Actor and director Emilio Estevez lost his son in 2003 to the 500-mile pilgrimage from the French Pyrenees Mountains to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela known as El Camino de Santiago, “The Way of St. James.”
Well, metaphorically speaking that is.
“I did not lose my son tragically, but I did lose him to the Camino…” Estevez said of Taylor, 27, who traveled to Spain with his devoutly Catholic grandfather, Martin Sheen, in 2003 and did part of the “El Camino” pilgrimage, fell in love with and married a girl and has been living there for eight-and-a-half years.
Since it looked like Estevez’ son wasn’t coming home anytime soon, Estevez, who also has a 25-year-old daughter, wanted to find a way to get to him.
“I had to figure out a way to work in Spain if I wanted to see my son and I was encouraged by my father to write him a story that would take place in the Camino,” Estevez told your Catholic Herald in a phone interview Oct. 6, referring to “The Way,” the movie he wrote, directed and appeared in with Sheen that launches in theaters nationwide this Friday, Oct. 21. “So, we began a series of conversations that led to ultimately deciding that this movie would mirror the real life situation for me.”
‘The Way’ was tough Hollywood sell
While the Catholic News Service rated “The Way” A-III – adults – and The Motion Picture Association of America rated it PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned – for “partial rear nudity, drug use, a couple of instances of profanity and of crass language as well as references to abortion and sexuality,” Estevez said it was a hard sell in Hollywood because of its lack of vulgarity.
“So, the producer David Alexanian and I just decided, ‘Hey, we should go over to Spain and we should see what’s going on over there and let’s find some believers who could get behind this,’” Estevez said, explaining that they vowed not to leave Spain until the movie was finished. With the partnership of a Spanish company and tax incentives that Estevez and Sheen were eligible for by working as European Union (E.U.) citizens, they finished in four months.
“It was not easy, and even after we had the film in the can and screened it at the Toronto Film Festival last year, studio executives who buy these movies, who buy independent films, still didn’t know what to make of it,” Estevez said. “So, we decided we’re not going to put it in someone else’s hands. We have been shepherding this thing along for years now and let’s take it all the way to release.”
While many of the films released in Toronto that same year went straight to DVD, or have appeared on DVD long before “The Way,” Estevez said it’s worth it because they had “nowhere near the exposure we’ve enjoyed for the last few weeks.”
“The Way” is the redemptive story of an American doctor, Tom, played by Sheen, who travels to St. Jean Pied de Port, France, after learning that his son, Daniel, played by Estevez, was killed in a storm while walking El Camino de Santiago. Tom claims his son’s belongings and decides to honor Daniel by completing the journey.
While Estevez’ son is very much alive, Estevez said the reflection of his real-life situation is one reason “The Way” is personal to him. Another reason is that Estevez’ grandfather is from Galecia, about 49 miles north of Santiago de Compostela, the home of the cathedral where St. James the Greater’s remains are said to be found, and where the pilgrimage culminates.
“So, with my son living in Spain, marrying a Spanish girl, my grandfather being Spanish – this film is very personal,” said Estevez, who’s known for roles in movies like “The Breakfast Club,” “The Mighty Ducks” and “Young Guns.” “It takes on a whole other aspect to my life and my career beyond any other film I’ve done, frankly.”
The movie is also a reflection of where Estevez is on his own spiritual journey. Though his mother, Janet, had fallen away from her Southern Baptist roots when she met Sheen, who had fallen away from his Catholic roots as he pursued a career in New York, the topic of religion caused many “fierce battles” in their home, Estevez said.
“For the first six years of my life, I heard nothing but arguments about religion and fierce battles about it, about differences and how the children would be raised, and, finally, my parents just got tired of fighting about it, and we were baptized Catholic,” he said of his brothers, Charlie Sheen and Ramon Estevez, and sister, Renée Estevez.
At the same time, Estevez said his parents also decided not to have them practice, though Sheen had what Estevez called a “re-conversion” to Catholicism in 1981.
All of this confused him growing up.
“So, for me, it was very, very confusing, and for years my mother sort of referred to me as a work in progress in terms of that, and I think it’s a pretty accurate description,” Estevez said, noting that his real-life spiritual journey is “all there for everyone to see” in the film.
Estevez, who began a 55-day, cross-country bus campaign Aug. 27 to promote the movie with his father – Estevez called your Catholic Herald from New York Oct. 6, with another week left on the road and then a week of media back home in L.A. – hopes that the film counters messages prevalent in culture and the media that “you’re not good enough.”
Estevez also hopes that “The Way” teaches people to celebrate their imperfections like the characters in the film.
“The characters arrive at a place where they are sort of confronting all of that, all of the demons that are inside them, and they arrive at a place at the end of the film where they are OK with being exactly who they are, and I think they come to an understanding that God loves them in their imperfection,” Estevez said. “And wouldn’t that be an interesting message to send young people these days, especially (those) who are so confused about their identity and what they feel like they need in their life to be hip and cool and all the other crap that is really meaningless – how about celebrating their imperfections because we’re all imperfect and that’s what connects us is our wonderful imperfections.”