What You Need to Know about The Way, Plus an Interview with Emilio Estevez

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This week, The Way opens nationwide. The film features Martin Sheen in the lead role and also stars Deborah Kara Unger and Sheen’s son, Emilio Estevez. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Estevez scripted and directed the film, which is opening to rave reviews. The movie is loosely based on personal experiences the Estevez family went through and a book, Off the Road by Jack Hitt.

The film tells the tale of a dad whose son has died while traveling in Europe. Upon arriving to collect his son’s remains, the dad learns that his son was hiking the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route in northern Spain and he decides to complete the journey for his son. The result is an introspective and emotional journey that touches both the heart and the funny bone and is definitely worth checking out. To learn more about the movie, we sat down with Estevez to talk about the Camino, iPads and Dorothy Gale.

Note: For our traditional “Things You Should Know,” please see the end of this post.

GeekDad: Congratulations on your movie, The Way. It’s very enjoyable and does a good job of staying away from convention.

Emilio Estevez: Thank you. I think people are starved for movies like this and they come along so infrequently that people are like “Wow, OK, Hollywood hasn’t forgotten about us!” The movie is fiercely original and sometimes people have trouble getting their heads around that. It’s not a prequel, it’s not a sequel, there’s no CGI, it’s not even low-tech – it’s no tech. We shot the movie on Super 16 only with available light through the entire movie. Even the nighttime sequences were lit just with candlelights and campfires. We weren’t aping what Stanley Kubrick did on Barry Lyndon, but pretty close.

GD: Your son, Taylor, helped to inspire this movie as he drove the Camino with his grandfather, Martin Sheen. Can you talk a little about that experience and how it developed from the initial idea into this full experience?

EE: That’s right, they were there in 2003 and they only had two weeks to do the Camino, so they rented a car. Taylor was working as my dad’s assistant on the West Wing at the time, so he kind of didn’t have a choice. So they got over there, they landed in Madrid and they rented a car and went north.

There’s a town called Burgos, which is in the film. They found a place to stay there that was a bed and breakfast and off the beaten path. They were sitting at the pilgrim’s supper and this beautiful girl comes by and it was literally love at first sight for my son. He’s been living there ever since. He came home that fall to get his things and now they’ve been married for two and a half years. So we went back for the wedding in 2009 and I didn’t leave until mid November last year.

We went with the intention of making this film. We had a script and all we needed a Spanish partner. We had a great crew – and they were all very fit! One of the things we asked when David [Alexanian, the film’s producer] and I were interviewing for the crew are you fit? Can you climb the Pyrenees? How are your feet?

GD: You were lucky to work with an especially talented cast and crew, but I want to ask specifically about the producer, David Alexanian. There are a lot of parallels between The Way and both Long Way Round and Long Way Down. Can you speak to how Long Way Round affected your choice to bring him on board?

EE: Well, they’re both road movies. We met through my fiancée who knew him before he & I met. We met and I said I was working on a road movie and we got to know each other. He introduced me to Deborah Kara Unger [who’s in the film] while I was writing the script and I said to David, you know you got a crew around the world and across Africa, I think getting a crew across Spain might not only be easier but actually enjoyable. So he read the script and was very moved by it and said he was in.

GD: The movie is opening to great reviews. Plus, this is a deeply emotional piece, born out of personal experience. It has to be thrilling, but I’m curious if you have specific hopes for this film – how do you hope it affects audiences?

EE: We’re really pleased because you never know how people are going to respond. You never know if it’s going to spark interest anywhere. We made it because we thought it was something we would want to see, but people love the film. Maybe people are CGI’d out and want movies to return back to Earth.

We’re in a culture that tries to embed this notion that we’re not good enough that we need to be thinner, need to ensconce certain behaviors, need to take this drug for depression, this one will make our hair grow, we need to go to the doctor to get our teeth whitened, and we’re constantly being told that we’re not good enough. I think these are really dangerous and destructive messages because you spend your time measuring yourself against this media madness that tells you you’re not good enough. The wonderful thing about the movie is that it says “I’m OK being exactly who I am in my own skin and I’m happy that way.” I just don’t think we hear that enough. All of us are totally flawed and that’s the beauty of being human.

GD: In the movie, there’s the unfortunate condition that the father and son, Tom and Daniel, misunderstand each other and don’t reconcile before it’s too late, a situation that’s all too common among fathers and sons. Did making this movie change you as either a father or a son?

EE: I’m really close to my parents, they’ve been together for 50 years and they live right down the street from me. There’s no estrangement there. In fact, I consider my folks my best friends. We kind of grew up together. My mom was 22 my dad was 21 when I was born, so we all kind of grew up together. I’ve always considered them not only parents but very close friends, which can cut both ways. I recognize, in my own friends, a lot of unfinished business with their mothers and fathers and so I think this movie is an acknowledgement of that. But I’m fortunate not to have had that same contentiousness with my folks and specifically my father. I’m very blessed that it’s been the way it has.

GD: Since America lacks the history and certainly the religious history of Asia and Europe, I’m sure many people are unfamiliar with the idea, importance and popularity of pilgrimages. Why are spiritual journeys so important to so many people around the world?

EE: In America, we’re always looking for the quickest route to get to the next pleasure spot. Whether it’s faster wireless or a faster meal or faster communication via Skype. For example, there’s a lost art of letter writing. No one writes letters in cursive anymore and there’s an art form and beauty to it. But to your point, a pilgrimage requires a certain sense of meditation. The idea of slowing down is foreign to a lot of people in this country. We are figuring out that our fast paced lives have only led to despair and anxiety rather than made us whole.

I also think the movie pays homage, very blatantly, to The Wizard of Oz. There’s a tornado in Tom’s life that picks him up and takes him to Spain. The tornado is the death of his son. And while he’s there, he decides he’ s going to see the wizard and our Emerald City is Santiago. He meets the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, in that order, and it’s no accident that we used hay stacks to introduce Jack, our scarecrow.

GD: Atheism, for the first time, has a strong voice in America. Why would someone who holds atheistic or altruistic values be interested in the Camino de Santiago or your movie, The Way?

EE: When we were out there shooting, we ran into lots of atheists, agnostics and adventurers who were just there for the sport of it, and guys who were there, looking to meet girls. It’s not unusual that married men or women will go out solo and, by the time they reach Santiago, they will have filed divorce papers and they’re on to a whole new life. The Camino has opened people up – not just in a spiritual way – but has brought people closer to a truth that maybe they were not willing to look at while they were in the middle of whatever it was they were in the middle of – maybe an unhappy marriage, a terrible job, whatever situation was that they were in. They get to the end of the Camino and they decide to make some changes that have nothing to do with being religious or even spiritual. Any young person who has ever contemplated getting the Eurorail pass and getting a backpack and going around Europe, this is a place that should be on the bucket list. Northern Spain is just really cool. The food is great, the wine is outrageous and you get to walk through all these great historical places – it doesn’t have to be a religious pilgrimage.

GD: The movie has a message that there is a difference between the life we live and the life we choose. We all get trapped in day-to-day challenges and habits that are tough to break, making change very difficult. What advice would the characters Daniel or Tom offer to those trying to live a better life?

EE: It’s being in life and continuing to be a tourist. I think that’s the issue I have with a lot of the [electronic] devices everyone uses, whether it’s an iPad or a smart phone, if you notice and you watch people walking through the streets with their noses in their iPhones, everyone is looking down – no one is looking up.

I think it’s an interesting study because when you’re a tourist in a foreign land, you’re looking up. You’re looking at the sights and the architecture and the people. Your head is up and you’re looking at the world. I think we’ve stopped being tourists, even in our own backyards. There’s a danger there when we lose that sense of wonder; when we don’t look up and see a sunset or look up and smell a flower. I know it sounds trite, but those are the things that ultimately feed us. Those are the things we’re going to lose if we don’t take a moment and slow down and implant those things on our brains. Those are the things we take with us. All of this technology is great, but we’ve become addicted to it. We’ve got to find a balance.

GD: Are you sure it’s not simply because international data charges are too high?

EE: (laughing) Maybe!

———

What’s it about?

The movie tells the story of a father who travels to France to recover the body of his son who died while hiking El Camino de Santiago. The father decides to complete the journey and, along the way, meets other pilgrims and learns a lot about himself.

Will I like it?

Likely so. It’s a very decent story and surprisingly funny. The Way is getting very positive reviews and for good reason – the cast, story and cinematography are all top notch and the movie contains a message that we can all relate to: you don’t choose a life, you live one.

Will my kids like it?

The movie takes a little to get going and some of the humor may be above the kids heads, but there’s nothing really objectionable in the movie. There’s not much in the way of action and it’s more of an adult drama, but your child may still enjoy the movie.

Any previews?

I saw an early screening, so there were no previews. But at our screening, a Catholic priest said a benediction before the lights dimmed. That was a first at a movie theater for me.

When’s the best time to visit the rest room?

There are several moments, each spaced about a half hour apart. During the first night of Tom’s walk, about 25 mins in, 50 mins in after meeting Jack, and 90 mins in after checking into the luxury hotel are all good times to go to the bathroom during this 115 minute film.

Why’s it rated PG-13?

There’s some brief drug use (mostly marijuana smoking), thematic elements (not sure what this refers to), and cigarette smoking (MPAA docks you for smoking now?). Ultimately, there’s nothing that I saw as objectionable for kids.

Any reason to stay for the credits?

Nope.

Is it overly preachy or religious?

Not in the least. I think people who want to find spirituality or religion in the movie may find what they are looking for, but, if you didn’t know of the Camino’s religious significance (or don’t care), you will probably only find a movie on the screen.

Will I want to see it again?

You may very well. It’s been a few weeks since I saw The Way and I’m looking forward to seeing it again. It was a very enjoyable story that I didn’t want to end.

The Way opens in theaters nationwide on October 7.

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