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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.
Sheen, in short, on…
- His first stab at acting, in a grade school play “I think I was in sixth or seventh grade… I remember the feeling of comfort and — I guess it was a sense of power… I felt comfortable up there. I wasn’t nervous… I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, I can do this!'”
- His parents “My mother died in ’51 — I was almost 11. And my dad… I adored him. He was my hero. He was from Northern Spain. He had this very thick Galician accent. He was the only person in my childhood that called me by my name: Ramon. Everyone called me Ray or Raymond, and I hated it. I loved my name… He made so little money — he was a factory worker — and he put aside a few dollars every week for me to go to college.”
- His rebellion “I told [my father] that I wanted to go over to New York and start a career as an actor, and he said, ‘Oh, no, that’s outrageous. You’re going to go to college.’ To appease him, more than anything, I took the entrance examination to the University of Dayton, and it’s infamous what I did: I blew it and got a three out of a possible 100 percent… deliberately.”
- His advocate “Father Al Drapp… was my confessor… In our parish, he was the assistant pastor when I was a teenager… and brought this great youthful energy. This was his first assignment after his ordination, and I adored him. And he took a personal interest in me because he knew about the dream I had and the difficulty I had dealing with my father. So he really came between my father and I, and talked to my father, and said, ‘This kid’s got something, you know?’… Father Al told him that there was more at stake here than he realized.”
- His vehicle out “The Rising Generation was a weekly talent show in Dayton… It was live… It had to do with musicians, and dancers, and singers, and magicians, and all these acts. They would compete every week, and then, after you’d watch the show, you’d write down on a postcard who you thought should win that week and send it in, and the one with the most votes would win… In the summer of my senior year [of high school], I thought, ‘You know what? I could do a recitation, a soliloquy, a monologue, and compete.’ They’d never had that before, so I went out, and I auditioned, and they said, ‘Yeah, we’d like you on.’ So I went on and… I won… So I came back for the finals with all the winners that had won that half-season or whatever, and I did another recitation. I can’t remember what that one was, but I won the whole thing… And the prize was a trip to New York for four or five days — with an escort — and a CBS audition… I went on the journey with my brother Manuel… I flew out to New York, and we got placed in a hotel, and I went to this audition, and I did one of these recitations for the guy at CBS — the casting director, Robert Dale Martin… And he was very encouraging and said… what I needed to hear: ‘I think you’re good,’ he said, ‘and you have great potential. But you can’t do it in Dayton.’ He said, ‘If you want to grow, you have to come to New York.’ And that was all I needed.” [The following January, Sheen made the move with financial assistance from Father Drapp.]
- His name “I had difficulty in New York with everybody and my name [Ramon Estevez]… People couldn’t pronounce it. They’d say, ‘But you don’t look Spanish; you look Irish’… I just got so tired of trying to pronounce it for people, spell it for people… so I decided to create a makey-up. I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll try to fit in.’ One of the big mistakes of my name. I just started using the name ‘Martin Sheen.’ I took the ‘Martin’ from Robert Dale Martin and I took the Sheen from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who was, at that time, the Auxiliary Bishop of New York. He was also the first televangelist, really, and he was very popular, very powerful, and a bright, articulate man. He was a very handsome man and he had a television show every Tuesday night for a half-hour — he’d give a lecture. Can you imagine giving a lecture at primetime in the ’50s and being a star? And he was. And I’d watch him when I was a boy, but I didn’t think of him as a clergy, you know… I just hought of him as this dramatic actor… So, the next audition I went out for, they said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘Martin Sheen’… [Later on] My father came to see me — the only time he ever saw me on stage was in The Subject Was Roses, which was this tremendous hit on Broadway… he was on his way to Spain and stopped in New York… and he came to see the play. And he was just so — he didn’t say as much, but looking at the marquee, ‘Who is this guy?’ It just didn’t gel. And I felt his pai, and I was disappointed in myself, even before he saw it… In some ways I was freed by being this new guy, but, in some ways, I still carried the real guy inside. And so I wanted my children to not be forced into making a decision like I did.”
- First hearing about Badlands “One day, my agent asked me, ‘There’s a haberdashery that’s doing a commercial and they’re looking for somebody to model a pair of pants on television. Would you be interested? You’ll make a few bucks.’ I said, ‘Yeah, okay.’ So, I went over to this hotel in Hollywood — near Franklin Avenue, I remember… I didn’t get the job… I was coming out the door, walking onto the sidewalk, and there was a big bay window on the first floor room, and a lady is banging on the window telling me to come in. I said, ‘Hey, okay!’ So, I went in. She said, ‘Hey, I know you. You’re a wonderful actor, and I’d like you to do a screen test for this film. The director is out of town, and I told him about you.’ Her name was Diane Derfner… she was the casting director… ‘Look, I don’t want to hold you up,’ she said, ‘but this film is really very special, and this director is wonderful, and it’s his first time out, and I’ve talked to him about you, and he doesn’t think you’re right,’ and so forth, ‘but I’d just like to film you, do a little tape on you… and show it to him… and see what he says.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ And she gave me a couple of what we call ‘sides,’ a couple of scenes. ‘Could you go study these straight away?’ I said, ‘I will.’ And I went out on the street, and I remember sitting on the sidewalk out near Hollywood Boulevard and studying this thing, and it began to ring a bell. And I came back… and I said, ‘This character, this guy Kit, he sounds familiar. Would this be any relation to that horrible crime over in Nebraska back in the late ’50s, Charlie Starkweather?’ She said, ‘Yup, that’s him all right.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I remember this guy. Okay.’ So, I did this audition. She, off-camera, read the little girl’s lines, and I did the Charlie stuff on camera… and I thought, ‘Well, this is interesting.’ And I left and I forgot all about it. And a few weeks later I get a call from this guy, Terrence Malick.”
- Getting to know Malick “‘Well,’ [Malick] said, ‘You know, I thought you were wrong, but I saw the little video that Diane did… would you mind coming and reading with me and the little girl? We have this young girl that’s going to play Holly.’ ‘I will,’ I said. And, I don’t know, a week or so later… I met him. I went over to his house. He was renting a house from his friend George Segal, who moved, somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. I couldn’t tell you where it was now… I remember I was terrified because they had a dog… [Terry] was just so wonderful, and disarming, and sensitive, and funny, and self-effacing. I just liked hanging out with him. I didn’t care if I got the part or not; this was a very interesting guy, and I thought he was just wonderful. We talked about anything but movies…. He was, basically, an AFI graduate, but, you know, before that he’d been a Rhodes Scholar and a teacher at MIT; he was a photographer and a professional journalists; a brilliant, brilliant man… Even on the phone you could tell that he was very shy.”
- Getting the part of Kit “It was the first time in my life that I realized I had an opportunity to play an ‘important’ part in a film — I knew [Malick] was a genius. And then, a few days later, he called me and said he’d like me to do it, and, ‘Could we talk to your agent?’ And I said, ‘Oh, Terry, you know, I’ve never done this before,’ I said, ‘but that’s the best script I’ve ever read, and now it’s the best part I’ve ever been offered,’ I said, ‘but I can’t do it.’ ‘Oh, why not?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m too old. Terry, I’m going to be 32 this summer.’ This is in 1972. And I said, ‘I’m too old. The character you’ve written is 19. He’s very much 19.’ ‘I know that,’ he said, ‘but, you know, I’ve been thinking: if you would do it, I’d make the character a bit older. Would you consider it?’ I said, ‘Of course!’ I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ He said, ‘Okay, well, I’ll talk to you in a few days’… I had to leave very early in the morning to get to Paramount [where Sheen was shooting a TV show], and I remember driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, and the sun was just coming up. And I was listening to Dylan, and it was a recording — he was playing ‘Desolation Row’… and it hit me that I was going to do this part in that movie with this guy, and I began to weep with joy and exultation. I can’t explain it. I’ve never had a moment like that in my life. And I had to pull off the side of the road by the ocean… The sun’s coming up, and Dylan is playing, and I’m weeping because I got the part of my life and I knew it.”
- The part of Kit “Kit had a kind of image of himself. It wasn’t real… Kit spoke a different language, and he lived in a totally different place. He was a legend in his own mind, you know? And [he felt that] people would come to realize it eventually, you know, and they will remember that they spoke to him and remember what he looked like and what he wore and what he said to them and how he said it, and they will enact it in future generations… It was kind of an elevated kind of whacked out reality for him, you know? … I remember [Malick] telling me about the gun. He said, ‘For this guy, the gun is like a magic wand. You know, if you somebody gets in the way or something like that, they’re gone. You know, it’s like, ‘Poof,’ you’re gone. He didn’t kill anyone. He just [waves his hand as if to say ‘He made them go away’]… He was like a real reflection of the enormous insanity that lived at the surface of everything real.”
- Getting to know Coppola “I met him over in New York, oh gosh, back in the ’60s. I met him for a film — his first movie with Robert Duvall, The Rain People… I met him about that, and he was very interested in me doing it, and i was interested in doing it with him, but he couldn’t wait for me and I was doing another movie, a show, a play, or something. I don’t know. But I liked him and I liked his persona. I thought he was a really interesting guy. He’s from New York. There’s a while different tone to him, you know? Very confident — not like Terry at all… I did a screen test [for the part of Michael Corleone in Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather]… I’ve never seen it, and I don’t want you to see it either… I came up [with the suggestion of] Al [Pacino, with whom Sheen had worked at The Living Theatre].”
- First getting involved with Apocalypse Now “One night [while Sheen was in Rome to shoot a film], the phone rang at two or three o’clock in the morning… [producer] Fred Roos on the other side of the line. ‘Martin?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘yeah Fred? How you doing?’ ‘Well, how’s it going over there?’ I said, ‘I’m doing great. Where are you calling from?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m in Manila and I’m just wondering how long are you going to be on that film in Rome?’ I said, ‘You know what? I’ve got a couple of more weeks.’ He said, ‘Oh, okay. Well, I’m just checking.’ I said, ‘Well, nice to talk to you Fred. All the best.’ And we hung up. Now, I’ll never forget this, I swear to God, as long as I live. I came back to the bed, and Janet said, ‘Who was that?’ And I said, ‘That was Fred Roos.’ ‘Well, what did he want?’ I said, ‘They want me to come to the Philippines to do Apocalypse Now.‘ ‘He said that?’ she said. I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘Well, how do you know?’ I said, ‘I just do.’ And I went to sleep, and forgot all about it, and a few weeks later he called again. He said, ‘How much time do you have left?’ I said, ‘Well, in fact, I’ve got a few days off. This is Holy Week, you know, Easter is coming up on Sunday.’ He said, ‘Could you come to Los Angeles during the Easter break and meet with Francis? He’s back in the States now. He’d like to meet with you if you have time.’ And I said, ‘Yeah. I’m off Thursday, Friday, Saturday. I have to be back in Rome on Easter Sunday to start working on Easter Monday.’ ‘Could you come over?’ he said. ‘I will,’ I said. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘we’ll meet you at LAX’… We had it all arranged: I would take a flight — Alitalia; I think it was nonstop direct in those days from Rome to Los Angeles — and I would meet Francis in the lounge of the Philippine Airlines, and we’d have time to discuss all of this because he was on his way back to Manila. And meanwhile, I had learned that they had taken a hiatus, and that Harvey [Keitel, who had originally been cast as Willard] was released, and that they were looking for someone to replace Harvey in the lead role… I knew it was about Vietnam, but I didn’t have a clue other than that… [then] I read the script and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, another one — one of those chances, one of those opportunities, one of those extraordinary things could happen here.'”
- His experience shooting Apocalypse Now in Manila, which was supposed to last 16 weeks but ended up stretching to a year and three months “They were up in a place called Baler in northern Luzon — that’s where they filmed the whole attack on the village — and they had filmed all of that already. Now they were filming the stuff on the beach where we would land in the chopper… When I started, I think, it was June of ’76, or maybe it was May. I don’t know, maybe earlier… And then we had the storm a few weeks later that broke everything — it just destroyed everything, and we had to be evacuated, and came home. And that hiatus lasted four or five weeks. And then we went back, and I did all the stuff in the hotel, and the stuff where they gave me the job with G.D. Spradlin.”
- The scene in which he accidentally smashed a mirror and cut himself badly “That was my 36th birthday… I’d been drinking all day… I couldn’t sober up… That scene was shot in August… We’d been shooting since June, I think… It was not a real hotel. It was, like, a courthouse, and therse were just upstairs rooms they made look like it… Joe [Lowery, a Vietnam veteran who was coaching Sheen on the set], had been trying to teach me some karate moves, and he said, ‘Nothing’s quicker than your own reflection, so if you practice in front of a mirror, you can see where it’s coming’… And I was doing all this stuff, and I was so drunk I couldn’t even stand up, and I got close to that mirror, and whacked it. I thought, ‘Oh, Jesus, I hit the mirror! Oh, Christ, I’m bleeding! Oh, Jesus, what have I done?’ And I just couldn’t stop weeping. I just went through a mess of emotional upheaval, and Francis was off-camera, ‘Martin, I’m going to stop this now. Can you hear me? Listen, we don’t have to –‘ And I said, ‘No, please let it go.’ I thought, ‘I’ve wrestled this wretched demon before, you know, and I’m going to do it now on film. The hell with it. I’m going to have it out.’ And I did.”
- The heart attack that he suffered during the making of Apocalpyse Now “It was March 5, 1977… I was on my own… This was phase three, because after we filmed Marlon’s stuff and quite a lot of stuff with the choppers and all, we took a break at Christmas and we came home… And then we went back in January to finish what they call the final phase of the film, phase three. And so there were no helicopters, and not a lot of action, and so we thought, ‘Well, this will be simple enough’… So I was in the cabin alone that night… I was just feeling strange, you know? And then, at one point, I woke up out of a sleep, and it felt like a clamp had been placed on the inside of my elbows, you know? And I started up to go to the toilet and — boom — it was like an elephant just kicked me in the chest, and I got very faint, and I thought, ‘Whoa — hello! What’s going on now?’ And I started to sweat. That was odd. It wasn’t hot. It was still dark out. It was maybe four in the morning. And so I thought, ‘God!’… I crawled to the toilet, and I got up on the toilet, and I was sweating profusely, and I started really getting dizzy, and the pain began to get very intense, and I began to get double-vision, you know? And I thought, ‘Uh, I think I’m dying, and I better get outta this joint because they’ll never find me here’… I crawled out on the porch, and I crawled down the steps, and I had about maybe 500 yards to go up the hill to the gate… It was, like, a private residence, and there was a guard at the gate…. I stood up… and it looked like when you put a pair of glasses on, and it’s not your prescription, and suddenly you get dizzy. The Earth got very far away, and then I went deaf, and then I went blind, and I went down on the grass, and I thought, ‘Oh, Jesus, this is what it’s like to die.’ And I wasn’t afraid. Oddly enough, I just said, ‘What an interesting experience’… I started crawling up this hill, and into this wooded area, and it was ringing in my ears. And, I remember, I finally got to the road, crawled most of the way, and I sat on the rock, and the guard there said… ‘What is wrong?’ I said, ‘I’m very sick’… So they transferred me into the wardrobe truck, took me down to the compound, and had a doctor come and see me… It wasn’t looking good. And Francis came and said, ‘We’re going to take care of you. Don’t worry.’… They put me in the chopper, and Dick White flew it… he’s the guy in the film who says, ‘Mayday, mayday, I’m going down!’… They had an ambulance waiting. They threw me in… and got me to Makati Medical Center, and I was rolled down these corridors, and it was like in the movies — you see lights passing and people. And this one little face came and just kina stayed there, and I looked at her, and then I realized it was Janet. And when she realized that I knew who she was she smiled, and leaned down, and whispered in my ear, ‘It’s only a movie, babe.’ And I started getting well right then.”
- The people and events that inspired The Way “Well, I had a brother [one of Sheen’s nine siblings — eight boys and one girl]… He was, like, a year-and-three months older than I , so he was always one step ahead of me. I’d get his used books, his used clothes, his used thoughts, you know… And I adored him. He was the one I was the closest to growing up. And I lost him in 2001; he died of cancer… And he was, like, the fourth brother we’d lost over the years, and I said, ‘You know, I’m tired of going to funerals. Let’s have a celebration’… And so I decided that I would organize a reunion of all the living siblings… I said, ‘I’m going to get everybody to Ireland for a reunion’… This was the spring of 2003, and I was on hiatus from The West Wing, and I had, like, six to eight weeks off, and so I organized this reunion in my mother’s hometown, Borrisokane County Tipperary, on May 22nd, 2003, which would have been my mother’s 100th birthday… I brought Taylor [Estevez], my grandson, who was 19 at the time — this is Emilio’s oldest child. He was working for me as an assistant on The West Wing. He was just out of high school… And we had this great three-day celebration… And then we all went down to Dublin and spent a few days just touring around. And I invited everybody, ‘Come with me to Spain because we’re all going to walk the Camino.’ And nobdy was interested. Matt [Clark, Sheen’s fellow actor and close friend since they met at The Living Theatre in 1959, whom Sheen had also invited to the reunion] and Taylor were stuck with me, so they said, ‘Well…’… I had this romantic image… You know, I’d wanted to do it for so long… I had about three weeks left before I had to come back to begin the new season of The West Wing. How am I going to do the Camino? A guy in his twenties — maybe thirties — in good shape could walk the Camino in, tops, maybe three-and-a-half weeks, you know I was already 63. It’s not going to happen. And I didn’t have any equipment. I didn’t even have a map. All I had was this idea, but I was determined to do it… So we did the only practical thing: we rented a car, like any American with any ingenuity would do, and we drove the Camino… At any rate, we got up to Burgos, and we’re looking for a refusio for the night, and they were all packed. And somebody said, ‘There is a casa rural out in the wilderness. And you have a car. You can go there. They’ll take pilgrims. It’s about 20 kilometers from here. And we’ll call and tell ’em you’re coming’… The place was called El Molino, which means The Mill… and we stayed overnight. It was wonderful… [Days later, after moving on] We’re sitting in the hot springs, and said… ‘Why don’t we go back to the Molino and see if we could stay another night?’ So we did… We were invited to the pilgrims’ supper, and there were people from all over the world — pilgrims from everywhere — at this supper. And in comes this beautiful young girl serving us supper. And Taylor — I saw him — he looks at her. I saw her look at him. And they’re still looking at each other, so desperately in love… he married her, and they live there now. So I came home. I had some ‘splainin to do to my son about what happened to Taylor… oy… Weeks later he went back, and he’s been there ever since… And so that was the beginning… I started bothering Emilio. He was working on Bobby (2006) at the time, and I’d go down there and bother him… I’d say, ‘You know what? There’s a wonderful idea for a story: two old guys on the Camino with a young kid that falls in love right under their nose and they don’t see it. That’s a great story, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘Yeah, maybe, but it’s a one-line joke’… Eventually, he started going overseas and spending time with his son, and got familiar with the Camino, and with pilgrims coming and going; and he began to study the Camino; and he fell in love with his new in-laws; and, eventually, he said to me, ‘You know, I feel as if I’ve lost a son on the Camino — not tragically, of course, but, in order to see him, now I gotta go there.’ He said, ‘Maybe that’s what the story’s about. It’s a father and son story. It’s a story of loss. It’s a father who loses his son.’ Boom.”
- His son Emilio, with whom he co-starred in The Custody of Strangers (1992-TV), The War at Home (1996), Bobby (2006), and now The Way, and who directed him in the latter three “You know, I don’t know myself without him. Our relationship — it’s sacramental… I was 21 when he was born, and so something very, very, kind of, mysterious happened with his birth… I’m looking at him, and it was like, ‘Oh, you’re the guy. I knew this was going to happen. I kinda knew you’d get here. And I see you’re the one. Okay, good. Welcome… Our relationship will develop.’ And it did. It wasn’t always pleasant. It wasn’t always easy. But we were teachers for each other.”
- Parallels between The Wizard of Oz (1939) and The Way The Yellow Brick Road = El Camino de Santiago; Dorothy = Tom (Sheen); Toto = Tom’s son’s backpack that keeps getting lost; the Cowardly Lion seeking courage = the large man trying to lose weight to please his wife (Yorick van Wageningen, who is as likable in this film as he is unlikable in another 2011 film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo); the Tin Man seeking a heart = the woman who had been battered by her ex-husband (Deborah Kara Unger); the Scarecrow seeking a brain = the writer who can’t think of something to write about (James Nesbitt).
- Why he suggested to Emilio that he cast someone else to play the lead in The Way “He was having difficulty getting it [made.] He’d go to studios, and they’d say, ‘Well, a guy walking on the Camino? Where’s the lady?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, a lady shows up. She’s kind of broken, too.’ ‘Oh. Where’s the romance? Where’s the fight? Where’s the killing?’ ‘Oh, that ain’t gonna happen.’ But we knew — it was very clear — that he could’ve sold the script and any number of those guys — I mentioned Harrison Ford out of great respect, and admiration, and affection, really, that he would’ve been wonderful in the part, and he could’ve got it done at a studio [if] he wanted to do it, or Michael Douglas, or any one of those guys. It would’ve been a cinch, you know? But with me, ‘Uh-huh. When’s the last time Sheen did a feature?’ You know? ‘Apocalypse Now? Okay, yeah.'”
- The challenges of staying in-character on The Way “[Emilio had to keep reminding me] ‘Don’t be Martin’… He had to remind me that this guy was not an artist. He belonged to a private country club — something that I’ve never approved of. Every now and then he’d say, ‘Hey, Pop,’ he’d say, ‘this guy you’re playing would never vote for Jed Bartlet [the liberal president that Sheen played on The West Wing]. Do I make myself clear? You’re dealing with an extremely conservative, unattached guy, a guy who lives in his own bubble, and we need you to be there, and gradually we’re going to bring you out of it… You know, you want to do this [walk] on your own like every red-blooded American, and all these other knuckleheads are just in the way. And then they become his family.'”
- The grassroots means through which Sheen and Estevez financed, distributed, and promoted The Way “We knew, after a lot of effort, we couldn’t get a studio behind us… So we had to do it on our own. We got a Spanish partner and we did the rest ourselves. So it was our investment in family… We just couldn’t let it go, and we borrowed some more dough… We got a small independent deal with AMC to distribute it, but we didn’t have any budget to do publicity — certainly no national publicity, which is what you need now… So we decided to do a bus tour, like our own pilgrimage across the country. We rented a run, and they put the logo on all sides of it, and we started off right out here in front of hte house, and we went 14,000 miles to 29 different venues… a lot of major cities, and a lot of campuses, and small towns even. And we would do publicity — local publicity — and we would screen the film twice each night, and we would do a Q&A afterwards… And, you know, what kept us going, frankly, was we knew we had a very special film. It had no violence, no vulgarity, no degradation of the human condition. It had healing. It had humor. It had people who came to grips with their common humanity, their brokenness, and how magnificent it is to be human despite how badly you’re broken, you know? To know that you’re human, you’re alive, and that anything is possible, particularly love, compassion, healing, forgiveness, joy, ascendance. That’s what it’s all about. And so we went with that. And the reaction has just been overwhelming.”
- Charlie Sheen’s quiet — and previously unreported — association with The Way “We got some very good responses [following the film’s premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival]. We knew the film needed a re-edit. It was too long. We just didn’t have the dough. Charlie came up with the dough. That needs to be acknowledged. Yeah, Charlie came up with the dough. So he’s very much a part of it.”
- Charlie’s Twitter plea in January: “My father, Martin Sheen, is currently starring in The Way, written and directed by my brother Emilio Estevez. And he has given the best performance of his career. Academy Award ballots are due next Friday, and we need to ensure that Martin gets nominated. Help spread the word… Martin Sheen Oscar!” “I knew he did something like that. I didn’t read it though. Yeah, I’ll settle with that kind of a response from Charlie. Thank you, Charlie!”
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