The Way - SideReel Interview

In order to promote their new movie The Way, director Emilio Estevez and his father/leading man Martin Sheen have been traveling the country by bus, brining the film to audiences. During their stop in Ann Arbor, Michigan they sat down, along with the film’s producer David Alexanian, to speak with Rovi’s Perry Seibert about how difficult it is to get permission to shoot inside a historic cathedral, how to grow out of your reputation as a teen heart, and what it’s like to work on a Best Picture Oscar winner.
Perry Seibert:  How long was the shoot?
David Alexanian: Forty Days. We shot on location in the north of Spain. We started in the Pyrenees and ended in Marakesh.
PS: I was curious what sort of hoops do you have to jump through to shoot inside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela?
DA: Well that was the big story. In truth we didn’t know we were going to have permission until 48 hours prior. They get a number of requests, and we were the first feature film to ever shoot there, let alone to have Emilio be able to participate in the incense ceremony. We really feel like that was one of the blessings, because that’s such a gorgeous scene. The film would have been very different without it.
Emilio Estevez: They offered up other churches, because it looked pretty bleak, that we would be allowed access. So they said, "Well we got this other church down the street and you guys can go there and shoot."
DA: And they were saying, "How can we say yes to you, there’s so many Spanish requests and we always say no, it’s our policy." There was a lot of begging and even praying.
EE: Pleading and praying. Even the agnostics and the atheists. I was like, "Please, God."
DA: At one point they told me a story that two weeks prior they allowed for a commercial to be shot in the square in front of the cathedral, and they kicked a soccer ball into one of the stained glass windows and shattered it. But we were able to get in. We had very limited time.
EE: I shot Super 16, and it was all steadicam so we were able to sorta get in there and move around and grab these shots very very quickly. If we had shot 35, if we’d had a big lighting set-up, we’d still be there.
PS: I was curious how much you storyboarded since there are so many shots of people walking. Did you just knowyou would have days where it was going to be a perfect place to shoot?
DA: We’re still waiting for the storyboard. (Laughter).
EE: We prepped it for two months, and we spent those two months on the Camino, so we knew the Camino very very well. We did all the grip and grins, and all the meeting with the local officials, police, hotels, restaurant owners, just basically got it dialed in so that when we went back with the crew [we were ready]. In many ways our prep was more important that the prep we did with the crew.
DA: But they were very supportive. I look back on it and this film – it might be classic Hollywood but it’s not new Hollywood. It’s very much a story-driven, character-driven film. And not that we ever heard "No" out of the guys in Hollywood, and the studios who were interested, [but] we never got that "Yes". We had a limited amount of time – we had a window that we had to go and shot this. So, Emilio and I went and we found people who were interested in helping us make it happen, and I only want to say the most positive things about it because we were lucky. If they had been very bureaucratic or difficult we’d still be there.
PS: So this is the third film that father and son have worked on together. I’m curious if your relationship as actor and director has changed over those three films. Is it different now than it was the first time around?
Martin Sheen: I would hope so.
EE: We have a short hand, and I think that he has gotten to a place where he trusts me I would think – I would hope.
MS: I thought Michael Douglas was supposed to be in this thing. (laughter)
EE: So yeah that shorthand is certainly a benefit the more we work together. And this was a great role for him. I don’t think he’s carried a film for thirty years, or had a role this substantial in as long.
DA: It also celebrates Spanish ancestry, and you look at this man you know of him as someone who is Irish because he has had a chance to go there. But this film is dedicated to a grandfather inspired by a grandson. Emilio’s son and Martin did a part of the Camino, and he fell in love with a girl, and that inspired the beginnings of this story. So it’s a chance to dig deeper into that background.
PS: Over the course of the forty day shoot, how much walking did you do?
MS: Actually we did quite a lot. We reckon we did at least half [of the Camino], because you know you go from here to there when you’re a pilgrim, but when you’re doing it on camera you make a mistake you have to go back and do it again. Now you go back and do the coverage.
EE: But, yeah, we walked a lot.
MS: But I still look forward to doing it without a camera or call-phone. I just love to do the Camino.
EE: You’ll take the catering.
MS: I’ll take the catering (laughing) that was the one truck that they were just so so careful about and it was the only truck that had a level space every time they found a parking spot.
EE: The Spanish take their food very seriously as you see in the film.
DA: That was the only corner we didn’t cut.
PS: The soundtrack is eclectic, I’m curious what you would have liked to get in that you couldn’t?
MS: I sang a particular song at one point that I thought might be appropriate, as Tom (his character in the movie).
PS: What was the song?
MS: "I Love To Go A’Wandering."
EE: Yeah, it was the wrong vibe at the wrong time. There was a song by Live, "Lightning Flashes" that was in a rough cut that was just sort of too on-the-nose. [I picked] songs I was listening to while we were scouting locations, or if I just need a moment of respite from the noise I would just plug in and listen to these tunes. I associated them with locations, so I thought maybe Coldplay will give us a song, or maybe James Taylor would give us a tune here. I’ll appeal to them artist-to-artist and if that doesn’t work I’ll beg. Which I did. And the Nick Drake song is a really sweet, gorgeous song and I think it’s really appropriate.
PS: You were a teen heartthrob. At one point did you feel like that was behind you? How did you transition into a filmmaker when so many teen idols can’t seem to evolve in their careers?
EE: We went to Virginia Tech and I’ve actually been thinking about returning to my teen heartthrob status because that was great, it was actually a lot of fun. The kids were great and they grew up on Mighty Ducks and so there’s a whole new audience out there to tap back into. I love being in front and behind the camera, I love doing double duty. You don’t have to wait for anybody. It’s a crazy job doing both, but I really dig it. But I’ve always been a storyteller, even when I was seven years old I submitted my first story on notebook paper and pencil to Universal Studios to Night Gallery. And I got my first taste of rejection, at seven, professional regression. (Laughter). So acting for me, even when I was doing those films, the gang would go out and get crazy and I’d be at home writing something.
PS: Mr. Sheen if I may…
MS: Martin.
PS: Martin, if I may ask, I’m a Scorsese-phile I was hoping you could share maybe one story from The Departed
MS: Oh, I adore him. I absolutely adore him. I came into that film as a replacement – some of the better things I’ve done I’ve been a second thought. They had started filming with another guy and he had a terrible problem. The guy was from Dublin, and he came to New York and it was the first time he’d left the country since his son committed suicide. And he was just devastated. He hadn’t been away from home since then, and he just couldn’t do it, so they had to send him home. They called me on a Sunday morning, I was doing the West Wing, and my agent called me and said "They’ve cleared it with The West Wing, could you be in New York Wednesday morning in Brooklyn to start filming." I said, "Are you crazy?" They said the script was on the way. I said, "Are you crazy? How could I possibly do it, who’s the director?" And they said Marty Scorsese. I said, "I’m there already!"
I loved him. He was the most gentle, sweet man and he’s not unlike this guy (indicating Emilio) on the set. He loves actors and he’s just absolutely the most generous, and has a good time. He’s the only director I ever met who never said, "Let’s do one more." He HehSDHe He’d say, "Let’s do a couple more." I loved him, and he used to fall for my jokes all the time. We really didn’t know each other, he didn’t know what a clown I was, and he came in and was talking to Leo in one scene and he said, "Leo that was very good what you were doing…" and I said, "What are you telling him that for! I heard you behind the thing say it was dreadful!" (laughter) He looks at me and says, "No, no I didn’t say that!" (laughter) I swear to you you could catch him because he’s so sincere and he’s so sweet. I loved him, and I loved the experience, all those guys were wonderful, my only regret is I’ve somehow been eliminated from part 2.
EE: Everyone was.
MS: They were?
EE: Yeah, did you not get to the end of the film?
PS: Tell me about finding the actor who plays Yost?
EE: David and I were sitting in Madrid about 8 days from the start of principal photography and we didn’t have a Yost. We had made offers to nine people and they were like, "Eh, no money and we’re not coming."
DA: Or their agents never even showed them the deal.
EE: So David said, here’s the deal. I’ve found five guys on the internet, pick one. If we don’t have a Yost, we don’t have a movie because he works day 1. So I said OK, I like this guy. They said let’s fly him in, let ‘s meet him because he’s keen to meet you guys. Great. Get on the phone with the agents and we organize for him to come into Madrid the next day. SO the next day came around, no Yost. We’re waiting, "where the hell is he?" WE get this frantic phone call, he’s gone to Barcelona.
MS: You know what he said? He said his agent thought Barcelona was the capital of Spain.
EE: So we’re waiting and there’s no Yost, and we get this frantic call saying, "So sorry, he’ll be there tomorrow." So the next day he shows up and he’s oh so apologetic and says, "Man, I’m so sorry, a complete screw-up, but it wasn’t a total loss because in Barcelona I had the most amazing lamb dish." (laughter) I turned to Dave and I said, "That’s our Yost. Got him!"

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