Emilio Estevez has changed. He has definitely come a long way since playing the high school jock in The Breakfast Club. He seems to have clearly distanced himself from the Coach Gordon Bombay role that warmed our hearts in the Disney ice-hockey epic trilogy The Mighty Ducks because it was a focused, yet humble, director who took his seat next to Christian Slater before me.
“We need to get out of this cesspool that we are all drinking from” he declares. This was a man with a message.
Estevez wrote and directed the new film Bobby, which re-imagines one of the most explosively tragic nights in American history. Set in The Ambassador Hotel, it follows the interwoven storylines of twenty-two fictional characters leading up to the fateful night that Senator, and arguably the next President, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The characters navigate prejudice, injustice, chaos and their own complicating personal lives while seeking the last glimmering signs of hope in Kennedy’s idealism.
Despite the title referring to Kennedy, Estevez is eager to state that it is not wholly about him. “You could have really called this Ordinary People because it is less about Bobby Kennedy, it’s less about politics,” and he is very quick to downplay the political agenda of the movie “when you look at a scene like the one in the kitchen where Laurence Fishburne is trying to school the Latinos about how to navigate a white man’s world. That is perhaps the most political scene in the movie. Yet, politics is never mentioned. I always felt that the best way to tell a political story, in the context of this movie, was by letting the politics come out of the characters in a subtle way, rather than a ham-fisted one.”
Up until now Christian Slater has sat in silence observing the lavish, glamorous setting of The Kensington Suite in Claridges Hotel, but this has sparked him into life. “It’s like you could put an exclamation point at the end of this movie,” he says “because you see the movie and you get inspired and it’s almost like calling out for a candidate like that (Bobby Kennedy). Somebody we could all get behind and support and who has those kinds of views.”
When pressed on the liberal stance that the movie appears to have, Estevez gives as strong a response as any presidential candidate would. “I don’t see it as a liberal movie,” he states “unfortunately, the word ‘liberal’ has been turned into a four-letter word in the United States. I think that they have used it as a way to divide people. I don’t believe in this red state/blue state idea. I believe in a red, white and blue state.”
Consequently, we move onto the topic of America and the current state of their nation. “I think that there’s more unity than ever before,” says Estevez “I think we’re more moderate than we are liberal or conservative. However, people are afraid. They are afraid to speak out against the government. It’s less and less so now that, what was obvious to Europeans years ago is now becoming painfully obvious in the United States and I think that it took us a while to come around…unfortunately.”
Though his words appear disheartened, he is grateful to Britain and Europe. “This is, on paper, what appears to be a purely American movie about an American icon. However, it was a British national that said ‘Yes’ to the movie. I couldn’t get anyone in America to pay attention to this movie. So, thank you and truly thank you for taking notice. When it screened in Europe, in Venice and France,” Estevez continues “it was unbelievable…and a female Greek journalist said ‘This film reminds me of the America we miss’ and it struck me at that point…,” an emotional Estevez pauses and takes a deep breath “…I miss that America too.”
The movie has a huge ensemble, or a “Red Carpet cast” as Slater offers as the term for it. All twenty-two main characters have had a great degree of success. It reads like a list of who’s who in the film world, starring the likes of Moore, Stone, Macy, Sheen, Kutcher, Burke, Lohan, Rodriguez and the list goes on and on. So, how did Estevez set out to assemble such an ensemble? “I had lunch with Anthony Hopkins on a Sunday,” reveals Estevez “and the next day we made an offer through his agent. Then I get a very irate Hopkins calling me moments later saying ‘Wait a minute. You were in my house on Sunday and you didn’t mention a word of it. Now you’re offering me this film. Why didn’t you talk about it all yesterday?’ and I said ‘because if you don’t like it, it’s not personal. I want this to be professional’ and it was that way for the most part.”
Slater adds “The subject matter was fantastic. I was excited that Emilio was able to get the movie together. He called me and told me all the other people that were involved. There were a lot of elements that made it extraordinarily exciting. My character was fun. I loved the humanity of each and everybody in the movie. Kennedy was a man of the people and it’s a movie about people, human beings and our good points, our bad points, our ups and downs and just what makes us who we are.”
I presumed that Estevez must possess remarkable persuasion skills, but he assures me that this wasn’t the case. “It wasn’t necessarily a matter of convincing these wonderful actors. It was a measure of ‘can they work within our very tight schedule?’ because that proved to be the most impossible task. Lindsay (Lohan) we’d have for eight days, Sharon (Stone) we’d have for six and Demi (Moore) would be five and they all had to work on the same day. However, there schedules never matched up or lined up, so that proved to be the most difficult.”
Being part of the all-star cast is something that Christian Slater revells in. “It was the type of movie where you just want to be there,” Slater says excitedly “because it was the type of atmosphere which, whether you were working or not, you were going to learn something from one of the great people that were involved in the movie.” Estevez recounts the story of a star-struck younger member of the cast. “On the first week of shooting he said ‘Emilio, I don’t know where to look’ and I tried to laugh it off and play it cool but I didn’t know where to look either! It was dazzling…but if you stopped looking and started watching these performances and you got out the way. I think the best directors are the ones that get the hell out of the way and let these people do what they do.”
As the writer of the film, Estevez had the tough job of creating the twenty-two fictional characters and their individual stories that revolved around the Senator’s assassination. “I wanted these characters to be emblematic of the time,” he says “and if you look at a snow globe, it is equivalent to taking the snow globe and shaking it up and, in this instance, we take the snow globe at the end of the picture and we throw it against the wall.”
One of the many actors that Estevez directs is his father, Martin Sheen, who played a pivotal role in Emilio’s interest of Bobby Kennedy. “I remember being six,” recalls Estevez “my father was fascinated and wanted to walk me through where he believed that it was the day the music died…in terms of the political landscape of America. I remember walking through the lobby, the embassy ballroom and the halls and I remember holding my father’s hand and the two of us walking through it and the impact it had.”
Invariably, we come back to the message of the film and how Estevez felt about releasing it into the modern climate. “I wasn’t worried about it and my feeling is that I am unapologetically optimistic. I am unapologetically idealistic and, in this world of cynicism and pessimism and people being resilient, I think there is no other way to be…truly. I believe that we are better than the bar we have set for ourselves. I think that movies need to be a reflection and that we need to get out of this cesspool that we are all drinking from. We need to do some environmental work on that water that we are all drinking from…frankly.”
Slater is adamant that this point gets across and, with the same focused stare that Estevez has held, he says “A movie like this shapes the political point of view that we want to have. I mean a film like Bobby, a film like An Inconvenient Truth has helped shape the attitudes and ideas that we’d like to move forward with.”
And so the interview comes to a close. Hands are shook, Thank yous are exchanged and then I remember my killer question, my secret weapon…
“Would you ever consider making a Mighty Ducks 4?”
“No, God No,” Estevez laughs hysterically as I stand there, crestfallen, “the first three were difficult enough.”
Oh Yes, Emilio Estevez has definitely changed. He has a message now.