At a recent press conference for the new film "The Way," directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen, our associate editor Kerry Weber had the opportunity to speak with the two men about their highly personal film. The newly released film centers on the pilgrimage of a lapsed Catholic on the Camino to Santiago de Campostela in Spain, and the creation of the film marked a kind of journey for the father and son as well. The discussion appears in our online Culture section.
In Oct. 2010, the father-son acting duo of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez were walking from their hotel to the main square in Santiago, Spain, to see the pope. As the pair moved toward the site where Benedict XVI would celebrate Mass, they were stopped by a French pilgrim looking for directions to El Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage path stretching hundreds of kilometers between France and Spain. Little did this pilgrim know, but she had asked exactly the right people. A year earlier, Sheen and Estevez had spent months in the region shooting The Way, a film that Estevez wrote and co-produced, and which tells the story of a father who chooses to walk the camino shortly after his son’s death.
The actors had walked much of the camino themselves, while filming, and Estevez and producer David Alexanian had spent several months traveling the road by car to meet with hotel and restaurant owners and town officials in preparation for the film. In short, Estevez knew the way.
“I said, yes, you make a left and cut through a park, and go down a hill, and you’re going to start seeing signs,” Estevez said in an interview with America and other members of the New York press. Sheen looked at his son with surprise. Estevez recalled his father asking: “What are the odds that a year after we wrapped you’d find yourself here in Santiago giving another pilgrim directions?”
Actually, they were pretty good. Especially, if one considers the connection the men felt to the camino and the respect they both hold for a road that has significant history for Catholics and for their family, as well. During an earlier road trip along the camino Sheen and his grandson Taylor (Estevez’s son) stopped for a meal at a restaurant where Taylor met the woman who would become his wife. And Sheen’s father, to whom Estevez dedicated the film, was from Galicia, Spain, the region that calls the city of Santiago de Compostela its capital.
During the filming, the men made a definitive effort to respect the road and the pilgrims who walked it, while also inviting many of them to serve as extras. The crew was minimal, and they dressed as the pilgrims, filmed from behind bushes on the side of the road and carrying gear on their backs. Their goal, Estevez said, was to capture the true spirit of the camino. “We wanted to honor every region, and we wanted to honor every stop,” Estevez said. “So when real, true pilgrims saw the film they’d say ‘I recognize that.’”
In the film, the character of Tom, played by Sheen, meets a diverse group of strangers, which Estevez likens to the band of travelers in “The Wizard of Oz.” While on a shared path, Tom learns about his son and about himself, alongside the others who struggle to make peace with their own journeys.