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The Way - Emilio Estevez interview

The Way, Emilio Estevez

Interview by Rob Carnevale

EMILIO Estevez talks about making The Way with his father, Martin Sheen, and some of the very personal real life stories that influenced it.

He also talks about the challenge of directing his dad and making him play a lapsed Catholic, why the film is dedicated to his grandfather and his hopes for the future of more story-driven, character-based films.

Q. How closely did you work with Martin on the script and how did that relationship change once you got on the set and you had to become the director?
Emilio Estevez: Well, this really came out of some gentle nudging from Martin initially. He’d say: “Hey, let’s go to Spain. Hey, your son lives there. Hey, let’s make this documentary.” And so finally I got a bruised rib and I said: “OK, I’ll pay attention to something that obviously you’re passionate about. Let me see if I can get my head around what the dramatic narrative could be.” But he wanted to make this sentimental story about this and that… but I said: “No, none of that appeals to me.” So I said: “What I think the story is ultimately is a father-son story.”

He liked that, so he’d then chip in with things like: “How about on the journey, the bag goes in the river?” So, I’d say: “OK, that’s a good idea.” So I would try and incorporate a lot of his ideas organically into the screenplay. The idea o the gypsy stealing the bag and taking off with it was his and, again, I was given the task of having to actually write that. He is collaborative but he’s also kind of ‘out there’ in terms of his ideas and it was up to us to kind of make those ideas reality on film, as well as budget and schedule them. You know, the idea of going into the river is fine but then it involved 12 safety guys and a stunt guy, which we didn’t end up using. Martin insisted on going into the river. Actually, our stunt guy chickened out and Martin went in twice.

Q. Do you find it gets to easier to direct your dad with each film?
Emilio Estevez: It depends. I mean, I had to get him to play Tom and not Martin. But Martin has a tendency to want to play himself and in between takes he’s jumping into crowds and signing autographs and he’s speaking Spanish. He is a citizen of the world, whereas Tom isn’t, so I had to break him out of a lot of his habits. I wanted him to feel more isolated. I wanted him to be more conservative. There was a time in the film where I organically wanted that wall to break down but that was my choosing and I didn’t want him to give us glimpses of that before it actually happened.

The Way, Martin Sheen

Q. Did he find that difficult?
Emilio Estevez: I think the most difficult thing that Martin found about the film was playing a lapsed Catholic… truly. I had to say: “You are a lapsed Catholic, you are not a practising Catholic… you come to your faith, your faith is reignited on this Camino. But you have to forget what you know.”

Q. How important was the spiritual side of The Way?
Emilio Estevez: It’s more a spiritual film than it is about religion. I think it’s about self discovery more than about a specific religion because I think religion has a tendency to divide us. I think what we experienced on the Camino, and what the film accurately portrays, is that most of the people that we met, the pilgrims, were non-believers, or struggling with their faith. They were also from all walks of life and from very different parts of the world.

For me, I thought it was important to have someone represented such as the Dutchman who is trying to get physically in shape, or James Nesbitt’s character who has problems with the church and won’t even go inside them. Deborah Kara Unger’s character is out there for forgiveness and redemption and Tom doesn’t know why the hell he’s out there – but obviously discovers it during the journey. But it’s very difficult to go anywhere in Spain, point a camera and not see a church because they’re everywhere. So, I felt that the iconography would represent the historical aspect of the role Catholicism has played in Spain throughout the centuries and that would be enough. I felt that would drive the point without us having to bang the audience over the head with it.

Q. The movie states that the way is a very personal journey for everyone who takes it. Was that the case for yourself while making it?
Emilio Estevez: Oh yeah, very much so. It’s interesting… the other night somebody asked if I could give them advice as a young filmmaker. I said: “First of all, surround yourself with a group that you trust and people that you can lean on.” But what I forgot to tell them was write about what you know, write about something that’s personal to you and direct a movie about something that’s meaningful to you. In the context of this, with my son moving to Spain, living there for the last eight years, I know something about losing a son on the Camino de Santiago – not as extreme as what Tom’s character goes through. So, for me it was a very personal and very spiritual experience. I also re-connected with my son. He’s now living in a foreign country, he’s now a man and he’s married, so re-connecting with him on that level was very gratifying.

The Way

Q. Can you tell us about your grandfather, who you’ve dedicated the film to?
Emilio Estevez: My grandfather was from Galicia, in the north of Spain, from a town outside of Vigo, which is not far from Santiago de Compostela. He was born on July 2, 1869… it was the year America declared war in Spain. He had a very difficult time getting into America because there was a quota. So, when he was old enough to leave Spain he went to Cuba and came to the US as a Cuban national. I didn’t really know him. He died when I was 12-years-old, in 1974. But I know him now, interestingly enough.

There’s a new science called epi-genetics. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it? It’s the science of knowing how to do something without having any formal training. For instance, I have a vineyard [which is self-planted with his fiancée] and for whatever reason I know how to prune this vineyard without any formal training of knowing what to dol. But this is what my grandfather did. He grew grapes. He was a farmer, he had chickens. But that’s how you learned in Galicia. But not having any prior knowledge of that, I’ve created that same sort of lifestyle for myself back in Los Angeles and it’s believed, the theory is that epi-genetics is at work here – that I’m sort of living with him by my side in many ways. So, I feel really, really connected to him. But it’s interesting how it has skipped a generation because my father wasn’t interested in any of that.

Q. What was your favourite place while making the film?
Emilio Estevez: The Pyrenees was pretty extraordinary. We were scheduled to have a location scout for one day… it was the Saturday before the Monday we were supposed to start filming and I asked David [the producer]: “Has the film arrived yet?” He said it had. “Do we have cameras?” He said ‘yes, we do’. I said: “Can we take the crew on what’s supposed to be a location scout and can we just go and shoot a little bit of footage? Do we have Martin [Sheen]’s wardrobe here?” Again, ‘yes, we do’, so ‘boom’, we took a very small crew in the back of a truck and went up and started to shoot the film. It was one of those days were the fog had sort of laid on the tops of the Pyrenees, visibility was about 100ft and we sort of looked at each other and said: “Why the hell are we up here? We’re seeing nothing!” But then it occurred to us that this was the perfect place for Daniel [my character] to get lost and he could certainly have lost his way. Some of our crew literally walked right past the ‘set’ because the fog was so dense.

The reason I’m telling you this is that the following Thursday we returned to the same location with Martin to film the arrival, where he lands in the same spot where Daniel disappears, and we had the most spectacular weather. We had the most unbelievable sunset and visibility was probably about 100 miles. It was just extraordinary. Literally, The Pyrenees actually take your breath away. It’s just magnificent. So, that was probably my favourite place.

Q. Is the experience of the place itself quite ecumenical?
Emilio Estevez: Indeed. There were many things that happened along the journey that were providential and that set us back on our heels and made us feel like: “Wow, we are exactly where we need to be at this point in our lives.” We were warned against shooting in the north of Spain because of the rain… they said it would slow our progress, that we must pack ponchos from September to November and by the time you get to Galicia you’ll be tired of the rain… It rained twice and both of those days we were shooting interiors.

So, at a certain point we sort of took the word ‘coincidence’ out of our vocabulary. There were just too many moments of divine intervention throughout the shooting. We were such a small crew – we were literally 55 with the four principals. We were very using a very guerrilla film making stile but we had a tremendous lens package, and so a lot of those vistas you enjoy in the film were the result of being in the right place at the right time with the proper lens. It was hard to point a camera anywhere in Spain and not come up with something magnificent.

The Way

Q. So, what do you hope people will take away from the film?
Emilio Estevez: The film is a celebration of life. The film celebrates family, community, faith and all the things in storytelling that Hollywood seems to have abandoned. Also, as Americans we haven’t been citizens of the world for a long time. We built a wall around ourselves. And I think this movie celebrates Americans once again being citizens of the world.

Q. How frustrating is it for you as a filmmaker that Hollywood seems to have abandoned the principals you hold dear in terms of storytelling?
Emilio Estevez: Well, I think this year we’re seeing films like The King’s Speech and True Grit and The Social Network – movies that didn’t cost a lot of money and movies that are about story-telling and about people. Interestingly enough, they’re skewing towards an older demographic. So, what does that tell you? It tells you there’s a void of these types of films and there’s a hunger for them as well. They’re not just making $10 or $15 million… these are $100 million movies that they’re grossing. True Grit may actually get to $200 million. I think people are starved for movies that aren’t in 3D and aren’t about young boys talking about their genitals [laughs].

Q. So, you’re optimistic for the future?
Emilio Estevez: I am, actually. I think the pendulum is about to swing in the opposite direction – and that’s not to take anything away from Martin, who is about to do Spider-Man! I wish him well [laughs]. But I think there is room for films like this and I think that audience demographic has been so under-served for so long that now we’re seeing the reaction to that.

Q. Do you have another film coming?
Emilio Estevez: Not yet, not yet. There’s a couple of things I’ve written that I’m looking to do next but right now we’re on this 24/7. We don’t open this in the US until September, so there’s a lot of work to do on it still. Icon has been working on this campaign and getting people actively involved and interested in it since last October, so they’ve had quite a jump on us back home. But we’ve got a lot of work to do before I can even start thinking about something else.

Read our review of The Way

Read our interview with Martin Sheen