Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen Talk of Faith

Father and son actors Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.
Father and son actors Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. (photo: Tim Drake)

Director and actor Emilio Estevez and his actor father, Martin Sheen, are in the midst of a bus tour promoting and screening their new film, “The Way,” which opens October 7. It’s a refreshingly beautiful and respectful treatment of the Church, telling the story of a father who decides to take the Camino de Santiago walking pilgrimage in honor of his deceased son. Estevez and Sheen sat down with me on Tuesday afternoon to talk about the film.

At one point during the interview, Sheen spoke of visiting various pilgrimage sites and pulled his Rosary from his pocket. In response, I pulled my own from my pocket. Sheen took it, kissed it, and blessed himself with it. The full interview is here, but here’s an excerpt where both talked about their faith.

Was it difficult to do a movie that looks favorably on God?

Emilio: It wasn’t for me. For others it was. When we pitched it to studio representatives you could see their eyes glaze over. They’d say, “It’s about spirituality.” So we decided to shoot it digitally and independently. I believe this movie plays between Glenwood and Newark. Beverly Hills and New York can take a walk. Hollywood makes a lot of garbage. We know because we’ve been in some of it. There are less and less movies to go to – films without overt sexuality and language that won’t make me blush. We’re all tired of what’s coming out of Hollywood. Word of mouth will help this film make it.

Emilio, do you consider yourself a practicing Catholic? Can you tell me the impact that working on this film has had on your faith?

Emilio: I grew up in a house where my mother was a strict Southern Baptist, and my father was a devout Catholic. I grew up as a kid hearing many arguments about religion. There was always a question about how we would be raised. We were baptized, and as often happens in these types of situations, the father loses the fight. Because of the turmoil, going to Mass was not part of our routine. When Martin returned to the Church in 1981, he came back to a different Church.

For me, I’m a work in progress and I really feel that I’m on a journey. I have yet to declare myself. I’m on a spiritual journey and am very much in touch with that. There was a point in the production process where I stopped calling what happened along the way coincidences and began calling them miracles. Things like that happened daily, things that were just supposed to be.

What was the genesis of your reversion to the Catholic faith, Martin?

Martin: It began after my illness in the Philippines while filming Apocalypse Now. I began going to Church because I was afraid of dying. Then I stopped going for a long time. My eyes were first reopened when I was in India filming Gandhi. Then, in 1981, while in Paris, I read the book The Brothers Karamazov. I had been given the book by director Terrence Malick. The book kept me up. After reading it, I went to see a priest and told him I wanted to come home. He looked at me with eyes that said, “This is what I do.” He told me to return the next day at 4:00 p.m. as he had a wedding at 4:30 p.m. He told me not to be late. I went to confession with him and wept. I came back to a Church that was very different. I left a Church of fear and returned to a Church of love.