart action hero at its core, who is fighting some pretty tough adversaries.

“For me as a filmmaker, it was like peeling the layers off of an onion.”