Martin Sheen on Emilio and Charlie, 'Badlands' and 'Apocalypse Now,' and Finding 'The Way' (Video)
THR's Scott Feinberg spent a day with the great actor at the home in which he and his wife of 50 years raised their kids, including Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen.
Recently, I received a once-in-a-lifetime invitation from one of my favorite actors, Martin Sheen. Apparently Sheen, 71, had heard through the grapevine how much I loved The Way, a deeply moving low-budget indie that was written and directed by one of his famous sons, Emilio Estevez, which provided him with his first leading role on the big screen in years as a father who has a complicated relationship with his son (played, appropriately enough, by Estevez). I had seen the film three times -- at its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2010; then at its U.S. premiere in New York in October 2011 (which was a fundraiser for the Walkabout Foundation and was attended by former President Bill Clinton); and then again on a DVD screener in January 2012. Now, Sheen wanted to know if I would care to visit him at his house in Malibu and spend an afternoon discussing it and other matters.
Not in a million years could I pass up the chance to pick the brain of the bona fide legend who brought to life Kit Carruthers in Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973), Captain Willard in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), Vince Walker in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982), Carl Fox in Oliver Stone's Wall Street (1987), Robert E. Lee in Ronald F. Maxwell's Gettysburg (1993), A.J. McInnerney in Rob Reiner's The American President (1995), Roger Strong in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can (2002), Captain Queenan in Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006), and President Jed Bartlet on Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing (1999-2006), not to mention four children -- Emilio, Ramon Estevez, Renee Estevez, and Carlos Estevez (better known as "Charlie Sheen") -- who all followed him into the acting profession. (In fact, he and Janet, his wife of 50 years, raised their kids in the very house in which we would be meeting!)
As I drove up from Los Angeles to Malibu with my friend Jamie Kramer, I had one fear about meeting Sheen: namely, that he couldn't possibly be as likable in person as he had always seemed to me to be on screen, through which he effortlessly oozes decency and integrity. (Even as a grumpy conservative tight-ass in The Way -- a character that Emilio described to him as someone who would never have voted for Jed Bartlet in a million years -- he engenders tremendous goodwill from audiences!) If he wasn't like that in real-life, a big part of me didn't want to find that out.
Fortunately, my fears were for naught. As we pulled into the driveway of the modest Sheen residence, Sheen himself came out and warmly greeted us. Jamie handed him the bottle of wine that we had picked up for him as a gift; he thanked us, laughed, and noted that, as a recovering alcoholic, he himself would not be drinking it, but was certain that it would not go to waste. He then brought us into his kitchen, past a refrigerator plastered with pictures of his family, and asked us all about ourselves. Then, he took us into his magnificent backyard. It features a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by rocks (off of which his kids used to jump and his grandkids love jumping today) and religious statues (he is a devout Catholic). Further back, he showed us the organic garden that is tended to by Emilio, who now lives just a short distance away, and the mini basketball court that covers the spot where there used to be a batting cage used by Charlie, who was a star ballplayer as a kid.
Then, Sheen's assistant popped outside to let us know that she was back with some salad, pizza, and burgers that Sheen had asked her to pick up for us, so we sat down for lunch at a table outside. Sheen couldn't have been more down-to-Earth and lovely to us, two complete strangers. As we ate, conversation about his family led to conversation about acting, which led to conversation about some of his work. He even shared with us a story that he said he had never before told anyone else from the media: he was nearly killed on September 11, 2001.
Although The West Wing was primarily filmed in Los Angeles, it sometimes required Sheen and some of his co-stars to travel to Washington D.C. to record bits and pieces in front of real locations. Consequently, he had often caught the flight from Dulles to LAX that departed early on Tuesday morning -- so often that he had struck up a friendship with the pilot, who had once told him how frustrated he was that he couldn't locate a copy of the early Sheen telefilm The Execution of Private Slovik (1974), which he had loved upon its release, and which Sheen subsequently sent him a copy of. Sheen was in D.C. the week of 9/11 for The West Wing, but was planning to hop on the Tuesday morning flight back to L.A. if Warner Bros. would meet his demand for $1 million to reprise the role of Robert E. Lee in Gods and Generals, the sequel to Gettysburg. It was only because they passed that he did not.
After we finished eating, Sheen agreed to move over to another table by the pool and subject himself to a wide-ranging interview about his life and career that I recorded on my FlipCam and have posted at the top of this page. As you can see for yourself by checking it out, he is not the "windbag" that he kept apologizing for being, but rather a great storyteller who has led a life filled with stories worth telling. Our conversation revolved primarily around four subjects: his formative years, and the three feature films in which he has done his best work as a leading man, each of which were pure labors of love: Badlands (made by a small team loyal to an eccentric and then-unknown writer-director who many others thought insane); Apocalypse Now (made by a massive team that included the most revered director and actor in the world whose egos and health problems drove the production into chaos); and, most recently, The Way (which, as Sheen explains, was inspired by a grandson, written and directed by a son, stars a father, and brought all three parties closer together).
I was honored to have the opportunity to spend the day with Martin Sheen, will always be grateful to him for the tremendous kindness and hospitality that he showed to me and Jamie, and can't encourage you enough to check out the video of our conversation, the DVD of The Way (which is now on sale), and Sheen and Estevez's new joint-memoir Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son (which will be released in May but can be pre-ordered now). You couldn't pass the time with a nicer guy.
For more on Scott's interview with Martin Sheen, click over to Page 2.