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Bobby - Martin Sheen interview


Compiled by Jack Foley

MARTIN Sheen talks about appearing in his son’s movie Bobby, his disappointment at how the movie performed in the US and his memories of Robert F Kennedy.

Q: Were you always going to be in Bobby?
Martin Sheen: I was always committed. I told Emilio from the beginning – he started writing in 1999 – whatever I could do, I’d be delighted. And not to worry if there was no part for me – I just wanted to be encouraging. When he finally got it going with some independent money, the first actor that came in was Anthony Hopkins. He read it, came to his door and said: “I must play this part.” As soon as Anthony came in, the rest of the players came in droves. Laurence Fishburne is an old friend of Emilio’s since childhood, and he had just come back from Tokyo and Mission: Impossible III. He was back home and on set in 24 hours.

Q: What are your memories of Bobby Kennedy?
Martin Sheen: Just profound. I had worked as a volunteer during the senatorial campaign in New York City in 1965 and had met him at that time, and spent a little time with him. I’d seen him one more time after that during a rally for a police review board in New York in ’67.

Q: What do you recall about the day he died?
Martin Sheen: During the campaign for president, during the primaries, when he was going all over the country… that summer we went down to visit my mother-in-law, near where [my wife] Janet grew up, a little community in Ohio – I’m from Dayton, Ohio, but she grew up in Cleveland, though she was born in Kentucky. We were in a little community called North Benton, Ohio, which is just south of Cleveland, 80 miles or so. We were going to be there for a few months.

The night before, we went to a drive-in movie. We came back, late in the night, and I turned on the news to see how it was going. It looked like he had it all in hand, so I didn’t stay up any later and wait for his victory speech. I went to bed. Early the next morning, Emilio woke us up and said he’d heard on the news that Bobby was shot. He was six. He knew my involvement but he had his own memory of it, which was very strong. I didn’t realise how strong it was.

Q: And this strong association continued?
Martin Sheen: Well, in January 1969, I went to Mexico to do a part in a film. We were there for four months and we came back across the border to Tucson and drove to Los Angeles as a family – and the first place I went was the Ambassador Hotel, because I wanted to make a pilgrimage to that spot. So I took everybody straight away, and we went into the kitchen – and it was hallowed ground. We had breakfast in the coffee shop upstairs.

I had not been in that coffee shop since, until I walked onto the set – and it was the last room that they had saved for Emilio before they tore the building down. I walked in the room to say “hello” and thought: “My God, this is so familiar.” Emilio reminded me that I’d brought him there as a child.

Q: Are you surprised that Bobby has not done as well as it might in the States?
Martin Sheen: I’m not surprised, I’m disappointed. I had hoped it would do much better. It took some very severe criticism in the American press from a lot of reviewers. Many of them missed the point and were not intrigued by the scenario or the whole concept.

Emilio took a very novel approach, by using fictitious characters and mixing them together with real history – Robert Kennedy is himself in the film from past footage. And we are fictitious characters. What he was trying to show was the effect of random violence, the horror of random violence, because of the five people that were shot – some of them very seriously wounded – in the kitchen that night with Bobby. He was trying to show the emptiness of violence, no matter what its motivation.

Q: How do you rate Emilio as a director?
Martin Sheen: He’s the most compassionate man… and he loves actors and loves making movies. He is so respectful of actors. If you’ve never been on the set with him before, you would be astonished at how kind and courteous he is to everyone. He says: “Action, please!, Cut, please!, Thank you, everyone!” But he has an instinct that’s very precise, and you may disagree with him, but it’s always with great humour. He listens to everyone, whatever suggestions you might have.

But he’s also very vulnerable as a man and he’s very sensitive to everyone’s feelings. He was really astonishing, because he was working with some pretty powerful names. It was remarkable how they listened to him and how they were ruled by him; it was a mutual admiration society on that set.

Read our review of Bobby