The film, "The Way"
, written and directed by Emilio Estevez
and starring his father, Martin Sheen, is an inspirational story about family,
friends, faith and the challenges faced navigating a complicated world. Sheen
plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to France to collect the remains of his
adult son (played by Estevez), killed in a storm in the Pyrenees while walking
the famous Camino de Santiago, "The Way of St. James." Tom decides to
embark on the historical pilgrimage to honor his son's desire to finish the
journey, unprepared for the profound impact the journey will have on him. He
meets other pilgrims from around the world with their own issues and looking
for greater meaning in their lives. From the unexpected, moving and amusing
experiences along "The Way," and especially when he reaches the
pilgrim's destination, the beautiful Shrine of St. James the Apostle, Tom
learns what it means to be fully human again.
Catholic World Report
recently spoke by phone with Estevez about the making of "The Way",
the themes explored in the film, and his thirty-year career as an actor and
CWR: What was the
original inspiration for the script for "The Way"?
Estevez: It really
was inspired initially by my father. He had traveled to Spain to walk a part of
the Camino de Santiago in 2003. And he went with my son, who was working
at the time; he was nineteen. And so off they went; and one of the first
nights they stayed in a bed and breakfast that took in pilgrims. My son
met the innkeeper's daughter and fell in love and he's been living there almost
nine years now. They were married in 2009and that was the true
inspiration. I figured that if I was going spend some time with my son, I
better figure out how to make a film in Spain, and we did. So that was
sort of the origin of it. And then we began to talk about actually doing
a project there and what it would look like. Through a series of conversations
we developed what would ultimately be a dramatic journey wherein a father loses
his son on the Caminobecause that's kind of what happened to me, although not
tragically. And the end developed from that, once we had that hook, and we
built on that.
CWR: An article in The New
York Times reported that you spent a lot of time in your vineyard
when writing the script, and you touched on a connection of sorts between
growing the fruit and creating wine, and writing and developing the film.
How does that work?
Estevez: Well, I
think we all need an outlet and as a writer you'll be sitting there and staring
at the computer screenor your typewriterand you're thinking, "Okay, this
is just a blank page!" You have bouts of writers block, and you are thinking,
"I need some inspiration, I need to get outside of my self and look to
other means to be inspired." And I've certainly found that, not only
in the vineyard, but in the garden. We've created somewhat of a micro farm here
where I live; we raise bees and chickens and worms for the soil and we have a
hot house for tomatoes and peppers in the wintertime, although it's California
and we can get everything out here. (Regardless, there are times of the
year when tomatoes and peppers grow better.) And then there's an 800-vine
vineyard, and we don't have a staff, so it's basically just my gal and I taking
care of all of it. And while it is overwhelming at times it really does
provide a sense of another place, an outlet, and an endless amount of inspiration
for getting back to the computer or getting back to the typewriter and creating
CWR: Does it provide
a sense of balance and perspective in the hectic world that is Hollywood?
Estevez: Yes, and
that's what I've been doing a bit lately, since the release of the film, the
theatrical release anyway, is over. I've taken to leaving the phone
inside, keeping the computer off. I don't have a smart phone, I still have a
flip phone, and I won't take that out in the vineyard or the yard and I'm just
really programmed to not multi-task because I think when you do, ultimately,
all of the things that take your time to accomplish get short shrift, so I'm
really concentrating on each day, one task at a time and doing it well.
CWR: When did you
first become interested in writing and in directing? You have written and
directed a number of projects in recent years, but when did that become
something you thought seriously about doing?
Estevez: I've always
been a writer. I excelled in creative writing class at school, I wrote a
play when I was eleven to celebrate George Washington's birthday. I wrote
a play and played the narrator of the play; then I wrote another play when I
was a senior in high school. I did my first adaptation, when I was nineteen,
of the S. E. Hinton book, The Outsiders, and then worked on the
project, That Was Then…This Is Now. So
I've always have been interested in storytelling, from a very early age.
So this, for me, has been somewhat of a natural progression. The last
fifteen years for me I've been concentrating, really, on directing, and acting
as well, but less so. And I think I'm going to switch it up again and get
back in front of the camera. I miss it and if I learned anything on our
sixty day road tour was that people are interested and excited to see me back
in front of the camera, so that's the overall plan, anyway.
CWR: Speaking of
your time in Europe filming "The Way", were there any surprises, or
twists and turns and adjustments to the script on the fly, or does you follow
the script closely?
Estevez: You know,
when I was a young filmmaker I insisted that we follow the script and there was
very little room for improvisation. The older I've gotten, the more I've
learned to sort of let go and be open to the possibility of surprise and
wonderful mistakes and flaws because you just never know what is born out of
that. And I think this film greatly benefited from my lack of wanting to
control every aspect of it. Because in truth, what do we really know? Pretty
much nothing! So I think it was a great lesson. We didn't have a lot of money,
and we certainly couldn't control the elements. We shot 90% of it outdoors and
so we were at the whim of the elements and forces greater than ourselves, and I
had to just be open to accepting all of them.
CWR: That echoes a
theme of the movie as well, of letting go...
Estevez: Yeah. It
was a very charmed and blessed set. We were really worried about shooting in
northern Spain, because the locals said that it doesn't rain every day, but
twice a day! They said we were crazy to wanting to shoot it that year, telling
us that we should come back the next year in the summer. But we said, "We
have to shoot this year." It did end up raining twiceand on both of those
days we were shooting interiors.
Estevez: There were
things happening on set that I stopped calling coincidences. There were signs
all around that we were traveling a pretty righteous path.
CWR: What do you
hope that viewers will come away with from the movie; what is the impact you
hope the movie will have?
Estevez: I think the
theme of the film is that we live in a culture telling us we aren't good enough
the way we are. We are told, "You need to take this pill" or "Go
on this diet", or "Have your teeth whitened and you'll be
prettier", and on and on. It's like the media and these big businesses are
in cahoots, telling us that we are all imperfect and that we should change. How
about the theme that we are just fine being the way we are? We are all fine and
we are all beautifully fine, and that's what make us all human. I really
believe that is ultimately the message of the film, because when you get to the
end of the picture, he hasn't stopped smoking, he hasn't lost any weight. The
character of the writer realizes there are things bigger than himself. He
realizes he is never going to have the last word on anything. And Tom heads to
a place where he probably realizes that he is going to be a citizen of the
world, maybe for the first time.
But they are all beautifully flawed, but they accept
themselves and they accept they are okay living in their own skin. Wouldn't it
be wonderful to see more of that portrayed in the mainstream media? But
there's no money in it. If you could figure out how to monetize that message,
we would hear it all the time, but there is no money in it. Because you have to
create a culture of fear to make people think are missing out on
CWR: What has been
the reception of the movie by viewers?
starting to receive a lot of fan mail from all over the world about the film.
And what fans are saying about it has been incredibly gratifying; many are
saying, "Thank you for making this picture!" It's really gratifying
when I read an e-mail from someone saying, "This film changed my
life". It's not just one or two instances of it; it's continuous. I can
think of no better gift as a filmmaker than to have touched people on that
level when you get an opportunity to do so.
CWR: Is there
anything about the film or making of the film that you'd like to
Estevez: It's not a
downer film; there's a ton of humor in it and it's very uplifting. It's not a
foreign film and it's not some small, independent movie, but it's independently
spirited. I think the overall themes of the film are enormous and are as big as
any studio picture that would try to contain the same ideas. It's a film you
can see and hear with your parents. When was the last time you could do
something thatto take your parents to a film you aren't embarrassed
"The Way" is available from Ignatius Press as a DVD and as a Blu-ray Disc, as is the film's soundtrack.
Also see CWR's November 2011 interview with Martin Sheen, "Following 'The Way'", by Matthew Rarey.
Watch a trailer for "The Way" on YouTube.