Emilio Estevez probably needs no introduction – but he deserves one, so I’ll give him one. Son of the legendary Martin Sheen and brother of winning star of film, TV and Twitter Charlie Sheen, Estevez has been pumping out bravura performance after bravura performance since the ’80s and across a wide range of films; among his most popular flicks, “Young Guns” and it’s sequel, “Stakeout”, “The Breakfast Club”, “The Outsiders” and “St Elmo’s Fire”. In the past few years Estevez’s acting career has taken a backseat to his newfound love of directing; his follow-up to the superb RFK assination pic “Bobby” (2006) is “The Way”, a beautiful and poignant tale of a father (Martin Sheen) who heads to Spain to collect the body of his recently deceased son (Estevez), who had been exploring the region. CLINT MORRIS caught up with Estevez to discuss what’s not only a highpoint in his career but one of 2011’s cinematic highlights.
You’re best known as an actor but now you’ve seemed to have slipped behind the camera and you’re leaving Charlie to hog the lens, is that intentional?
No, it’s really based on opportunity and it’s really… And it’s based on the sort of films that came my way in the last decade really where I felt were going to be direct to video. And in fact, I jumped into one of them called the LA Riots Spectacular…
Yeah, I remember.
….Which was anything but spectacular, unfortunately. It was a really funny script and I think a real visionary director in Marc Klasfeld who had done… He’s done amazing music videos but for whatever reason this movie just did not translate and it went direct to video. So in the absence or actually in my desire to not want to take that painful walk down the aisles of a blockbuster I have elected to be more, I guess, elitist about my choices and live differently. I don’t live a lavish lifestyle anyway, but I’ve chosen to scale back and I grow a lot of my own food and I keep my overhead very low. And I’m really concentrating on telling stories which isn’t to say that the movies that I… The unproduced screenplays that I still have and still plan on making will feature me prominently as an actor.
Yeah, well, that’s the good thing you can, kind of, develop projects for yourself and keep your acting career going by yourself and you’ll direct your films.
And it’s not always easy to sell, of course, I think I would have a very different time trying to get [The Way] set up with me playing Tom, right? Especially going to… Just at this point. But what I believe is that every few years the industry kind of rallies around somebody from the 80’s and whether it’s Travolta or Mickey Rourke or Robert Downey and they say, “Okay, kid, you get off the bench and you’re up.” And I just want to make sure that I am at least current and relevant enough to be ready when that call comes.
Oh, that call is going to come, believe me because you…
Thank you, man. [laughter]
Personally, I’m a huge fan of yourself but… In your work and St. Elmo’s Fire is my favorite movie. I mean… I’ve told Schumacher that…
Oh, thanks, man.
It is just one of those films, I like to pop in and Kirby Kegar goes for the kiss and it’s got me every time.
Like, you’ve done some great, great stuff and great, very versatile performances and a heap of stuff so there’s definitely some big stuff ahead. I think having directed now ”Bobby” and ”The Way”, it’s put you back out there again. It’s reminding people of who you are and showing that you’ve got another talent besides acting, you’re a great film maker.
Well, thank you man.I’m still learning.
My wife and I were watching the ”The War at Home” last night.
Yeah, it’s terrific and it holds up really well. It was on cable again last night and that we just happen to flick the channels and we saw it was on and the first thing my wife said was, “I remember this. Tell Emilio that his hair wasn’t that good in this one. I didn’t think his hair…
“I don’t think his hair color worked in this one.”
Well, because Kathy and Martin were both brunettes. I did a wash in my hair to make a little… To make me look like I was part of the family.
Yes, the creative decisions. But this is… That’s a woman reviewing a movie in my house.
Right. [laughter] But how good was Kathy Bates in that fil!?. I mean, she just gave an extraordinary performance. And I was so proud of her work and proud of… And Martin’s work too. I mean, he’s pretty ferocious in that…
In his final moments, he’s pretty terrific.
I mean, he’s pretty… He’s wonderful throughout. But he’s terrific in the film.
You must enjoy working with your father. Does he take direction well?
Sometimes.The thing about Martin is he… My father is… He oftentimes plays himself. And who he is, is truly the every man. Yeah, he’ll jump into a crowd and will shake everyone’s hand and he’ll… He loves to be the life of the party and he loves to… He loves to ask you questions about you, “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” “Where do your parents… ” “When was the last time you called your mother?” I mean, he’s on people. And he doesn’t ask to fill a space, he ask because he’s truly interested in people. And Tom was not that, the Tom in The Way is very different, very closed, emotionally shutdown and very emblematic of who America has been for the last two decades really.
We built a wall around ourselves and Tom is a product of that. So I had to… Very early on he wanted to start speaking Spanish and he wanted to start clowning with the other characters. And I said, “Pop, you’re not there yet. This doesn’t happen until much later.” I said, “You’ve got this wonderful… You actually have a roadmap for this movie. And let me point to these places on the road where you can start letting down your guard. Here, not here; this place, not that place. Here’s where the veil begins to come down. But the shit hits the fan and it comes back up.” And so I think once he saw it in that context, he got it.
So, to answer your question about how difficult he is to direct, he’s not. He’s actually a director’s dream. I think that directors may struggle with Martin wanting to play himself all the time, which, you know, I just didn’t let him get away with. You know it’s a very, very subtle and very dignified performance.
It is, yeah.
It’s not a very showy part but it’s a very, very quiet and intense role. And he says more with a look and he says more to look than a line more often than not. Now, you saw it in Toronto?
Yeah. And most of the reviews have been great. Have you always read your reviews even in the films you just acted in?
Not always, but in the context of this film, I mean, as I said it’s three years of my life. And this, you know, this is a business for me now. And you know I think, especially the Brits are driven by word of mouth and they’re driven by reviews. I mean, they invented criticism practically.
So I would prefer obviously that reviews are solid and positive and really more so for Martin than for me or for the film because I think, A, he deserves it. And B, it’s true.
Yeah, totally…And if I were to introduce you as someone to someone, would you like to be Emilio Estevez, film maker or Emilio Estevez, actor?
Emilio Estevez, storyteller, yeah. I mean, yeah, I guess you could say film maker. Again, I’m sure there are detractors who would argue that and really only see me as an actor. But, you know, I don’t know if I have a preference yet. Certainly, directing takes more effort, and Danny DeVito, personally, I think is a terrific director. He called it a desk by a thousand questions. [chuckle] And it is a lot like that. You know you’ve been on the set and there is no rest for a film director.
Kind of moment of the day.
That’s for sure. That’s for sure.
And so you know. Whereas if you’re simply acting, you’ve got that little rest in between or a scene that you’re not in, you can be sitting in your trailer or off doing something else.
Yeah. I think you definitely deserve, you know, for people to stop tagging you Brat Packer Emilio Estevez in articles. I think it should be filmmaker and actor now.
Well, you know, my worry, I’ve said this in an interview, I think it was earlier this week. I said the bummer is I’m going to be the… Brat Pack is going to somehow figure into my obituary, and that’s nothing I’m going to have any say on.
At that time, it was kind of a cheeky title, at that time, for that group, for you and any other group of actors. But now I think most people would just think of a Brat Pack movie or something like that, they actually think of it as something nice, something good, you know. “Oh, that reminds me of The Breakfast Club.”
Yes, yeah. It’s title kind of changed a bit now and it’s actually something to kind of be a little bit more proud of. Whereas at that time, someone calling you a brat. [chuckle]
I know. Of course.
Yeah. You were a part of the John Hughes’ film and Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s and, yeah, and in all these other great films. And so, I think the title’s been tweaked.
Well, you know, you may be right about that and I know that Rob Lowe has recently been out on this book tour. And I haven’t read the book yet but I know that he… That sentiment that you just mentioned has been… I think he’s completely embraced.
Yeah. I certainly agree. But it’s…
And maybe that’s the clue. Maybe that’s the clue here because when you keep pushing back against something, it keeps coming at you, right? Maybe the idea is if you embrace something you no longer have to deal with it.
That’s right. That’s right. Is there such fondness for the films of that era and the actors of that era? I’m 35, and I’m saying the old “they don’t make them like they used to,” but it’s the truth.
I don’t know. It sounds like something my parents…
Well, I think what’s interesting is that with films like the King’s Speech, and with True Grit and Social Network, if you look at just those three pictures in particular from last year, people came out for them. And there weren’t any wizbangs special effects about any of them. They were stories about people that moved you. And it was very simple storytelling, brilliantly done. And people came out, especially older people and said, “Wow. Okay. Maybe Hollywood hasn’t forgotten about us.”
The aging population who, what we call in this country the AARPers, retired people who have time and money. And essentially, they’ve been ignored for so many years by Hollywood. In fact, they are Hollywood’s, perhaps, one of their most loyal customers. So, I think the timing for The Way, I mean if we’ve made it 10 years ago, we may have struggled more so than we would today. So, I think if people are given the moment to discover this film I think that we might have a shot.
How easy was it to get “The Way” up? I mean, does your name mean something? When you go door knocking and so forth, the production company and…
Well, you know what’s interesting is, overseas Bobby was regarded much differently than it was here. It was seen as a success overseas because it was about, I guess, the storytelling resonated with people. The Kennedy’s resonated with the European audiences more so than they did here. And so, would you walk into a door of the financier’s door in Spain or in England, I was received much better than here. Here in the States, if you try to sell a movie like this, which is essentially a movie about walking, you’d sort of feel the executives kind of scratch their heads and say, “How do I market that?”
And frankly, I didn’t have an answer for that but I did know that the story was, in its own way, a retelling of the Wizard of Oz. You know, whether the person I was trying to sell it to was able to wrap their mind around that or not was another story. But I said that the themes we’re dealing with in this film are universal. It’s about loss. It’s about grief. It’s about family and faith and community. And I have always believed that there would be an audience for this movie because these are the things that we have gotten so far away from.
And that is how you market it. You market this as not medicine because I don’t think anybody wants to be forced fed medicine, but I think you market it as something that we are somehow lacking, almost like a nutritional element, right?
And we’ve watched the movie with, I’m going to say thousands of people. Now, we’ve taken the film out, we’ve taken it for a test drive in Detroit and Dallas and Denver, a couple of screenings in Denver, Baltimore, St. Paul, Sacramento, California, Orange county, Toronto of course, and then overseas. And the audience especially, they can’t really describe the film, and you watch them kind of put their backpacks and jump on screen with this foursome and take the journey.
Yeah, yeah. It’s great. As you said the stories are getting out there again. It’s not all Battle: Los Angeles and Transformers films. And it’s good that audiences are going to them. I think that’s the most important thing. Audiences are going to them.
Now did you hear Hugh Grant is reportedly up to replace Charlie on “Two and-a-half Men”!? (this interview was conducted before Ashton Kutcher was announced as the star of the series)
What are you saying, Clint? Hugh Grant!!? What!? [chuckle] Now, you got my attention.
It got my attention, too. [chuckle] Yeah, yeah. Actually, I expected that they might announce you as the replacement, or your father.
No, no. God, it’s a… You know, I mean, I think you get a sense of where my heart is and where my interests are. It’s between The War at Home and Bobby and now The Way. I couldn’t… The show makes me laugh and I did a guest show on it. But I can’t walk into in a room and tell a joke and walk out of a room. I’m not built that way.
And I flirted with an idea of doing a show years ago. And gotten right up to the door and chickened out.
Oh, really? Wow.
Because of that very thing.
Oh really? Wow. Well, the thing is you and Charlie are both great actors. But at the moment you’re definitely in different places. That’s for sure. I mean you’re on the other… You’re on the other end of the sky with the filmmaking. [laughter] But Charlie’s got the press. So if can you get Charlie out there to start every second word, The Way, instead of winning, just say The Way, then I think that would help with publicity.
[laughter] Right. You think so?
I don’t know. Do you think that that’s the audience? [Laughs]
Maybe not. Maybe that’s not the audience. [chuckle]
I’ve heard that Charlie is a big fan of ”Apocalypse Now” of course. What films of your father’s or just anyone’s have ever influenced you, especially as a filmmaker?
Well, I think Badlands, you know. If you were to say pick one, I would have to say Badlands. I was on the set for a lot of the shooting of the film in Colorado and I was actually in the film. My brother, Ramon and I were in the film as extras and you can see us. There’s one part where he goes off to make the record about how he’s going to kill himself and she’s left alone in the house. When she looks out the window, she sees two boys playing on the street corner. That was me. But I think I was fascinated by the whole filmmaking process in general. But that this was such a small crew and Terry was on a tour. And it’s a road movie, right? These two people on the road and I was, I think I was influenced heavily by that film. As well as lot of other filmmakers at the time.
Yes, they were. But you’ve worked with some greats yourself. I mean from John Hughes…. and there are a number of them… Schumacher!
Me and my St. Elmo’s Fire obsession, you know. But, did you learn a lot from these guys working on all the films you did as an actor? Did you bring some of that to your films?
Of course. I mean, I’ve had the luxury of working with directors who I consider actor’s directors. John Hughes cared about behavior and characters more than anything else. And Joel, I think, you know, Joel’s early movies certainly were all focused on character and the performance. And Coppola, even though he was in a funky phase at the time that I worked with him, he’s definitely an actor’s director. And so, I learned a lot. I learned that in many instances the actors simply want to be heard. They don’t want to be right. They just want to be heard.
And I think the directors that succeeded most with their… Working with their actors were the directors that at least listened. Even if they disagree with the actor’s perspective on or a certain way they wanted to play a scene, the actors felt heard.
And I think the most frustrating thing an actor can experience, is being on a set and not feeling heard. And then they begin to act out, and that’s when you see them locking themselves in their trailer, and showing up drunk and because now they feel they don’t matter. And I have always endeavored to create an experience on the set where the actors would feel safe. That they would feel embraced. They would feel supported in whatever choice that they wanted to make. And they would also feel heard.
Yeah. Have you learned things on from doing Bobby and so forth that you did wrong. Did you go to the old trial and error process and then on this one you decided,”Okay, well, I’m not doing that again.” Something you did differently.
Well, I think on Bobby, every time a door opened another movie star or another celebrity would show up on screen, literally. And I think because the actors were on screen for such a short period of time, I was depending on the baggage they brought inside of their persona, to help the audience embrace the character. Do you know, it was a bit of conceit on my part, that, “Oh we know that person we’re invested,” rather than, “We don’t get to spend two hours with that person, how am I going to invest to help me along?” I think with The Way, it was important to have with the exception of Martin, relatively fresher or fresh faces where we were discovering their journey as we traveled with them.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 OF THE INTERVIEW :
Emilio discusses YOUNG GUNS 1 & 2, STAKEOUT, JUDGEMENT NIGHT, Mel Gibson, His Birthday Plans, and more on his new movie THE WAY
Empire Strikes Back
St. Elmo's Fire
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
The Breakfast Club