With a long and varied career behind him, viewers may be inclined to think that they’ve seen everything Emilio Estevez has to offer. But even at this stage, the forty-nine year old actor-director remains one of the industry’s brightest stars.
During the 1980s, Estevez was a prominent name in cinema. As part of a clique of rising young actors, along with the likes of brother Charlie Sheen and Rob Lowe, Estevez starred in a string of popular movies such as THE BREAKFAST CLUB and REPO MAN. Due to these hits, he has earned himself something of a cult status, and is remembered as the face of several iconic characters. Though Estevez became a less dominant on-screen force in the 1990s, he has since focused his efforts in directing, and proved himself more than capable with productions such as BOBBY. With the directing talent to match his acting abilities, there’s little doubt that Estevez will continue to impress audiences, as he is set to do with THE WAY, released in UK cinemas this week.
As the son of Martin Sheen, it was perhaps inevitable that Estevez would follow in his father’s footsteps. However, as a young man he had considered becoming a writer, an ambition he was able to fulfill with a number of screenwriting credits later in his career.
‘As a student, I enjoyed writing and wrote for my middle school paper,’ Estevez tells The Hollywood News. ‘I also excelled in my creative writing classes through my high school years. I romanticized what my life as a foreign journalist would look like, preferably as a war zone correspondent. I remember telling my Mother of my desire to pursue this path and she was pretty quiet, before saying “I think you’re a better actor than a writer, Emilio.” No doubt, acting was a safer, saner choice from a mother’s perspective.’
On the strength of this advice, Estevez did indeed follow in his father’s footsteps, and even before he graduated from school, he had nabbed a small (though unfortunately cut) role in APOCALYPSE NOW. Following this, he made appearances in both television series’ and movies, before landing the role of Johnny in TEX (1982). Along with Matt Dillon – his TEX co-star – Estevez’s next movie was to provide him with his first truly iconic role.
Francis Ford Coppola’s THE OUTSIDERS (1983) – adapted from the S.E. Hinton novel – was one of the first 80’s movies to use an ensemble cast from Hollywood’s rising young stars. Alongside Estevez and Dillon – who played the roles of Two-Bit Matthews and Dallas respectively – THE OUTSIDERS combined the talents of Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, and C. Thomas Howell, to name but a few. The film follows a gang of rebellious ‘greasers’, who are at odds with their privileged rivals, the ‘socs’. When two of their gang are caught up in the murder of a soc, the greasers find themselves in danger within a society that has largely shunned them. THE OUTSIDERS dares to tackle some weighty issues from the time (as well as featuring a top-notch punch up between the greasers and socs), and, though often overshadowed by the cast and Coppola’s later work, it remains one of the 1980’s true gems.
The next major project for Estevez was REPO MAN (1984), in which he played Otto, a young delinquent-turned-car repossessions officer. The film has acquired cult status over the years, and marks a landmark for Estevez as he handles the central role with ease. Though REPO MAN hasn’t aged particularly well, it is an interesting movie, utilising surreal humor, self-aware dialogue, and obscure references throughout (such as nods to Tom Wolfe and L. Ron Hubbard). The film – in which Otto attempts to track down a 1964 Chevy Malibu containing a top-secret weapon – is odd to say the least, but also a masterclass in subversive, postmodern filmmaking.
It was Estevez’s next two films that were to establish him as a big-name star, and are perhaps the films for which he will be best remembered. Both released in 1985, THE BREAKFAST CLUB and ST. ELMO’S FIRE – directed by John Hughes and Joel Schumacher respectively – remain two of 80’s most defining movies. Both use ensembles of Hollywood’s finest young talents, and were to strike chords with youth audiences for generations to come.
‘“Breakfast Club” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” were projects that were successful and became part of the popular culture,’ says Estevez. ‘They afforded all the cast the luxury of making choices in terms of our next projects. What is always funny to me, is that those two films were, at that time, simply jobs. The director and producers said “yes” as opposed to the other ten or twenty auditions that I went in on that particular week who said “no.”
It was based on the strength of these movies that the infamous moniker ‘The Brat Pack’ was attached to Estevez and his co-stars. New York magazine writer David Blum originally coined the term in an article about the young generation of actors. The stars of both THE BREAKFAST CLUB and ST. ELMO’S FIRE were usually considered to be the core members, such as Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwold, but several other names have been attached to the group, for instance Robert Downey Jr. and Kiefer Sutherland. Despite the notoriety that came through association with the group, the name ‘Brat Pack’ is not something that Estevez remembers fondly.
‘I never saw it as a term of endearment,’ Estevez tells THN, ‘I suppose if I had been more egotistical and self promotional the article never would have seen the light of day. Originally, the writer was dispatched to write a piece that was to concentrate solely on me, my career and my desire to pursue writing and directing. However, because of the ensemble nature of the film I was doing at the time – “St. Elmo’s Fire” – my instinct was that this was a ‘shared experience’, and I was uncomfortable having the spotlight on me so completely. So, a few nights out with the writer and fellow cast mates and a new angle was created – and evaporated my profile on being taken as serious filmmaker in waiting.
‘But I went on to direct “The War at Home”, “Rated X”, “Bobby”, and now “The Way”, so whatever. I have always been very serious about what I do and don’t take any of my successes or my failures for granted. Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that “Brat Pack” will somehow figure in my obituary at that hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist. Warning: my ghost will come back and haunt them!’
Though Estevez would follow the success of THE BREAKFAST CLUB and ST. ELMO’S FIRE with such popular hits as STAKEOUT (1987) and YOUNG GUNS (1988) – both of which spawned inevitable sequels – it was around this time that he first stepped behind the camera.
His directorial debut WISDOM (1987), which he also wrote, tells the story of John Wisdom, who considers himself a modern day Robin Hood. Unable to secure a job due to a past felony, Wisdom embarks on a well-meaning spree of bank robberies. The film was poorly received by critics, and failed to deliver commercially. Estevez is comfortable discussing the shortcomings of his early films as director, but assures The Hollywood News that his desire to tell stories helped him persevere toward later and more successful projects.
‘I’ve been a card-carrying member of the DGA for 25 years,’ says Estevez. ‘From the beginning of my career, I was always interested in directing, writing and storytelling. Early on, I was probably driven by my ambition rather than by good, sound material as evidenced by my first two pictures as writer/director, “Wisdom” and “Men at Work”, not to mention my very early attempt at adapting the S.E. Hinton novel, “That Was Then, This Is Now.” All three pictures not only suffered from my lack of maturity as an artist, but also my willingness to please the studio’s desire to target a specific demographic for the films. Audiences are oftentimes smarter than the studios give them credit for and can “smell” bad movies before opening day.’
Following this period, Estevez found considerable success in the MIGHTY DUCKS series as a children’s ice-hockey coach. He also starred alongside Samuel L. Jackson in LOADED WEAPON 1 (1993), a spoof film in the vein of the NAKED GUN series. Despite some humorous moments, LOADED WEAPON 1 failed to engage audiences in the way that brother Charlie’s HOT SHOTS! films had. Until this point, Estevez and Sheen’s careers had run relatively parallel; both had found success in ‘Brat Pack’ associated movies, and had appeared in several productions together – YOUNG GUNS, MEN AT WORK and latterly RATED X. Though Charlie rose to be arguably the better known of the two, Estevez maintains that this was never an issue between them.
‘We were competitive only on the ping-pong table,’ explains Estevez. ‘It was here where we would fight and scream at each other – paddles flying, expletives exchanged. Then, “Next game, bro?” “My serve…”’
After roles in such fare as JUDGEMENT NIGHT (1993) and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996), Estevez settled into the director’s chair for THE WAR AT HOME (1996). Alongside father Martin and Kathy Bates, Estevez starred as Jeremy, a returning Vietnam vet who struggles to cope with both his war experiences and family life. THE WAR AT HOME was his best-received film to date as director, and Estevez hails it as a production of which he is particularly proud. He considers it to be ‘a performance piece for all of the actors involved.’
Estevez further developed his directing skills on a number of television series’ such as THE GUARDIAN, COLD CASE, and CSI: NY. He also continued to take roles in smaller film productions and television (including a part as the young Martin Sheen/Jed Bartlet in the incredibly popular THE WEST WING). It was after this period, with 2006’s BOBBY, that Estevez truly established his directing abilities.
The film chronicles the day leading up to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, and focuses not on ‘Bobby’ himself, but the staff and guests of the Ambassador Hotel where R.F.K. was shot. The movie is masterfully written by Estevez himself, and brilliantly weaves the then issues of American society around an ensemble of eclectic characters. With stand-out performances from Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Shia Labeouf, and William H. Macy, BOBBY is both touching and intense, and contains a subtle but poignant political edge.
‘I am very proud of “Bobby”’ says Estevez. ‘To be on that film set, with all of those wonderful, extraordinary actors and personalities who were all at such different moments in their careers and lives, was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience.’
Now Estevez is set to wow cinemagoers yet again with THE WAY, which he has both written and directed. The film stars his father Martin as Tom, a bereaved father intent on reconnecting with his dead son by carrying his ashes across the Camino de Santiago, an epic Spanish pilgrimage that has been travelled for thousands of years.
Though Estevez has tried his hand at many projects, it feels very much as if THE WAY is the film he has be waiting to make, and particularly with his father, with whom he collaborates here for the fourth time. The film is undoubtedly of great personal significance for them both, and contains strong themes of father-son relationships; not only is it dedicated to Sheen’s father Francisco, but the story is largely inspired by the loss of Estevez’s own son Taylor, who moved to Spain after meeting his future wife there several years ago. These relationships ensure it as a very intimate experience, and the connection between Estevez and Sheen themselves further contribute to it being a touching and affecting film.
‘It’s the first film I’ve done where I “own” every frame,’ Estevez tells THN. ‘Every moment, every choice. I am incredibly proud of Martin’s work in the picture. I don’t think he’s been this wonderful in a film since “Apocalypse Now.” I think we could see his name on some short lists by the end of the year for awards consideration. He’s that good and he gives a performance of such strength and quiet dignity. He says more with a subtle look than any line I could have written for his character.’
Though THE WAY will no doubt prove a success, what else does the future hold for the director-actor? It seems that Estevez is more than satisfied with his current position, and as far as audiences are concerned, his directorial abilities continue to develop.
‘Currently, I am enjoying the luxury of being able to tell the stories I want to tell,’ says Estevez, ‘without having to serve some larger entity. Being in control of your own projects doesn’t always ensure a sound future economically, or guarantee that you’ll find your face plastered on magazine covers. But it does mean that I don’t have to sell detergent and dog food if I don’t want to.’
It’s encouraging to find such a major name so focused on creative integrity. In an industry where many are so concerned with their star power, Estevez has dared to try his hand at new and innovative projects, sometimes taking a gamble on how it may affect his career overall. But, as is evidenced from his work so far, with genuine talent inevitably comes genuine success, and Estevez clearly has talent to spare.