In 2003, actor Emilio Estevez’s then 19-year-old son, Taylor, returned from a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) in Spain with surprising news: He had met someone, he was in love, and he was moving to Spain. Two years later, while visiting his son, Estevez met some of the Camino pilgrims and came away with a great interest in the pilgrimage. He began talking with his father, actor Martin Sheen, about the idea of a film about the Camino.
“The Way,” written and directed by Estevez and starring Sheen, opened in theaters in 2011, is now available on video on demand, and released February 21 on DVD. The film tells the story of Tom, a pragmatic American doctor (Sheen) who travels to France to deal with the tragic loss of his adventurous son (Estevez), who was traveling the Camino when he died. Burdened by grief, Tom decides to finish the journey his son had barely begun. Through the experience of the journey and the people he meets along the way, Tom discovers the difference between simply “choosing” a life and living one.
Catholic Digest recently spoke with Estevez about working with his dad, traveling the Camino with a film crew, and what he hopes viewers will take away from the film.
Pilgrimage, and “journey,” is obviously a central theme in the film. In what ways was the experience of filming the movie like a pilgrimage or journey for you personally?
Well, we were out there on our own pilgrimage with the crew, many of whom, oddly enough, had not been to that part of Spain. They were a well-traveled crew, an entirely Spanish crew, and we were traveling this ancient pilgrimage that many people all over the world have done, and yet the Spaniards were unfamiliar with it. In fact, I knew the Camino; by the time we started shooting I had spent two months out there prepping. But the entire experience really took on a life of its own. We traveled obviously en masse; we did it as a group of about 50, the whole cast and crew. By Hollywood standards it was a very, very small crew, but by Camino standards it was probably one of the larger groups that have done the Camino.
Did you have any personal experience during the filming that affected you spiritually or emotionally?
Well, you know, I began to pay attention to things that some people would consider coincidences. It was a very charmed shoot, a very blessed filming experience. Daily, there were examples of things going right more often than they were going wrong. There were so many blessings along the way, so many people who showed up at the right time and the right moment. There were moments where a train would pull into the shot, and normally I’d think, “Oh gosh, the shot’s ruined.” In fact, pilgrims would get off that train and perform as background artists or extras. Those are the sort of things that made the movie look a lot bigger than our budget would have allowed.
You worked very closely with your dad on this project. How did that affect your relationship?
We have a wonderful relationship. I live right down the street from them. I consider them my best friends. So making the film was really a further extension of the relationship that already exists. I’d directed him a couple of times before, I’ve worked with him for a half a dozen times. This was the most intense actor-director pairing that we’ve taken up so far, and he’s such a pro. He’s a really charming guy, everyone loves him on set, and the interesting thing on this picture was that he had to play a guy who wasn’t lovable, who wasn’t likable, a guy who wanted to do it his way and do it on his own, and I fought with him. I said, “Look, you know, your character will evolve, but not in the first act; you’ve got three acts to really take this character along, and I need you to pace it out.” He hadn’t really had a lead like this in many, many years. Perhaps he forgot on some level that he had an entire two hours to pace the character out. I had to keep reminding him.
You’ve said that the most important message of the film is about God loving us in our brokenness. Would you talk a little more about that?
That’s right. I mean, between mainstream media and corporate America, what with the pharmaceutical companies or endless weight-loss companies, we’re constantly told that we’re not good enough. It’s a culture that is fear-based, and they’re all feeding off of each other. How about a message that says, “Hey, you’re OK being exactly who you are, a broken individual who is ultimately connected to every other living soul on the planet”? What connects us to every other living soul on the planet is our brokenness. We are imperfect, beautifully imperfect.
The DVD details
“The Way” is rated PG-13 and runs 121 minutes. The DVD bonus features include commentary by Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, and producer David Alexanian; Camino Americana: Taking The Way On The Road; Pilgrimage: Behind The Camera; Father & Son: Uncovering The Characters; and Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son – a dual memoir by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. For more information, and to purchase, visit TheWay-TheMovie.com.