Way, The : Emilio Estevez Interview

"The Way" is Emilio Estevez’s fourth film as writer/director and marks the third collaboration with his actor/father, Martin Sheen. Emilio has established himself not only as an accomplished actor, but also as a talented writer, director and producer.

In 2006, he wrote, directed and co-starred in the Golden Globe nominated for Best Picture "Bobby," which revisits the night Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968 and is set against the backdrop of the cultural issues gripping the country at the time, including racism, sexual inequality and class differences.

He made his acting debut in Tim Hunter’s "Tex" and appeared in Francis Ford Coppola’s ensemble drama "The Outsiders," both based on S.E. Hinton novels. Estevez’ performance as a quintessential high-school jock in John Hughes’ "The Breakfast Club" won him widespread attention and acclaim. Later that same year, he went on to appear in "St. Elmo’s Fire" before starring in "That Was Then, This Is Now," for which he also wrote the screenplay.

Estevez made his directorial debut in 1986 with "Wisdom," which he also wrote and starred in, while he also directed himself and brother Charlie Sheen in "Men at Work" in 1990. In 1996, Estevez directed Martin Sheen for the first time in the Vietnam drama "The War at Home" which Emilio also starred in and produced.

In 2000, he directed and co-starred alongside his brother, Charlie Sheen, in Showtime’s "Rated X" which was the first time Estevez and Sheen portrayed brothers on screen. His other acting credits include, "Repo Man" "Stakeout," "Young Guns" "Young Guns II," "Mission: Impossible," and "The Mighty Ducks."

In addition to creating original material as a screenwriter, the past few years have also seen Estevez working behind the camera, directing many popular television shows including, "Cold Case," "CSI:NY" "Numbers" and "The Guardian."

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 (Estevez) killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. He elects to walk The Way himself, and experiences his own emotional, and spiritual transformation...

When did the idea for The Way first come to mind?

It began when I was in the middle of casting a follow-up to Bobby, which was a big, expansive LA story, which was multi-charactered. Then the funding finally came to a crashing halt around September of 2008, and my father had come here to Spain and walked part of the Camino with my son, and an old actor friend, who ended up in the movie as the old priest with the pocketful of rosaries. So we began these conversations about making a movie in Spain and I began to work on a draft, using The Wizard of Oz as a template.

With Tom as Dorothy...

Yes, Tom is Dorothy; the Dutchman is the cowardly lion; the girl is the Tin Man with the broken heart; I didn’t have my Scarecrow yet, and then I stumbled upon the book written by Jack Hitt. Off the Road: A Modern Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route into Spain, and thought about using a writer with writer’s block, using Jack himself and his experience on the Camino, as the fourth character. He’s our Scarecrow and when we found the hay bales that you see in the movie along the Camino, I decided that that should be where Tom and the others find him. Initially I had been reluctant to talk to anyone about that Wizard of Oz analogy, but it’s very clear and I don’t think it’s a negative.

Why were you reluctant?

When I was doing the press for Bobby, a lot of people said I was aping Robert Altman, and I said, ‘No, it’s Irwin Allen, this is The Towering Inferno or Poseidon Adventure,’ and I got slaughtered. They said, ‘It’s more like The Loveboat!’ laughs The press was not kind, if I’m honest.

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, like the river scene is his idea. I was like, ‘This a big deal. If you get killed in the second week of production we have big problems!’ We had to shoot the whole movie in sequence, because we wanted to be true to the landscape of the Camino. The bag gets away, he’s got to get the ashes, save his son, but by the end of the movie it’s all about him and his transformation. 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 aren’t 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.

You started directing early in your career. In fact you are still, I believe, the youngest person in Hollywood history to write, direct and star in a movie, with your debut, Wisdom...

It’s a dubious distinction! The only thing I’m sure of it is that it is a film. It’s kind of the same with Men at Work. It was absolute silliness. It reminds me of advice I could give to a young filmmaker: I knew nothing about being on a run with a machine gun Wisdom. I knew nothing about being a garbage man Men at Work. These are things that are just so completely foreign to me. The best advice you can get is what I got from my mother, but didn’t take: write about what you know about. Otherwise it’s impersonal and there’ll be no connection.

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. I was old enough to know that he’d just done The Graduate. Here was a formidable cat. And Art Garfunkel; I knew all of his songs. He was sitting in the same restaurant. 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.

Which director that you’ve worked with as an actor has taught you the most about the craft behind the camera?

I did two movies with John Badham, who’s a wonderful technician. We did both the Stakeout films, although we should only have done the first one because the second one was not well paced or well played, but I learned a lot of technique from John. I had a small part in Mission: Impossible and got to spend a month with Brian De Palma, which I loved. I used to go in on my days off and watch how the big boys do it. He has a style that is very much of his own and that is something I have yet to create for myself. I go to school every time I make a movie. If you were to look at the last four, you’d probably think that was four different directors. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing but I’m still evolving, still developing. Maybe I won’t get to that style; I could just be a journeyman director and keep telling the stories.

Would you want to make a $100 million dollar movie?

No. I couldn’t handle the stress! They’re also made by committee, and if I want to go make something by committee I’ll go make a Cold Case or a Numbers or CSI: New York, where you’re there essentially as a hall monitor! However, those shows do teach you great discipline. I could not have done Bobby without the experience of directing TV. I could not have done The Way in the way we did it, without the experience of TV. From Sydney Pollack to Sydney Lumet, those guys will tell you that they cut their teeth with TV, because of the pace. Somebody hands you a 55-page script and says that you have seven days to shoot it, ‘F--k!’ It’s totally daunting, although the system is there in place to support you. By going through those paces, that was my film school essentially. I just did it after I’d made a series of films! I’d wish I’d had those skills earlier.

Your next film, Johnny Longshot, is a sports movie set in the world of harness racing. Why horse and buggy racing?

I love sports movies and I want to create another family franchise. There’s Secretariat and Sea-biscuit, so people are familiar with thoroughbreds, but standard-breds are a different animal and serve a different purpose. The whole sport is very familial, the kids and wives are involved, and it’s also international. So, potentially, it’s a franchise that starts in the US and you can take your team to Australia, France, and other places where they race. It could be a lot of a fun and it’s a sport that we haven’t seen on screen. And then I’d shoot it like Ben-Hur. In fact I’ve been casting about to see if any of the Ben-Hur stuntmen are available (laughs). No, although actually a few of their sons are. I’d like to shoot in Michigan, where you can get 40 per cent of the costs back. Like I said, I don’t know how to make $200 million movies.