With a Hollywood career that now spans three decades, Emilio Estevez is once again on a roll.
Now, the "Brat Pack" star of "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire" is back again with a new project, and this time, it's personal. By all accounts, "The Way" is truly a labor of love -- not only is Estevez the film's screenwriter, star and director, but it also saw him pair up with his famous father, Martin Sheen. The movie, which opened Oct. 7, deals with the story of a California doctor (Sheen) who decides to trek nearly 500 miles along Spain's El Camino de Santiago after the death of his estranged son (Estevez), and has already been praised as "a meditation on healing and spirituality.'
Huff/Post50 recently got the chance to catch up with Estevez. During our chat, the 49-year-old actor-director-producer shared his thoughts on movies, love, faith -- and microfarms.
What inspired you to make this movie? I was initially inspired by my son, who went to Spain with my father eight years ago after working as an assistant for him on “The West Wing.” They had wanted to follow the pilgrimage route of Camino de Santiago but were woefully unprepared. They didn’t have walking sticks, backpacks or the right shoes. One day they arrived in a town called Burgos and ended up in a bed-and-breakfast where my son fell instantly in love with the innkeeper’s daughter. They’ve been married ever since and still live there. So I made the film because I had to figure out a way that I could work in Spain (laughs).
The main role is specifically written for my father. For every “Apocalypse Now” and “Badlands” and “Executioner’s Song,” there were twenty jobs that Martin took that no one saw. They were movies and episodic TV shows he took along the way because he had a family to feed. They weren’t necessarily career movies. As result, he’s known as an actor’s actor – a journeyman actor. I wanted to create a role for him that reminded us all just how brilliant he is. The character he plays in “The Way” becomes who Martin really is as an actor, a man, and a human being.
So it’s homage to part of a sensibility you both share that is spiritual and reflective. Yes. When I first pitched it, you could see eyes glaze over. People just couldn’t get their minds around why I would want to spend my time telling this story. But this movie is akin to “Bobby” in that both are about our common humanity. We are all wonderful, broken wrecks. When you live in a town like L.A., where everyone is interested in being perfect and having their teeth whitened and taking this or that pill to make them happy or this or that diet to stay thin – there’s no message out there telling us that we’re fine exactly the way we are. That we’re perfect just as these wonderful, beautiful wrecks. That’s part of our common humanity. We’re all imperfect. And wouldn’t it be great if the message sent out by the mainstream media is that we’re fine being exactly who we are? Wouldn’t that be great for everyone?
I vote for you to be the next President of the United States. (Laughs) This movie doesn’t divide anyone. It’s about climbing a little higher in the tree. If only media people would stop reaching for the low-hanging fruit, which is cynicism and pessimism, and stopped trying so hard to be hip and cool and have a swagger. I prefer to climb a little higher in the tree. The fruit is a lot sweeter and the view is a lot better. But it takes effort to get up there, and it seems that people aren’t even interested in making that effort. It’s obvious even in the way we use technology. In making certain things easier for people, technology has actually demotivated people from using their brains. We have all these devices that keep us connected, and yet we’re more disconnected than ever before. Why is that? We’ve lost touch and allowed technology to take precedence over organic nature. But let’s not forget that those microchips in our computers came from elements of the earth.
Technology doesn’t have to replace the spirit of humanity and simple connections with people. No. And the film really celebrates that – like being part of the Slow Food Movement; sitting down and breaking bread with strangers over a three-hour meal to discuss politics and the meaning of life. I wanted to put my father in the middle of all that and explore what it means to be a true pilgrim. In the film you have a stranger in a strange land where people speak a language that he doesn’t understand. And you have these four broken individuals who are ultimately going to be healed in the womb of Mother Spain. Tom is emblematic of America and where we’ve been the last twenty years. We’ve built this wall around ourselves. But by the end of the film Tom has evolved. He is awake. He is a citizen of the world again.
“The Way” is really about having a life, versus making a living. That’s a very European sensibility you seem to have. Yes, it is. And it’s how I live my life in L.A. Winding it back to the past, if you will. I have a micro-farm and grow a lot of my own food. I raise chickens for eggs, and worms for soil, and have bees for honey. I have a hothouse and vineyards for making pinot noir, with our own label from Casa Dumetz and web site where you can find out what we’re doing out there (www.casadumetz.com) We give our food to local restaurants.
So you have a very ecologically sound, self-sustained lifestyle. Yes. It’s a very Spanish or Galacian way of living.
In the film, your father is sardonically referred to as “boomer” by the character played by Deborah Unger. Do you feel that her disdain speaks to the feelings of the younger generation? I think younger generations are just predisposed in their DNA to push back against the older generation no matter what they’re doing. You’re always looking at that cultural divide and it’s always easy to blame the generation that came before you. That’s a lot easier than looking at what your contributions are – or not. It’s Deborah’s character’s way of not taking responsibility and laying it all on the boomer generation.
At the end of the film, after an 800-kilometer pilgrimage, all the characters realize that they don’t need to embark on a massive trek in order to change. Is that the moral here – that, coming full circle we’re all wonderful, beautiful wrecks, to coin your words, and we should celebrate that? That’s exactly it. How about being okay being comfortable in your own skin rather than changing yourself to accommodate an idea of what other people think you should be. That’s not for anyone else to weigh in on. That’s up to you the individual. It’s up to you to come to a place and know that you are loved, not for anything you did or anything didn’t do, but for who you are. Getting to that place is incredibly powerful. And how many of us do that?
Very few. That said, I do think it’s easier to get to that place after you’ve lived a few decades. Once you get into your forties or fifties, you have enough lived experience behind you to stop caring about certain things and focus on the essential. I agree. Then again, I’m forty-nine years old and I’m still seeking my parents’ approval (laughs).
You’d better have it by now – particularly after making this movie! (Laughs) I wanted to please my father and gain his approval with this, and I wanted him to pat me on the back. The first night we screened the film – on the first day of a cross-country bus tour – we were in Mill Valley watching the last twenty minutes of the film in the back of the theatre when my father came up to me and said, “you know, I don’t know if I’ve ever really thanked you for this experience and opportunity. I don’t know if I’ve ever really thanked you for giving me the best part I’ve had in the last thirty years.” It only took him three years to say that! (Laughs) So I got his approval -- and maybe that’s what I was looking for all along. I didn’t need him to say it, but it’s always nice when you get that confirmation.
Yes, and you’re going to get a lot of confirmation from viewers as well. Why the bus tour? We’ve screened the film now to almost 40,000 people across the country. This is old-fashioned moviemaking. It’s a throwback to storytelling. In the absence of a 50 million dollar ad campaign, we decided to take the movie out on the road and create word-of-mouth screenings for people to attend and have an evening with us. Louis Mayer and the old studio giants used to do this – they took their actors out on whistle-stop train tours across the country when they had a picture coming out. We took a page out of their book and went old school with it.
We just crossed back into the United States from Canada and are onto our twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh stop on the bus tour. And it’s been extraordinary. We hand the mike over to an un-screened audience every night – sometimes we even do two Q&A sessions a night – and the majority of the people don’t even have questions; they start bearing witness and testimony to personal experiences that are reflected in the film. The majority of them just simply want to thank us for making the film.