Emilio’s Way

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?

Think unconventional.

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.

* * *

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.

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  1. says

    The toughest give of all … technology time! After 10pm, no tv, no phone, no texting, no Tweeting … instead, I am going to read some awesome Catholic books.

  2. says

    Great interview! Before seeing The Way, my husband and I were considering a long hike of the Appalachian Trail for a milestone birthday in a few years. The movie changed our mind and now we are setting our sights on the Camino. That is more long-term but for Lent, I am thinking some sort of technology denial and adding daily mass.

  3. says

    I’m thankful that my work schedule & location will allow for me to resume one of my favorite Lenten practices – Daily Mass during lunch. I will also give up alcohol.

  4. Dianna says

    Great interview, Lisa!

    I’m planning on: giving up profanity, which is such a struggle for me. I’m also planning on more time in Adoration, as well as service projects with the kids.

  5. Mark S. says

    My Way this year for Lent is to seek quiet places so I can listen to God. This means, concretely, no radio/music in the car during work commutes and enforced, scheduled times for at least 1/2 hour of bible or spiritual reading every day.

    • says

      This is great, Mark. I am also incorporating more silence. While I rarely watch TV, the radio is always on in the background. It’s gotta go for the same reasons you mention. Godspeed!

  6. Kelly S says

    Nice interview…sounds like a really good movie!

    Several years ago, I realized that adding positive habits or substituting positive habits for old negative ones made more of an impact on me during Lent than giving up things. In keeping with that, I plan to make time each day to read some of the spiritual books that I have on my shelf (starting with “A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms”). I also plan to replace one of my meals each day with a health shake…it is a great time to take care of the body as well as the mind!

    • says

      Great suggestions, Kelly! I agree adding something like a new spiritual practice can be quite meaningful and long lasting. Enjoy reading A Book of Saints – I am glad you have it in your library.

  7. says

    We thought this movie looked so good when we first heard about it! Would love to win a copy to watch and share! I am working on my Lent plans today. Really focusing on substituting positive things for things that take up my time that are not really needed.

  8. says

    I’m really puzzling over exact form of what I want to do, but I know that it involves my children and my time, which is easily filled up by work-from-home projects and a baby on my lap (sleeping, nursing, sleeping, nursing). My 2nd youngest is having some acting out issues (transition related, no doubt!), and it seems to be better when I can focus on him more. And my little chromosomally-gifted 5yo is just too easy to overlook, because she’s so good at entertaining herself. So I want to figure out a way to be a better steward of my children during Lent.

    Loved this interview, BTW. I’m getting more interested in & excited about this movie with everything I read–I have to admit I started as a sketpic.

  9. says

    This lent I’m focusing on transitioning in my journey of recovery from out of the house into the world. It’s very overwhelming and I feel very alone in this part of the journey so really trusting God and putting myself out there again. I’ve known for awhile that I wanted to make some type of pilgrimage in thanksgiving for the gift of my life. After watching this movie I was so touched and moved I knew without a doubt that I had to incorporate el camino de Santiago in my pilgrimage and that doing a part of el camino will be in thanksgiving for my full physical recovery! Praise God!
    Here’s more about my three pilgrimages of thanksgiving – http://wp.me/poSZd-gR

  10. says

    I forgot to mention my other lenten things… I’m renewing my consecration to Jesus thru Mary (the 33 day dealio), I’m getting back to praying the Liturgy of the Hours… at least Lauds and Compline every day. I’ve slacked big time on LOH. I want to give something up but STILL haven’t figured out what yet. I know, I know… time’s a ticking! ;) Some type of food, or not as much music, no more Netflix???… ugh! I just can’t decide!!! *shakes head*

  11. grace says

    The Way really portrayed the reality of walking and sharing your pilgrimage with others, just like with our lives. My Way this lent will be, the same, welcomed relief from technology and noise. And more quiet time reflecting on my daily actions. The goal is to hold myself to a standard of GRACE rather than Perfection. Quiet the challenge for this human.

  12. says

    I just saw The Way today. It was SO wonderful! I’m going to watch it again tomorrow before it has to go back.

    For Lent I am giving up Facebook, YouTube and Television to focus on prayer and filling my days with more meaningful, productive things.

  13. Sarah says

    Rising early (Sirach 4:12), spiritually adopt a family in need, adding n additional weekly Holy Hour, plus participating in 40 Days for Life — woohoo, go Jesus!

  14. says

    For the 9th Lent I’m a widow(er), so this won’t mean a lot to most of you; however, I’m cutting ‘way back on tv, the internet and CDs. Instead, I’ll try to listen more to 1) God,
    2) my conscience, and 3) the daily Mass gospel readings.

    On another subject, I would love to read the text of the screenplay of
    “The Way.” Can you tell me if it is for sale?

  15. Carol says

    We loved The Way too, the part about the mother regretting her abortion had me crying out loud. For Lent my husband and I are giving up our morning coffee and evening cocktails, just water with a lemon slice will have to do for us. Easter seems a long way off right now! But we will help each other. Also both of us are renewing our St. Louis de Montfort 33-day consecration to Jesus through Mary. Also I am personally going to try to give up annoying people so much.

  16. Madlen says

    For this Lent, I’m giving up caffeninated drinks,(I hardly drink water so I hope I can stick to this) and going to bed early (night owl here) and cutting back online activit by reading more spiritual reading.

  17. says

    I just found this interview and enjoyed it very much! You pulled out information that I haven’t seen in any other interview or article. I watched the movie four times in the theaters and bought the DVD – it brings back so many memories of our bicycle trip on the Camino in the Summer of 2011.

  18. says

    an interesting movie! the first one I know that haves an insight of St. James way from a modern point of view! Having been walked since the Middle Ages, it was about time :)

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