When talking with father-son duo Emilio Estevez (“The Mighty Ducks”) and Martin Sheen (TV’s “The West Wing”), it’s hard to believe they’ve been cogs in the American culture machine for decades. Sitting down with them in an empty, mid-renovation yoga studio, effervescent conversation and amusing anecdotes fill the room, betraying the Hollywood seriousness of their black blazers and khaki pants. They joke around with youthful energy, and guileless excitement flows through them as they describe their newest spiritually charged project, “The Way.”
Somehow, after seven weeks of roadtripping cross-country in a tour bus to promote the movie, Estevez, Sheen and producer David Alexanian are still full of life. All three exude a contagious passion about their story of a life-changing journey, but thankfully, they have no intention of preaching.
“I think we’re all yearning for identity and transcendence … and we don’t hit you over the head with it in the film,” Sheen said. “But we do invite you, if you’re so inclined, to do the physical journey and then to consider the transcendent, the inner journey.”
Maybe this is what makes “The Way,” written and directed by Estevez, feel so natural. The film stars Sheen as Tom, a father who finds himself immersed in every parent’s worst nightmare: a child’s death. Tom’s estranged son, Daniel (Estevez), sets out to see the world but falls prey to the elements on “El Camino de Santiago,” a pilgrimage trail stretching from southern France all the way to the northwestern tip of Spain. Tom is appointed with the tragic task of claiming Daniel’s body, which inspires him to finish the spiritual journey his late son began.
The story actually developed thanks to real-life events, as Martin Sheen and his grandson (Estevez’s son) spent some time together walking the Camino.
“They stopped in a town called Burgos, and in that town they stayed at a bed and breakfast,” Estevez recounted. “They sat at the pilgrims’ supper, and as the plates were being passed around the innkeeper’s daughter walked in. She took a look at my son, they fell madly in love, and now he’s been living there for eight and a half years.”
With romantic beginnings like that, it comes as no surprise that Estevez chose to write a script centering around the Camino. His reverence for the Camino was evident when reflecting on his son’s amazing fortune. His voice softened and his words became more deliberate, as if he had seen the actual forces behind the Camino — it became clear just how important this movie, and more specifically El Camino, is to him.
Estevez, while well known for his roles in movies like “The Breakfast Club,” has moved past his teen heartthrob days, now focusing his energies on behind-the-scenes work. This role change has given him more freedom to express his own ideas, and “The Way” succeeds in illustrating Estevez’s belief that spirituality is an essential aspect of humankind.
“We’re all on a path, from the moment we roll out of the crib onto all fours and stand up,” Estevez said. “That first step you take is the beginning of your ‘Camino.’ And that’s one of man’s first instincts, to walk, and I think we are all almost predisposed in our DNA to be wanderers.”
It’s obvious that Estevez, Sheen and Alexanian have invested more than just time into “The Way.” Their unforced enthusiasm is infectious, and it makes Estevez’s latest release impossible to ignore.