Although Chris Penn has achieved little of the critical acclaim and none of the notoriety of his older brother, Sean, the rotund actor has become a familiar supporting player and character actor who hasn't had to rely on Sean, either. The brothers have appeared together only once, in the 1986 film At Close Range; in the meantime, Chris has made a name for himself in projects ranging in tone and purpose from Footloose (1984) to Reservoir Dogs (1992).
The son of director Leo Penn and actress Eileen Ryan, and the brother of singer Michael Penn in addition to actors Sean and Matthew, Chris Penn was born on June 10, 1962, in Los Angeles. The actor, sometimes credited as Christopher Penn, started out in the profession at age 12, under the tutelage of Peggy Feury at the Loft Studio in Los Angeles. His film breakthrough came in Francis Ford Coppola's teen gang movie Rumble Fish (1983), which cast him opposite Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke. But it wasn't until Footloose the following year that Penn captured his first truly memorable role. As the burly best buddy of Kevin Bacon's rebellious dance proponent, Penn's simple decency shone through, especially in the lively production number in which his character awkwardly learns to dance, to the strains of Denise Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy."
Penn's supporting work continued through the 1980s in films like Pale Rider (1985) before he became affiliated with organized crime movies, on both sides of the law, in the 1990s. Two collaborations with Quentin Tarantino in particular solidified this association. In the first, 1992's Reservoir Dogs, Penn played Nice Guy Eddie, the obedient son of Lawrence Tierney's mob boss. Screenwriting for director Tony Scott, Tarantino then helped Penn get cast in True Romance (1993) as a narcotics officer. From this point on, Penn began appearing in a handful of films each year, first and perhaps most notably as the frustrated husband of a phone sex operator (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993).
Penn continued his criminal film streak with such projects as Mulholland Falls (1996), The Funeral (1996), and One Tough Cop (1998). In 2001, he spoofed his tough guy image by appearing as the brother of comedian Chris Kattan, the novice mob operative of the title, in Corky Romano.