Father and son Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez’s latest collaboration is The Way, a film about a man (Sheen) who walks El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage through Europe, to cope with the death of his son (Estevez). As with Men and Work and Bobby before it, Estevez wrote and directed the film, which just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. We caught up with the pair there, and spoke to them about religion, Twitter, and Sheen’s ancient cell phone.
Your film just premiered at the festival. Was it nerve-racking?
Estevez: They laughed at all the right places, which is good. Sometimes they don’t laugh at the right places. But I was standing there sweating like I’d just run a marathon.
Sheen: I sat. And sweat. I had a lot of anxiety. We put so much into this one. And you know we weren’t trying to please anyone. We weren’t trying to beat anyone over the head.
Would you say this is a faith-based film?
Estevez: Maybe. I’m not Catholic. I don’t have an agenda. I wanted to make a movie about truth more than faith. That it connects with a faith-based audience is terrific, but in special screenings the secular audience was saying, “Yeah man, it’s not about God; it’s about fathers and sons. It’s not about Catholicism; it’s about spirituality.”
Sheen: And transcendence.
Martin, you’re Roman Catholic?
Sheen: I’m a practicing Catholic, but not without being critical. I believe, as a Christian, that God became human and that’s the genius of God. That the genius would choose to hide where I would least likely look: myself! But I find that light, that love, that joy here that I find in you, and in him. And in everybody.
Emilio, do you consider yourself Christian?
Estevez: I’m more of a humanist. We disagree about everything.
Sheen: I can’t get him to show the slightest interest in Catholicism. I invited him to go to Mass with me this morning.
Why didn’t you go?
Estevez: Why don’t I always go? I’ve been. I think it’s something you have to come to on your own. At one screening, whether it was in Denver or Detroit, someone in the audience says, “What’s your personal relationship with Jesus?” And I didn’t even blink and I said, “Like a lot of people in this room, I’m struggling with it.” Spontaneous applause.
The film was very earnest. Do you think it’s the right time for a film like that?
Estevez: I think it’s the only time for a film like that. Where people are now in terms of the economic crisis, they’re looking at what we think is the bottom, and I think that’s when people look to film and to spirituality. What we found is that the stuff — the computers, the bracelets, the clothes — all the crap that we’ve encumbered our lives with, it’s really meaningless. The film’s not full of shit. And that’s rare these days.
What’s your relationship like with “stuff” — with iPods and cell phones and BlackBerries and computers?
Estevez: I’m not a Luddite, but I’m outside more than I’m on my computer. We have a micro-farm — it’s a step up from a garden. We have a pretty extensive vineyard. We grow about 60 percent of our own food, make our own wine, have chickens for eggs.
What about your relationship with this stuff, Martin?
Estevez: He can’t even program a VCR. And people don’t even have them anymore.
Do you have a DVD payer?
Sheen: I don’t know. Do I?
Sheen: I have no computer.
Estevez: My mother’s in charge of all the technology.
Sheen: I have no interest in the computer. I could care less. I took two courses and flunked them both and thought, That’s trying to tell me something. I have a cell phone.
Estevez: It’s ancient.
Do you have a Twitter account?
Estevez: I don’t. I won’t. What I find interesting is that the people that follow your Twitters are called “followers.” Talk about false idolatry, right?
Estevez: It’s creepy.
Would you take it as a very personal rejection, a personal criticism of your ideas and values, if this film got panned?
Estevez: It’s like giving birth and you’ve raised this baby and we’re putting him out into the world, and you want that baby to get an A. Or come back with a gold star.
Sheen: It’s like we groomed a filly who had never come out of the gate, but we knew we had a wonderful horse. Now a lot of places have barns with multiple horses and choices, but we only had one. But if you don’t get any negativity, then you’re not getting an honest response because not everyone’s gonna love it.
Have you gotten negative responses at all?