Emilio Estevez isn’t the box office star he was in the 1980s when he was a founding member of the “Brat Pack.”
But the older, wiser Estevez knows one thing about Hollywood circa 2012. The industry routinely turns its back on a large segment of the movie-going public.
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Hollywood is “proudly secular” and traffics in violence and overt sexuality, Estevez tells Big Hollywood. “There’s an under-served demographic that has stopped going to the movies because they don’t feel safe.”
Audiences have nothing to fear from “The Way,” Estevez’s latest feature out on Blu-ray and DVD today. The writer/director keeps the spotlight trained on his father, Martin Sheen, and a quest that’s part healing, part spiritual awakening. Sheen plays Tom, an eye doctor who travels overseas to collect the remains of his son (played by Estevez in flashbacks) who died on the first leg of El Camino de Santiago, a celebrated Christian pilgrimage site.
Once in Spain, Tom decides to complete his son’s journey, a mission aided by a trio of colorful characters with their own reasons for taking the pilgrimage.
“The Way” is spiritual, not strident. It’s life-affirming without any big, showy scenes that take us out of the moment. The narrative even includes a female character mourning the loss of a baby she aborted years ago. Estevez says he made sure to avoid rote sentimentality during his own journey from scripting the story to filming it.
“Dealing with subject matter like this, the loss of a family member, how do you not veer into that sentimental world?” he asks. “That’s the fine line, and we really straddled that, allowing the audience to feel it rather than have my father’s character in a state.”
Estevez developed the screenplay with Sheen, a process that came with its own complications.
“I live very close to my folks. That’s a good thing and a bad thing,” he says. “When you’re developing a project together he can knock on the door at any time with ideas.”
Estevez envisioned the main character as a lapsed Catholic, but the devout Sheen chafed at the idea – at first. Father eventually came around to his son’s point of view, and the character’s spiritual life blossoms on the arduous journey.
“The Way” marks the third time Estevez has directed his father on the big screen. With their latest collaboration, the son marveled at the intangibles his dad brought to the set.
“He sets the tone,” Estevez says of the independent project. “At the time he was almost 70, the elder statement in front and behind the camera as well … once they saw Martin doing things no one complained. There were no chairs, no trailers, no luxuries. We did the film like the [Christian] pilgrims themselves.”
Estevez’s famous sibling, Charlie Sheen, is a tabloid mainstay thanks to the actor’s alleged drug abusing, carousing with adult film stars and clashes with former employers.
Estevez leads a quieter life.
“It comes down to choices,” he says. “It’s easy to say ‘yes’ to the wrong things, easy to fall into that, ‘my God, I got an offer to do this movie, somebody loves me, somebody wants me,'” he says. “This business can do a real number on your head. You need to know who you are before people start telling you who you are. I had a sense of who I was as a man and an artist before people were trying to define me.”
The actor/director wouldn’t mind bolstering his acting resume between directorial projects, but for now he’s forging a new family-friend feature set in the world of competitive harness racing.
“I love the races and the idea of harness racing … the thoroughbreds have been done to death,” he says.
Even if his project becomes another family smash like his “Mighty Ducks” films he doesn’t expect much to change about Hollywood – yet.
“For me, it’s like turning around an aircraft carrier,” he says of Hollywood’s penchant for explosions over emotions. “It won’t be particularly easy … but people respond to movies about human beings.”