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Actor and longtime political activist Martin Sheen has some very strong opinions about GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, which he shares with The Hollywood Reporter in this Q&A ostensibly about his new movie, The Vessel. Sheen didn’t care to discuss his son, Charlie Sheen, or Hard Evidence: O.J is Innocent, a docuseries he narrated and produced. In The Vessel, executive produced by Terrence Malick and due Sept. 16 in theaters, Sheen plays a priest in a small town where the elementary school has been wiped out by a tsunami. A trailer is below.
How’d this movie with Malick come about?
Terry was more of a showrunner. The people that made the film, he was a mentor to them.
And he brought you on board?
Yes, that’s what got my attention and, of course, it would, because I adore Terry and I would look for any opportunity to work with him, anywhere, anytime.
What in the script piqued your interest?
The story was a good antidote to despair — it relied on a spiritual energy to reinvigorate a community, to begin the process of living and procreating and working together. All the children had been destroyed and nobody wanted to have more because they couldn’t bear the pain, and this priest was trying to encourage people to reinvigorate their love of life. He was the spiritual anchor of the community.
It’s not often that Hollywood portrays Catholic priests positively nowadays, have you noticed?
Are you sure (laughs)? I don’t think they have a clue what a Catholic priest is, frankly. They haven’t done anything that gives them much credibility recently, that’s for sure.
Are you saying there’s a bias against Christianity in Hollywood?
Not even close. I just see a general avoidance, you know? If there was some financial gain, I’m sure they would hop to and make it work, but I don’t think they see doing a film specifically targeted at Catholics that would make any dough, though there are many great stories about heroic Catholics.
Any of them you’d like to see turned into a film?
Diary of a Country Priest, a famous French classic, and The Brothers Karamazov, which is Orthodox Russian. Then, gosh, one of the heroes of Auschwitz was a Catholic priest: Maximilian Kolbe … and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her name was Edith Stein, a Jewish convert, then she became a nun and they sent her to Auschwitz.
How important is your Catholicism to your work?
Frankly, it’s the center of my life. I think all of us are trying to live honest lives and, for me, I’m inspired by my Catholicism. So, it’s not anything I can separate myself from any more than I can separate myself from being a husband, a father, a brother, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, an actor or an activist.
Speaking of which, I haven’t seen you doing much in the way of political activism lately.
(Laughs). Yeah, what have I done for you lately? I’m 76 years old. I’m no less active, but I’m not arrested that often. That’s what generally gets the attention.
How many times have you been arrested?
Sixty-seven. The last time was at Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2003.
What were you protesting?
Nuclearism, which has become our national religion. We’ve replaced a higher power with nuclear weapons, thinking they’re going to defend us and that we’re safe with them, but they are the nemesis that we’ve got to start focusing on, because there’s more concern that they’ll fall into rogue hands.
Have you ever been convicted of anything?
No. I have had to plea bargain, like when I was facing six months. I couldn’t risk going to trial and losing because I would have had to leave The West Wing, and that contract came before the demonstration. I was protesting the Gulf War — the invasion of Iraq.
What do you think about the current political landscape?
(Laughs). You can’t be referring to Don Trump?
What do you think of him?
Oh, Don Trump. He makes me laugh, in that nobody seems to get it yet.
That he’s an empty-headed moron. That he has absolutely nothing to offer us. That he’s done his bidding and he has to be responsible for the damage he’s already done.
What damage has he done already? He’s just a private citizen so far, right?
Oh, come on. There’s nothing private about this guy. Don Trump has been around for a very long time. He’s a very self-centered promoter. I think that says it.
If you had to describe him in one word, what would it be?
How about Hillary Clinton? Are you a big supporter of hers?
I am, yes.
She has some common sense. I’m not saying she’s mistake-free. Who is? I mean, she’s a human being. She’s been in public life for 30 years. She’s made a few mistakes. Is anybody talking about George Bush and the 30,000 emails he destroyed about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and all of that nonsense, and how Great Britain came in, and all the other allies knowing full well that it was bogus? So, please, if you want to talk about how much her mistakes have cost us, none in human lives — and please don’t mention Benghazi. That’s a lot of crap. She was not controlling that situation. It was a military situation. And that’s run by the Pentagon or the CIA or both. She’s under orders.
Do you blame a video for Benghazi?
No, I blame terrorism. Plain and simple. Terrorism.
How does your Catholicism square with your liberal politics in terms of issues like abortion?
That’s my humanity. I can’t speak for a woman. I’m not a woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant and I will never know. So I cannot make a moral judgment on them. I would wish that everyone would respect life — I have tried to do such in my life, but that’s me. I can’t project that on another single human being and I will not.
I can’t tell if you’re saying you are pro-choice or pro-life. Which is it?
I am pro-life for all life — including the death penalty, including war. Life is what we might refer to as a seamless garment — you can’t extract whatever pleases you, what fits you comfortably. Let me ask you a question: What did you think of the film?
I liked it, but I was hoping for a flashback to the tsunami.
Oh, I know. Special effects. We couldn’t afford that. You know, there’s a Spanish version?
I did not know that.
We did two versions as we were filming. We did every scene in English and in Spanish. It’s the first time I’ve ever spoken Spanish in my work, so I’m very proud of that.
In this age of special effects and superheroes, how do you get people to see a small drama about a Catholic priest?
It’s about far more than a priest. Basically, he’s a missionary in the Hispanic third-world somewhere, and I think that that’s clear from the look of the film. They’re not living in luxury on any level, and they’ve been dealt a very horrible tragedy. I don’t think the film is specifically about the priest — It’s about a young couple; it’s about superstition; it’s about despair; and it’s about recovery.
One last question: Do you think Trump can win?
No. No. There’s no chance he’s going to win.
None. Absolutely none.
Why is that?
He has no chance. None. I promise you. The fight hasn’t begun yet. I promise you. The tsunami that’s going to hit him has not reached the shore yet.
And what does that tsunami consist of?
All of us who are capable and ready to fight.
No, I’m not talking about Hollywood, I’m talking about the citizenry of our country. When they come to their senses and they realize what’s at stake, there will be an overwhelming disapproval of this man’s chances for the White House. I promise you. None. Zero. Donald Trump is finished.
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