Interview: Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez

Posted on: 09 May 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring

The father and son team talk to us about their latest collaboration – The Way

The Way

The Way” is Emilio Estevez’s fourth film as writer/director and the third film he has collaborated with his father, Martin Sheen. In The Way , Martin Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to St Jean Pied de Port (France) to collect the remains of his adult son, Daniel (played by Emilio Estevez). Daniel was killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking the Camino de Santaigo, also known as The Way of Saint James. Tom (Sheen) decides to walk The Way himself, and during the journey experiences his own emotional and spiritual transformation.

In hindsight, both Sheen and Estevez realise the parallels of the film with their own lives. Estevez’s son walked the Camino, fell in love and moved to Spain eight years ago, while both Estevez and Sheen realise that the death of the son in this film will be related to the downward spiral of their brother and son Charlie Sheen. 

Read this interview with the father and son duo where they talk us through the film, their thoughts on the infamous Charlie Sheen, and working together again on this film.

Emilio

10 minutes with Emilio Estevez

You’re making a habit of directing your father: he’s been in three of your movies now…

"I know all his fits and phases, like he’s never met a person that he didn’t like, and kindness is an instinct for him. He’ll jump into a crowd, shake everyone’s hand, sign all the autographs, and that’s the wonderful thing about him. But that is also not who this character of Tom is, so I had to keep reminding him that he was not all smiles. Tom is cut off, emotionally cut off, and he can’t be laughing it up with the actors on set. I’d be like, ‘Not yet, it’s too early. We’ll get there.’

You’d have to remind him that the character was extremely conservative and reserved?

"I’d remind him: ‘Tom voted for George Bush. Twice!’ Enough said. Tom is emblematic of how America is viewed by the rest of the world — somewhat cut off."

Did you collaborate quite closely with your dad, even though The Way is shot from your script?

"Yes, the river scene was his idea. I was like, ‘This a big deal. If you get killed in the second week of production we have big problems!’ But I also thought that the river scene showed what happens when you don’t embrace community — when Tom tries things by himself, bad things happen. The gypsy grabbing the bag? That was his idea, too, as I was plotting. And then the night of the gypsy sequence shoot, he says, ‘Emile, don’t you think the boy should be up in the window?’ That was a great idea, and things like that happened along the way, that he inspired."

Apart from working with your father, the subject matter also has a personal appeal for you. In some way, you lost your son to the Camino, right?

"Right. I was thinking, ‘What do I know about losing a son on the Camino?’ And then I thought of what happened with my son: he walked the Camino with my father, and he met a girl on the route. She was the daughter of the innkeeper in a place that they stayed on their journey. My son then moved to Spain, married the girl, and has been gone for eight years. So am I not I more connected to this story than anything I’ve done in my life? It’s not a lament; I’m glad he’s found a life, it’s just that it’s 6,000 miles away! And I’m not ready to pick up and follow him. I’m sure he’s not too keen on that either! I do miss him, though."

Is your relationship with your son at all similar to your relationship with your own father?

"It is. In a way, with my father it feels like we’re friends rather than father and son, and I have the same relationship with my son. With my father we kind of grew up together. He was only 21 when I was born. He was still happy when he could tie his shoes, ‘What do you mean we’ve got a baby in the house?’ It was the same for me; I matured with my children and grew up with them."

The idea in The Way of the wayward son: was that in any way coloured by Martin’s relationship with Charlie?

"No, not at all. Daniel is less wayward and more curious. He is curious and doesn’t understand why his father wasn’t. There was more between Daniel and Tom in the longer version of the movie but the scenes were too protracted."

What are your earliest memories of being on your dad’s film sets?

"We went to a few but the first big one was Catch-22. He insisted that we all go to Mexico, so we moved there for about six months. To be on that set and see Orson Welles, Jon Voight and Martin Balsam and Mike Nichols. It was pretty cool to be exposed to that. Growing up we just assumed that everyone lived like this. We were sort of like gypsies; we’d pick up and move and settle in and pick up and move. I was very fortunate to go to Rome for three months, Mexico for six months, and India for seven weeks."

Martin Sheen

10 minutes with Martin Sheen

What did you like about Emilio’s script for The Way?

"What Emilio is saying, which I thought was very powerful, was that it’s very American to say, ‘We can do it. We’ll decide. I’ll walk this path alone.’ And every time that Tom did it on his own he got in trouble. It was only when he went into the community that he realised that he could rely on people, and that everyone is broken. That’s what it means to be human. But how we make up for brokenness is through each other, and I believe that is how God finds us. In each other. In community, that’s where it is. You don’t have to do it by yourself, and you shouldn’t."

When did you first walk the Camino?

"It was the summer of 2003. At Burgos, we fell in love with this refugio [hostel], and we stayed a few extra nights and Taylor met the daughter of the guy who owned it.  They’ve been together ever since! They’re about the same age, and she had never done the pilgrimage, so she did it from Burgos and fell in love with the pilgrimage, too."

Are any of your kids more like you than the others?

"It’s strange. You know them in different ways. You know when one child is honest and when one is not. If there’s something I don’t like when I look at one of my children, though, it’s usually a reflection of something I don’t like in myself."

Are you surprised that they wanted to follow you into the same profession?

"It did surprise me, and I was totally unaware of it to begin with. I remember Emilio had written a play in high school, and was acting in it, and we went over there to watch it and I saw him do this very emotional scene and it just took my breath away. I looked at him and thought, ‘Oh gosh, him too!’ But he was so good that I was calm about it. I knew then that he’d be okay."

How does Charlie’s current behaviour affect your faith?

"I include Charlie in my prayers. I always lift him up. I know the hell he lives in, because I was there. So I’m extremely compassionate and understanding. The key is on the inside; you can’t force anyone to do anything, good or ill, without their allowing you in. We’ve been through some very difficult times, but we understand what Charlie’s hell is."

Did you always take your children away on location with you, like to Mexico for Catch-22 and the Philippines for Apocalypse Now?

"They came away with me a lot, especially when they were little and didn’t really have a lot of say in the matter. I just grabbed them out of school and took them to some pretty remote places. I did that quite often and we would get right into the community. Going to Mexico was memorable. We just left a blizzard in New York City then we were in San Bernado desert, and the boys would bring home kids from the fishing village. I remember one night Ramone disappeared during this huge carnivale. Here we are in a foreign country and I’ve lost one of my kids! We looked everywhere and then I found a kid, Manuel, from the community and he went and found Ramone for me. That was a crazy time."

The Way

To win a poster of The Way, signed by Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen head to our competition page!

THE WAY is in cinemas on 13th May.  To find out more on THE WAY visit the official site and sign up at the official Facebook page.

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