The Ohio native has appeared in more than 65 feature films including a star turn as Army Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Francis Ford Coppola’s landmark film APOCALYPSE NOW, which brought Sheen worldwide recognition. Other notable credits include WALL STREET (with son Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas), the Academy Award-winning film GANDHI (with Sir Ben Kingsley), CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (with Leonardo DiCaprio & Tom Hanks), THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (with Michael Douglas & Annette Bening), and a Golden Globe nominated breakthrough performance in THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES.
In 2006, Sheen played ill-fated cop Oliver Queenan in Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning film THE DEPARTED opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, and Alec Baldwin. The same year, Sheen joined another all-star ensemble cast for the highly acclaimed feature BOBBY, written and directed by his son Emilio Estevez. BOBBY was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and SAG Award among others. The film also starred Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, Brian Geraghty, Sharon Stone, William H. Macy, Elijah Wood, Demi Moore, and Shia LaBeouf. For television audiences, Sheen is best recognized for his award-winning role as President Josiah Bartlet in NBC’s THE WEST WING.
Sheen is a passionate peace and justice activist. He has been arrested or cited 67 times for taking part in nonviolent demonstrations against various U.S. military policies, and has championed such causes as the alleviation of poverty and homelessness, human rights for migrant workers, and environmental protection. In 2008, the University of Notre Dame presented Sheen with the Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious award given to an American Catholic. Former recipients include: President John F. Kennedy and Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.
In THE WAY, Sheen, plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son, Daniel (Estevez), killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. He elects to walk The Way himself, and experiences his own emotional, and spiritual transformation…
What did you like about Emilio’s script for The Way?
Tom has this sense of entitlement and you see that when he first has to stay at a hostel; he thinks he’ll have his own room but he’s there sharing this dormitory… ‘This is outrageous’. Then he can’t sleep and he gets stuck with that wretched Dutchman who is always eating, and he tolerates him. And what Emilio is saying, which I thought was very powerful, was that it’s very American to say, ‘We can do it. We’ll decide. I’ll walk this path alone.’ And every time that Tom did it on his own he got in trouble. It was only when he went into the community that he realised that he could rely on people, and that everyone is broken. That’s what it means to be human. But how we make up for brokenness is through each other, and I believe that is how God finds us. In each other. In community, that’s where it is. You don’t have to do it by yourself, and you shouldn’t.
When did you first walk the Camino?
It was the summer of 2003. We were going to take bikes, horseback, and then rented a car. It was stick-shift. Taylor, my grandson, and I couldn’t drive it. Our friend could drive it and he’d teach one of us to drive while the other one walked. At Burgos, though, we fell in love with this refugio [hostel], and we stayed a few extra nights and Taylor met the daughter of the guy who owned it. They’ve been together ever since. She had been serving pilgrims most of her life. They’re about the same age, and she had never done the pilgrimage, so she did it from Burgos and fell in love with the pilgrimage, too.
You’ve worked with Emilio several times now. Do you like his direction?
He understands my ticks and eccentricities. We’ve worked together half a dozen times now. I remember way back I saw Emilio on set of a TV show I was doing in LA, and I thought that he’d come to visit me, but he was in the same show! It was called Insight. It was an anthology series.
Are any of your kids more like you than the others?
It’s strange. You know them in different ways. You know when one child is honest and when one is not. If there’s something I don’t like when I look at one of my children, though, it’s usually a reflection of something I don’t like in myself.
Are you surprised that they wanted to follow you into the same profession?
It did surprise me, and I was totally unaware of it to begin with. I remember Emilio had written a play in high school, and was acting in it, and we went over there to watch it and I saw him do this very emotional scene and it just took my breath away. I looked at him and thought, ‘Oh gosh, him too!’ But he was so good that I was calm about it. I knew then that he’d be okay.
What are your memories of Charlie’s first forays into this world?
Charlie kind of backed into it. He was on the baseball team, and he was very good, but he wasn’t doing his studies. He was ill disciplined, so he got kicked off the team. Charlie really wanted to get back on the team, because they were going into the playoffs, so I went down to speak to the teacher, and he said, ‘Don’t do this to him. You’ll only make things worse. Don’t support him.’ So I was forced to see a side of Charlie that I’d blinkered up until then. So then, as a second thought, he took himself off for an audition and he got the part! I saw him in something and remember knowing that he too knew what he was doing. Then we did a little scene together in a show and he did it so well. The other kids came across in the same way, although not as intense.
How does Charlie’s current behaviour affect your faith?
I include Charlie in my prayers. I always lift him up. I know the hell he lives in, because I was there. So I’m extremely compassionate and understanding. The key is on the inside; you can’t force anyone to do anything, good or ill, without their allowing you in. We’ve been through some very difficult times, but we understand what Charlie’s hell is.
Ramon, another of your sons, worked with you on The West Wing…
Ramon had studied dance and singing and he wrote songs and had a professional song-writing partner in Tennessee. His heart wasn’t in acting, though he loved the business, so he’d work as my assistant very often. And yes, he was my assistant on The West Wing and after that we formed a production company together, ESP, Estevez Sheen Productions, and he was in the office. Then when The West Wing came to an end, my contract with WB was up and I had to leave the lot. But Charlie was still there at WB, so he took things over and the two of them worked together.
You knew The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin from American President, but did you expect the show to do as well as it did?
I knew Aaron was good, and I had just a few small scenes in the pilot, but I knew it was a special show. We all did, but we didn’t have the confidence of it working on a commercial station; we thought it belonged on cable, because our show was not going to be selling cars or placing products. That was the big surprise. We didn’t think it was commercial. It was so non-commercial, and we started in 1999, before Bush. The first two years we were on the air, then he stole the office, was made President and that was the most difficult time for us, because we were so diametrically opposed, so in a sense we were a parallel universe, how things could be. We dealt with the same domestic and international issues as the real President’s office, and this Bartlett guy came from a moral frame of reference. He was Catholic and didn’t separate that from his office. He didn’t go and start a war with someone just to prove to his father that he is a man, which is what our idiot did. If you removed Bush from that office and looked at what we did, what would he be? A mass murderer.
Did you always take your children away on location with you, like to Mexico for Catch-22 and the Philippines for Apocalypse Now?
They came away with me a lot, especially when they were little and didn’t really have a lot of say in the matter. I just grabbed them out of school and took them to some pretty remote places. I did that quite often and we would get right into the community. Going to Mexico was memorable. We just left a blizzard in New York City then we were in San Bernado desert, and the boys would bring home kids from the fishing village. I remember one night Ramone disappeared during this huge carnivale. Here we are in a foreign country and I’ve lost one of my kids! We looked everywhere and then I found a kid, Manuel, from the community and he went and found Ramone for me. That was a crazy time.