US actor Martin Sheen retraces roots in Spain, Ireland

9th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

At 70 years old, Martin Sheen, star of TV series "The West Wing" and of "Apocalypse Now", has gone back to his roots in his latest films -- set in Spain and Ireland.

The US actor known both as liberal political activist and fervent Catholic stars in a new film "The Way", directed by his son, Emilio Estevez, and set on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route in the rugged northwestern Spanish region of Galicia -- his father's homeland.

And later this week, he begins shooting on another film set in his late mother's home village of Borrisokane, in county Tipperary in Ireland.

His parents, both impoverished immigrants, met when they attended a 'citizenship school' in Dayton, Ohio, where he was born in 1940, one of 10 children.

"I've always felt the balance between the two (cultures), I've never felt more Spanish than I did Irish and I've never felt more Irish than I did Spanish," he told AFP following a news conference in the Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela, where is attending the Spanish premiere of "The Way".

"I love both countries, and both cultures had a profound effect on me."

In "The Way" Sheen plays an American widower who travels to Spain to recover the body of his dead and estranged son.

After cremating the body, he sets off on a voyage of spiritual discovery on the Way of Saint James, or Camino de Santiago, with his son's ashes in his backpack.

"I've grown up all my life hearing about Santiago and the pilgrimage, so the film is a culmination and a deeply satisfying dream come true," Sheen, who was born Ramon Estevez but took an Anglicized stage name in order to help him get work as an actor, told the news conference.

"My father was my hero, he was the most influential person in my life growing up," he said, his voice breaking just slightly.

"He had an interesting relationship with the United States, because he was born on July 2, 1898, that's the day the United States declared war on Spain."

Francisco Estevez came to the United States when he was 16, in 1914, but was unable to enter as a Spaniard because there was a quota on Spaniards because of the Spanish-American war.

"So he went with his brother to Havana for almost three years and came back into the United States through Miami as a Cubano. He had a very interesting journey."

Sheen's mother, Mary Ann Phelan, who died when he was only 11, emigrated to the United States during the Irish war of independence.

"Now I find myself, aged 70, coming back to my father's home in Galicia to make a film about The Way of Saint James, and I began last week in Dublin the pre-production on a film about my mother's village in Borrisokane, in County Tipperary and I'm going back on Thursday to begin filming there," he said.

"It's an extraordinary circle of events, to have the opportunity to work in Spain and Ireland, two of my favorite countries in all the world but to actually work in their cultures, their villages is unbelievable...

"I could not have drawn this scenario.., it's too unbelievable, fantastic," said Sheen, who also holds an Irish passport.

The Ireland film, "Stella Days", tells the true story of a priest, played by Sheen, who opens a cinema in Borrisokane in the 1950s.

The Spanish premiere of "The Way" comes just two days after Pope Benedict XVI visited Santiago, and Sheen told AFP he was present in the Plaza Obradoiro, in the city's medieval heart, when the pontiff celebrated mass on Saturday.

Sheen, who also starred in "Badlands", "Gandhi" and "Wall Street", hopes to actually walk the Camino one day.

"The Camino, besides being a physical journey, is a spiritual journey as well.. The central theme of the film is that we all need community, we all need each other but we walk alone."

Emilio Estevez, who was directing his fourth feature film, added that he has been "guided by the spirit of my grandfather in every thing that I do.

"I've always felt very connected to Spain. I would certainly love to come back and do another film here," where there are "no egos", unlike in Hollywood, said Emilio, who also directed his father in the 2006 film "Bobby", about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

Martin Sheen, whose political activism has led him to be arrested more than 60 times for taking part in demonstrations, has three other children.

The most famous is Charlie Sheen, star of "Wall Street" and "Platoon" and the TV series "Three and a Half Men", and more recently better known for his troubled personal life. Ramon and daughter Renee Estevez are also both actors.

Emilio told the news conference the whole family could get together for a film one day.

"But it would have to be the right project or it would seems like a stunt," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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