Emilio Estevez cites family, spirituality, and pro-life values as motivators.
Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Emilio Estevez? Brat Pack? The Breakfast Club, Young Guns, or The Mighty Ducks? How about Martin Sheen, acting family, or Hollywood royalty?
Consider that from his very beginning in the film industry, Emilio wanted to make his own way, keeping his given name rather than adopting the stage name of his famous father, Martin Sheen. Sure, he has often worked with other members of the famed Sheen family; however, Emilio certainly has not ridden their coattails. He has also written and/or directed a number of his own films. In addition, while Emilio has certainly experienced commercial success, his more recent efforts such as The War at Home and Bobby, have tackled weightier subjects. These threads continue to run through his latest project, The Way, written and directed by Emilio and starring his father.
Sheen plays Tom Avery, a California optometrist and lapsed Catholic who travels to France to deal with the tragic death of his son Daniel (played by Emilio). Rather than immediately returning home, Tom decides to embark on the historical 500-mile pilgrimage “The Way of St. James” (El Camino de Santiago) to honor his son’s desire to finish the journey that claimed his life in the French Pyrénées. On “The Way,” Tom meets other pilgrims from around the world, each with their own issues and looking for greater meaning in their lives. From the unexpected and oftentimes amusing experiences along “The Way,” the unlikely band of misfits creates an everlasting bond, and Tom begins to learn what it means to be a citizen of the world again.
Filmed entirely in Spain and France along the actual el Camino de Santiago, The Way features breathtaking scenery and superb cinematography along with a cast of quirky, colorful characters. Prior to the February 21 DVD/Blu-Ray release, we caught up with Emilio to discuss this deeply personal project.
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The Practicing Catholic (TPC): What about your father’s experience with the Camino de Santiago inspired you to create this film?
Emilio: Initially, it was really my son meeting his future wife (on The Camino) in 2003. She took a look at my son who was 19 at the time, and he took a look at her. They fell madly in love, and he decided to move to Spain a couple months later to give it a shot. They’ve been married since 2009. So, I began to think, “If I’m going to see my son ever again, I better figure out how make a movie over in Spain.” Between that and the urging of my father, we came up with a story that was really grounded in this idea of loss. In many ways, I kind of lost my son over there in Spain, of course not tragically, but definitely was feeling a sense of loss.
TPC: We understand your family has some history with that area, aside from your son living there now, of course. Is that correct?
Emilio: That’s right. My grandfather is what they call Galego — born and raised in the northern part of Spain. At the time (that area) was very, very remote, and in fact it was easier to get on a boat and go to Cuba or South America than it was to go to Madrid because it was so rural and remote. So, I have a great affinity for Spain from my grandfather. In many ways, I live very much like a Spaniard here in California in terms of raising my own food. I have a vineyard where I grow grapes for wine, chickens for eggs, bees for honey.
TPC: You been quoted as saying that The Way is a pro-people, pro-life film. What precisely do you mean by that?
Emilio: If you look at the products, or the widgets, coming out of Hollywood these days, they are filled with violence and profanity. This film really runs counter to that. This movie is not anti-anything. This film celebrates life. In many ways, a lot of films don’t these days. This is an industry that tends to make movies for 16-year-old boys, and in many ways it’s a reflection of the juvenile nature of the men who run these studios.
TPC: The idea of a spiritual journey is prevalent in this movie, which combines a very human, communal sense of faith with some very institutionally religious Catholic elements. Was that purposeful, and, if so, what is the take-away message?
Emilio: Well, I like to say that none of characters in this film go out purposefully looking for God, but I do think that God finds them. I think that allows the film to be less preachy. I think a lot of times when you make a so-called faith-based film, you run the risk of turning people off. With this film, I wanted to be all-inclusive; I wanted it to be the type of film anyone could see themselves enjoying.
We, on the Camino, would run into people who were devoutly religious and out there for spiritual reasons, or religious reasons, and others who were just simply out there for sport. But the one thing that every pilgrim could tell you was that the reason they start the Camino is never the reason why they finish it. Some may be out there, as in the film, to lose weight, but when in fact it was really to have a closer, more personal connection to God.
I think that maybe the real theme of the film at the end of the day is that we are all wonderfully and beautifully imperfect, wonderfully and perfectly broken, and that is the way God is allowed in. God loves us in our brokenness, in our imperfections. He doesn’t want us to be perfect; He wants us to be who we are. That is where I believe all the characters arrive at the end of the movie, being okay being exactly who they are and being comfortable in their own skin.
TPC: That’s a good segue for our next question. The scene where Sarah reveals her true motivation for making the pilgrimage is particularly moving. Without giving too much away, why did you write Sarah’s back-story precisely as you did?
Emilio: There was a part of me, as somebody who lives certainly in Hollywood but doesn’t necessarily make films that Hollywood wants to make, that wanted to give a voice to the unborn, which is not incredibly popular out here. I wanted to take that on. I also wanted her character to connect with Tom, my father’s character in the film, because there he is, literally seeing images of his son along the Camino, his deceased son. This woman shares this profound insight when she says, “I know it’s strange, but I can hear my baby girl,” and it’s not strange to Tom because he can see his son. So, it’s multi-pronged.
TPC: Do you plan to do the walk at some point?
Emilio: You know I would love to. It’s a matter of carving out those 6 to 8 weeks and getting out there and doing it. With a film like this, there are a lot of emotional rewards; there are not too many financial ones. So, what I need to do is get back to work on a film that’s going to fill up the coffers a little bit. When I have the luxury of that, then I can get out there and do the Camino.