You’ve probably heard or seen something about the new film by Emilio Estevez starring his father, Martin Sheen, called “The Way” about a father finishing the Camino De Santiago (or the Way of Saint James) for his dead son.
I’m not a movie reviewer so I’m not going to get all highfalutin on you. All I can say is that I watched it and absolutely loved it. Truly. Let’s face it. For the most part, Christian movies aren’t usually all that great. This is different. The acting is top notch. Not one false note. The characters are all very human. Nobody’s a caricature. The entire movie felt profound. And it’s the most pro-life movie you’ll see this year in every sense of the word. I guarantee it.
This is not a movie about religious people on a pilgrimage but it’s about broken people finding their way toward love. It’s subtle, artful, and powerfully inspirational. If you want movies to be made for adults and you want religion to be used as something other than a punchline you should support this movie.
So anyway, besides getting to watch the movie I was given a chance to interview Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez the other day in Philadelphia. Below is the transcript (slightly edited) of our conversation. In it, Martin tells of how one Archbishop hugged him after watching the movie and Emilio speaks about how he hopes the film gives “a voice to the unborn.”
Some spoilers below.
I walked into the hotel room where Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez and film producer David Alexanien were standing. Before I could speak, Martin Sheen jumped behind the chairs.
Martin Sheen: There’s something really important going on here. What’s your name?
Me: Matt Archbold
Martin: Hang on Matt. There’s something really important going on here. You have to stay seated. Emilio say action please.
Emilio: Action please.
Martin threw a crumpled piece of paper across the room towards a waste basket. He missed. (Kinda’ badly)
Matt: Oh no. You gotta’ kiss it off the glass.
Martin: Awww. Come on. How close was that?
They each took turns throwing a piece of paper at the wastebasket and missing. (Badly)
DA: That’s not a way to start.
Matt: Maybe this is a bad time.
Martin: I want to share something with you. We got a lovely endorsement from the archdiocese of Boston. (He holds up a computer screen where the Archdiocese of Boston raved about the movie.)
Matt: The imprimatur?
Martin: Ha! Thank you Cardinal O’Malley.
Emilio: And Rick Warren yesterday. We’re getting endorsements from people who are meaningful. It may not be AO Scott but…
Martin: Who’s AO Scott?
Matt: I saw the film Saturday and loved it.
Emilio: Thank you.
Matt; First movie since Rudy that I cried.
Martin: Oh you big sissy.
Matt: I know dude, normally if I’m watching a movie I’ll put holes in my hands before I let that go. (Laughs) I’ve got a couple of questions. This wasn’t really the movie I thought it was going to be.
Emilio - Are we not doing a good job marketing it?
Matt: No. It’s not that. I think for the most part Christian movies pretty much suck.
DA: Very obvious. Pretty predictable.
Matt: One of the things I loved was it was subtle. It didn’t connect every dot. Normally in a movie, each person tells all about their problems. But in this movie, not everyone spills their problems. In any movie, each person gets their moment and blows up (emotionally). The Dutch fellow, Yost, in any other movie he would’ve been a Fastaffian comic relief guy. And what he does in the end kills me.
Emilio: He falls to his knees.
Martin: That knocks us all out.
Emilio - He does it wordlessly. And James Nesbitt, his catharsis at the cathedral. He goes from “Temple of Tears” to a whole new meaning.
Matt: Temple of tears. I actually wrote that down during that movie.
Emilio: That’s actually my mother’s line. We were having breakfast in Leon. She said I grew up thinking churches were temples of tears. I thought that’s a great line now where do I put it in the film. We put it in the cynic’s mouth. That’s where it belongs. But he gets into the cathedral and he has his catharsis. But to your point –we did it visually. We didn’t have to do it with a monologue.
DA: There was an attempt to make the film open and accessible I don’t think you’d want to watch four devout Catholics walk the Camino. I believe that many people who attend movies are struggling with their faith. Or nonbelievers. They’ll go see this and maybe say you know I haven’t been to Church since I was a kid.
Matt- I think something very accessible for me was right away on the golf course when he receives the phone call. I think anyone who’s lived long enough has gotten that phone call.
Martin: It’s the worst. For a parent it’s the last call you want to hear.
Matt: I found it interesting that on the golf course he’s with three people. And when he gets the call he doesn’t reach out to anyone. He’s outta there. He goes halfway across the world and it’s three people again.
Emilio-That was intentional. In fact we were asked why can’t it just be a twosome?
Martin: It was cheaper to do a twosome. (Laughs)
Matt: The way the character was in the beginning. He shunned people and really he was shunning pain. One of the things that really does make it a Christian movie…is that it’s only through the pain that you get to the love.
Martin: No one has ever made a contribution to the human race, their family or themselves that’s not suffered. Usually the greater the suffering, the greater the contribution. Think of Nelson Mandela, he was cleansed of all his animosity. Can you imagine if he’d come out with vengeance. He was purified through his own suffering.
This man in this film comes to himself and embraces himself with these other knuckleheads. And he sees the worst part of himself in these others. We all hate liars because we’re liars. We hate thieves because we’re thieves. We condemn them but when we start to embrace others we get free and become ourselves.
He becomes a father for the first time with those 3 knuckleheads. He was never a father to this guy (pointing at Emilio) He becomes himself.
DA: He gets closer to his son in death than he was in life. And I think that’s a hopeful message. From a producer’s perspective you get hundreds of screenplays and everything is just cynical and negative. Everything is too cool, too hip, too icy.
Emilio: Swagger. Too full of swagger.
DA: Let’s suggest this, let’s have the four most beautiful stars as opposed to let’s have human beings.
Martin: God bless you. God bless you.
DA: What I think is unique is that this is the first time in the 200 films Martin has made this is the first time his real name is on the film.
Martin: Not as an actor but it’s there.
DA: Ramon Estevez.
Martin: We toyed with my real name. I’ve never used it as an actor. I’ve never changed it. But I’ve been using Sheen for over 50 years.
DA: It’s a film inspired by a grandson and dedicated to a grandfather so you’ve got four generations of Spanish ancestry which it pays tribute to.
Matt: You know I hate to bring this up but my grandmother never got over you being an Estevez. Oh, she was terribly upset.
Martin: She found out I was an Estevez? Why?
Matt: I don’t know who told her.
Martin: Was she Irish?
Matt: Oh yeah.
Martin: My mother was from county Tipperary. We’re both Irish citizens (pointing to Emilio).
Matt: Well she was very upset.
Martin: I’m so sorry.
Matt: I’ve forgiven you. Isn’t that very nice of me?
Martin: Oh thanks. I appreciate that. I’ve been carrying that burden.
Matt: So, the permission for the cathedral. How did that happen?
Martin: A miracle. Just a plain flat out miracle.
DA: They never ever allowed a feature film in there before.
Martin: Some newsreel footage and an occasional documentary. They needed to control all the footage. You know, these two Americans come in from Hollywood and the Church is going through a hard time.
Matt: Oh is it, I hadn’t noticed.
Emilio: It’s the third holiest place after Jerusalem and Rome and we were asking for permission to shoot inside.
DA: They were very skeptical.
MS: The next guy they opened those doors for –
Emilio: The Pope.
MS: Benedict. He came on the 9th as a pilgrim and we went to his Mass in the square outside the Cathedral. And that night he went to Barcelona to dedicate the cathedral in Barcelona. And we premiered “The Way.”
DA: We sat in a very small box. Ten of us including the Archbishop. Our knees up against his back. And what did he say after it was over?
MS: He hugged me and said “Your son has given us a love letter. Thank you.” They were worried. They were so relieved to see that we reflected all of our love and honor and respect for that sacred ground. It was never our intention to do otherwise but they didn’t know that.
Emilio: How could they?
Martin: But it was miraculous that they let us in there.
(A young man walks by and goes into another room.)
Martin: This young man you saw walking in. The whole story started with he and I and the guy who plays Father Frank in the film. He’s like a brother to me. We were traveling in Europe and I had this romantic image that we would do the Camino, you guys come with me. Taylor (Emilio’s son) was 19 at the time and he was working as my assistant on “The West Wing” at the time and we were just off a few weeks and we had two weeks left. I had frittered away most of the time but I had this idea we were going to do The Camino. It was ludicrous. No plan. No idea.
Matt: Typical celebrity.
Martin: There you go. We stayed at this B and B in the country and it was run by a family and we were invited to the pilgrim’s supper that night. The owner’s daughter, a very beautiful young girl, came in to serve. She looked at him. He looked at her. And they’re still looking at each other. They’re married. That’s where it all started. It started with those kids. And her mother’s name is Milagros. They were trying to tell us something. I came home and told Emilio you gotta’ check this out. I urged him to write a story, a scenario. Let’s do something in Spain. He was doing “Bobby” at the time so we had to wait until that was completed. So we’ve literally been at this for five years.
Emilio: I plan on putting a rosary in every movie. There’s a rosary in “Bobby.” The rosary is explored in this one. It’s lifted up and featured. So I’ve got to figure out a way to get a rosary in the next film.
Martin: Hey, you put me in the film. I’ll make sure of it.
Matt: One thing a lot of Catholics will focus on is Deborah Unger’s character who talks about her abortion. That had to be a hard decision to make whether to put that in the film.
Martin: Oh no. That was very much a part of it.
Emilio: That was never a question. This character was going to have made this choice to create this enormous hole in the center of her chest. She is essentially our Tin man. (He points to his father.) He’s our Dorothy. (Laughs) We wanted to give a voice to the unborn. And we also, I wanted to create a scene between a woman who hears her unborn child and says “I know it sounds crazy” to a man who’s seeing his deceased son who knows that it’s not. And they in that moment say “I hear you. I see you. And we’re together on this.”
DA: And that’s how we deal with our brokenness regardless of where it comes from is sharing it. It’s so difficult because when you have that issue you want to hide it, bury it, push it further and the more you do that the bigger the problem gets. As soon as you open up and share, the possibility for healing or moving forward begins.
Martin: The great mystery we share is our brokenness, our humanity. The genius of God is choosing to dwell right there where we would least look. That to me is the greatest mystery of all and the most profound is that we reflect the very best part of all the universe. Each single one of us in our humanity and our brokenness and we believe Jesus’s body was broken. Wow. What a way for God to show up. As one of us. Go figure.
DA: It’s easy to hide today too. You can hide. Not for long. But you can hide.
Matt: It seems the more connected we become, the shallower our connections.
Emilio: Yes. We’ve become connected through devices. Through technology. But not sitting down and breaking bread and looking each other in the eye and listening to each other. We’re distracted. So distracted.
Martin: You said the other day about texting people in the same house.
Emilio: The same house. I’ve done it. I’m guilty of it.
Matt: Yeah, do I really wanna’ get up off the couch. But I see it with people with their kids all the time. You’re spending quality time with the kids but the whole time you’re working on your typing skills.
Martin: But don’t you think something is going on now because people have had a lot of their material possessions ripped away. They didn’t give them up by choice. Second home. Second car. Kids out of the private school. Lot of them are getting food from the local food bank. And they’re starting to come together as a community. Kids are moving back in. Grandparents are being brought in. And they’re starting to focus on community, on family. There’s something going on in all this darkness that is very very human and grace filled.
Matt: When I pick up my kids from school I do notice a lot more grandparents than I did just a few years ago. That to me is hopeful. So much with older folks has been they’ve gotta’ be independent. Well, who the hell wants to be independent?
Martin: We long for community. How many kids you got?
Matt: I’ve got five.
Matt: If you knew how close they were to coming with me today.
Martin: Honest to God?
Matt: Oh. I didn’t think my wife was getting home so I was thinking I’d bring them.
Martin: I wished you had.
Matt: That’s what I said. I thought I’d bet these guys would probably be cool with it.
Martin: We’d be delighted.
Martin: How old are they?
Matt: From 12 down to four.
Martin: Would you take the 12 year old to see the film?
Martin: Boys or girls?
Matt: Four girls. One boy. We’d love to have more. Actually, I’ll say this then I’ll leave I promise. (The publicist was standing right next to me now) One thing always stuck with me was what you said at “Inside the Actors Studio.” You were asked about regrets and you said that you wished you had more kids.
Martin: I did say that. The only regret I have about having four kids is that I didn’t have four more. But we didn’t know. We started at 21 and at 42 I was a grandfather. You know how many 42 year old parents there are? Yeah, four more children? Absolutely.
Matt: That always had an effect on me. I always remembered that.
Martin: Isn’t that something…Did you have a vocation, did you think?
Matt: I was the least likely. I was a terrible Catholic. I grew up in a Catholic household but pretty much shunned it. It was arguing with Jesuits that did it to me. I hated losing arguments so I started reading the Catechism and the Doctors of the Church just to fortify my arguments. And it just sucked me in. I realized I had a choice to make –either Jesus was a madman or He is who He says He was.
Publicist now right up next to me so I thanked them for meeting with me and Emilio thanked me for the kind words I said about the movie.