By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published October 13, 2011
SMYRNA–Actors Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez visited the Archdiocese of Atlanta Chancery Sept. 27 to promote and discuss their new movie, “The Way,” which is scheduled to open in October.
The visit was a brief detour on their bus tour, as Sheen and Estevez, who are father and son, went from city to city where the movie is being screened to answer questions from fans and talk about the process of filming “The Way.”
In the film, written and directed by Estevez, Sheen plays Tom Avery, an affluent California doctor who arrives in St. Pied de Port, France, to collect the remains of his son, Daniel, played by Estevez, who perished during a freak storm in the Pyrenees Mountains while walking the “Camino de Santiago,” a 500-mile pilgrimage route also known as the Way of St. James.
Tom intends to turn around and head back home to the United States, but at the last minute, he makes an impulsive decision to remain and continue the pilgrimage from France to Spain in honor of his son.
Following in his son’s footsteps, Tom begins to walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Christian pilgrimage that for more than 1,000 years has been made by millions of people around the world for every conceivable reason, from sheer adventure to searching for answers. Tom uses his son’s supplies and tools, and carries along Daniel’s ashes, which he scatters in significant places throughout the pilgrimage.
Tom does not want solace, but the more he tries to be alone, the more he keeps running into unwanted company, including that of a sarcastic Canadian, played by Deborah Kara Unger, who is trying to quit smoking; a hefty, hedonistic Dutchman, played by Yorick Van Wageningen, wining and dining his way through Spain; and a confident, mouthy Irish author, played by James Nesbitt, chasing the story that might blast through his writer’s block.
The journey is filled with both laughter and tears as the motley crew make their journey across Spain, learning more about each other, and themselves, along the way. The peaceful, solitary backdrop of the Spanish landscape provides an appropriate context for the inner journey of each of the travelers, who encounter danger, colorful characters and ultimately the true reason why they made the pilgrimage.
“You have to carry what you pack, both inside and out,” Sheen said in an interview about his character and the pilgrimage depicted in the film.
“As you do the journey, you begin to lessen the load,” Sheen continued. “Then your inner journey starts to happen and you begin to disperse all of the things that have been weighing you down.”
Ultimately, Sheen said the movie is about healing, as viewers watch the difficulty Tom has dealing with the death of his son.
“It’s that journey of transcendence,” Sheen said. “But no one starts out looking for that.”
Sheen said the role of Tom did not require a Catholic actor, though since Tom is a lapsed Catholic in the film, Sheen could definitely relate, as he himself struggled with his faith before becoming a practicing Catholic.
“I understood that because I was there, too, many years ago,” Sheen said about his character’s struggle of faith. “But (the film) was more about being a father than being a Catholic.”
“I am a Catholic. I love the faith, and I’m nourished by it,” he added about his personal faith.
Estevez attempted to make the story very human and relatable, and while there are many subtle images of Catholicism throughout the film, it is far from being preachy.
“I don’t really see this as a message piece because I think people get turned off by messages,” said Estevez. “There are lessons in this, but I think they are subtle. We are now so distracted by all of this, all of this technology . . . and yet we’re more disconnected than ever before, and that is the great irony.”
“We don’t sit and break bread with strangers anymore,” said Estevez, speaking about the serendipitous meetings with strangers that are reflected in “The Way.”
“It’s okay to be exactly who you are,” said Estevez. “At the end of this journey, these four characters are standing at land’s end and they are all OK in their own skin. And isn’t that really where we all would love to be—being exactly fine with where we are … wonderfully imperfect.”
The movie is also an homage to Sheen’s father and Estevez’s grandfather, Francisco Estevez, to whom the film is dedicated. The elder Estevez was born in the Galicia region of Spain. Sheen said that when growing up in Dayton, Ohio, he heard his father speak often of the pilgrimage route, commonly known to Spanish speakers as “El Camino,” which fueled his desire to make the pilgrimage himself.
Archdiocesan staff greeted Sheen, Estevez and producer David Alexanian outside the Chancery as they arrived in their tour bus, which is crisscrossing the country.
Sheen and Estevez spoke about the film, responded to questions, and posed for pictures with the staff. Estevez criticized much of the work coming out of Hollywood as shallow and vulgar and said in making “The Way” he aspired to create a film that was simple, inspirational and relatively inexpensive. The simplest stories are often the most profound, Estevez said.
Msgr. Joe Corbett, vicar general, presented Sheen and Estevez with Bibles signed and blessed by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.