[ACTOR] Martin Sheen - Background Included Filipino Heritage
- RAMON SHEEN
Actor : Part Filipino a Hollywood celebrity known as Martin Sheen,
launched his career as the lead in the Broadway play "The Subject
Was Roses" and went on to receive a Golden Globe nomination for his
leading role in the film adaptation.
His role in "The West Wing" reunites Sheen with writer Aaron Sorkin
with whom he worked on the feature film "The American President."
When asked why he decided to take the role as President Bartlet
on "The West Wing" Sheen said, "It was simple. Aaron Sorkin and John
His additional feature film credits include "Wall Street," in which
he appeared with his son, Charlie Sheen, "Hearts of Darkness: A
Filmmaker's Apocalypse," "Da," and "Badlands" opposite Sissy Spacek.
Television credits include roles in "Babylon 5: The River of Souls"
and the television miniseries "Medusa's Child."
In 1998 Sheen received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award
from the Imagen Foundation, an organization that honors positive
portrayals of Latinos in film, television and in advertising. He
also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Performance by an
Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television for the
1993 miniseries "Kennedy" and for Best TV Actor for the
miniseries "Blind Ambition."
Acting, activism fuel Sheen's life
By Chris Hornsey, Star Staff Reporter
Martin Sheen is proud of being a Catholic and an activist.
Martin Sheen loves Canada.
The American actor and activist spent an evening in Windsor on the
weekend, sandwiched between a library dedication in Milwaukee Friday
and the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles Sunday, to receive what he
called "a great honour," the Christian Culture Gold Medal from
Sheen, who was nominated for a fifth Emmy Sunday for his portrayal
of President Jed Bartlet on TV's The West Wing, has been a thorn in
the side of both Bush administrations, most recently for his
outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, which he describes as "a
visionless effort." He has been arrested dozens of times for
protesting for the homeless, migrant workers and conditions in Third
World countries. Sheen is just finishing three years probation for a
well-publicized 2000 arrest at a demonstration against military
space technology at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Little wonder he feels so comfortable on this side of the border.
"Every time I cross this border I feel like I've left the land of
lunatics," Sheen said Saturday, adding he was "proud" of Canada for
not entering the Iraq war. "You are not armed and dangerous. You do
not shoot each other. I always feel a bit more human when I come
Sheen was chosen as this year's recipient of the Christian Culture
Gold Medal "as an outstanding exponent of Christian ideals," said
Assumption University president Rev. Bill Irwin.
"There are three things to know about Martin Sheen to understand why
he has been awarded the gold medal," Irwin said. "He has made an
outstanding contribution to the arts in his chosen profession. He
has been actively engaged in the struggle for social justice much of
his adult life. And Martin Sheen's passion for social justice comes
from his Catholic faith."
Irwin said there are those who wonder about Sheen's motives for his
activism, but it is genuine, uncompromising and motivated by faith.
He said Sheen was also willing to risk the personal cost to his
career that may result from his actions.
Sheen said "it should be costly" or else activism loses its
The actor, who for some will be forever known as Capt. Willard in
Apocalypse Now or Carl Fox in Wall Street, was born Ramon Estevez in
Dayton, Ohio, in 1940. He was one of 10 children raised in a
Catholic household by parents he describes as "scrupulously honest."
He said his faith lapsed during his early years as an actor "with an
ego" but a near-fatal heart attack suffered during the filming of
Apocalypse Now where he was given last rites and the poverty he
witnessed in India in 1981 while shooting Gandhi re-established his
Catholic faith and put him on the path to "comfort the afflicted and
afflict the comfortable".
"Those experiences had a profound effect on my life and led directly
to my return to Catholicism," Sheen said. "The past 23 years have
been the most difficult in my life, and also the happiest."
The easy-going actor seemed genuinely delighted to accept the gold
medal, which was inscribed with his given name, Ramon Estevez, at
his insistence. After sneaking out to the parking lot behind
Assumption University to have a smoke with the cafeteria staff (an
act that endeared him to them) he told reporters he was "humbled" a
new scholarship in his name is being offered by Assumption
University, the seed money raised by Saturday's banquet in his
"It is (his) qualities of excellence, dedication to social justice
and religious conviction that we shall look for in students applying
for the scholarship," Irwin said.
Currently gearing up for his second term in office as President
Josiah Bartlett on television's critically acclaimed "The West
Wing," Martin Sheen's convincing portrayal of the fictional US
President is just the latest in a long line of believable
characterizations that began back in the late 1950s.
Ramon Estevez was the seventh of ten children born to a Spanish
immigrant father and Irish mother in Dayton, Ohio in 1940. He
adopted his stage name after intentionally flunking his college
entrance exam so he could move to New York and study acting. He
took "Martin" from a friend and "Sheen" from popular Bishop Fulton
By 1964 the young actor had made it to Broadway in "The Subject Was
Roses," (which he would recreate on film in 1968) and later headed
to Hollywood where he found regular work on television.
It wasn't until the early 1970s, however, through a combination of
film and television work that Sheen's talents became universally
In 1973 he garnered enormous attention playing a Charles
Starkweather-inspired killer on a spree in Badlands opposite fellow
up-and-comer Sissy Spacek. The following year he appeared in two of
the most lauded television productions of the era, as the convicted
deserter in "The Execution of Private Slovik," and as Robert Kennedy
in "The Missiles of October."
Prolific in his appearances on both the large and small screens,
Sheen's film career has been largely overlooked with one rather
extreme exception; he starred in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse
Now (1979), a film that became famous for its excesses and Sheen's
near-fatal heart attack during the grueling shoot, an experience he
later recalled in the Emmy-winning documentary "Hearts of Darkness:
A Filmmaker's Apocalypse." Among his many other films appearances
are The Cassandra Crossing, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane,
The Final Countdown, Gandhi, That Championship Season, The Dead
Zone, The Believers, Wall Street, Da, Cadence, The American
President, Monument Avenue, and O.
Often lending his distinctive voice to documentaries, Sheen
continues to work in both film and television, and occasionally
appears with his famous progeny (Charlie Sheen, Emilio, Ramon, and
The Star of the West Wing
An Interview with Martin Sheen
The star of The West Wing and a winner of a Golden Globe award for
his role on that show, actor Martin Sheen is widely known as a
pacifist and activist. What is not as widely known is that he is
also a devout Catholic. Indeed, it was only after rediscovering his
faith twenty years ago that he began to work in earnest for the
social causes he believes in. "I learned I had to stand for
something so I could stand to be me," he says.
A former drug and alcohol abuser, Sheen suffered a heart attack
while filming Apocalypse Now. The event set him on a four-year
spiritual journey that culminated in his return to Catholicism. He
carries a rosary in his pocket ("Keeps me from cursing," he says)
and is an almost daily communicant. Known worldwide by his stage
name, this son of immigrant parents (his father was from Spain, his
mother, Ireland) was baptized Ramón Estevez. His early years were
spent in Dayton, Ohio.
The Estevez family was poor and, from an early age, instilled Sheen
with strong morals and working class values. By age nine, he was
earning extra money as a golf caddie at a local country club, with
hopes of becoming a pro. In 1958, at eighteen, he borrowed bus fare
from his local parish priest and headed for New York to pursue his
dream of becoming an actor. To avoid ethnic bias in hiring, he chose
the first name Martin after a good friend, and Sheen after Bishop
Fulton J. Sheen, who had a popular TV show in the 1950s. He remains
proud of his Hispanic heritage and is quick to say that he never
legally changed his name.
Sheen has created an impressive body of work, from his acclaimed
performance in The Subject Was Roses (1964), and The Execution of
Private Slovik (1974) to more recent films such as The Missiles of
October, Kennedy, Badlands, Catch-22, Apocalypse Now, Gandhi, and
Wall Street. He's been married to his wife, Janet, for more than
forty years and is father to four children, Charlie, Emilio, Renee,
Over the past two decades, Sheen has protested repression in Central
America, Gaza, and the West Bank, promoted fairer immigration
policies in the USA, supported the closing of nuclear test sites,
and spoken out repeatedly against war.
"Once you follow a path of nonviolence and social justice, it won't
take you long before you come into conflict with the culture, with
the society. You can't know what is at stake or how much it is going
to cost you until you get in the game. That's the only way, and the
level of cost is equal to the level of involvement."
Question: Why are you so active in social justice and peace issues?
Martin Sheen: I do it because I can't seem to live with myself if I
do not. I don't know any other way to be. It isn't something you can
explain; it is just something that you do; it is something that you
Q: You've been arrested more than sixty times, in opposition to the
School of the Americas in Georgia, apartheid, racism, homelessness,
nuclear testing. Do you recall your first time?
Sheen: My first civil disobedience arrest for social justice was in
1986 for protesting the SDI [Reagan's Star Wars initiative]. It was
on Forty-second Street at the McGraw-Hill Building in New York. That
arrest was one of the happiest moments of my life and, equally, one
of the scariest.
Q: What are your views on nonviolent civil disobedience?
Sheen: It is one of the only tools that is available to us where you
can express a deeply personal, deeply moral opinion and be held
accountable. You have to be prepared for the consequences. I
honestly do not know if civil disobedience has any effect on the
government. I can promise you it has a great effect on the person
who chooses to do it.
Q: What did you mean when you said, "Your faith has to cost you
something, otherwise you have to question its value"?
Sheen: Once you follow a path of nonviolence and social justice, it
won't take you long before you come into conflict with the culture,
with the society. You can't know what is at stake or how much it is
going to cost you until you get in the game. That's the only way,
and the level of cost is equal to the level of involvement.
Q: What's your reaction to your critics in the media?
Sheen: Their opinions are very lucrative to them; mine are very
expensive to me and my family. That is the difference. That is why I
can't get involved in this debate. Because we are talking about two
Q: You're coming from a more humanistic perspective?
Sheen: Exactly, and a spiritual perspective. And they get paid for
their opinions, and mine cost me.
Q: But you don't take it personally, do you?
Sheen: I don't, only because I don't know the people who are
attacking me. But you cannot not be affected by it and remain human.
And also I am not in this alone; I have a family, and they are
subject to a lot of scrutiny at times. It is not pleasant at all.
You just have to maintain your faith, and your sense of humor. Above
all, not take yourself so seriously, and realize that you're not in
there alone. God has not abandoned us. I don't know what other force
to appeal to other than almighty God, I really don't.
Q: You support our military?
Sheen: I have been accused of being a traitor, and I have been
accused of not supporting the military. Nothing could be further
from the truth. The leaders are the ones who make the decisions. The
soldiers do not have the choice. I support the soldiers as human
Q: When we met twenty years ago, you told me: "Murder is being
conducted in our name around the world and we're paying the price
here at home." What has that price been?
Sheen: This supposed idyllic society we have is the most confused,
warped, addicted society in the history of the world. We are
addicted to power, we're addicted to our own image of ourselves, to
violence, divorce, abortion, and sex. Any whim of the human
character is deeded in us 100-fold. We're number one in child abuse,
pornography, divorce, all of these categories; that's how we get
paid back. You can't project something on someone else that is
damaging that person and not become that yourself, it seems to me.
Q: What are your views on abortion?
Sheen: I cannot make a choice for a women, particularly a black or
brown or poor pregnant woman. I would not make a judgment in the
case. As a father and a grandfather, I have had experience with
children who don't always come when they are planned, and I have
experienced the great joy of God's presence in my children, so I'm
inclined to be against abortion of any life. But I am equally
against the death penalty or war-- anywhere people are sacrificed
for some end justifying a means. I don't think abortion is a good
idea. I personally am opposed to abortion, but I will not judge
anybody else's right in that regard because I am not a woman and I
could never face the actual reality of it.
Q: What is a radical Catholic, as you've called yourself?
Sheen: That is someone who follows the teachings of the nonviolent
Jesus and takes the gospel personally, and then pays the price. I
fall into that category.
Q: Who have been your spiritual influences?
Sheen: Terrence Malick (director of the film Badlands) is a deeply
spiritual, bright, articulate man who had a profound influence on me
at a critical time. Twenty years ago, I left India and went to Paris
to do a film which I was not wild to be doing because I was not
feeling focused at the time. I had just experienced India for the
first time, and it had a very profound impact on me. I went to Paris
and ran into Terry, who'd been living there for a couple of years,
and we got reacquainted and got very close, and he became a mentor
in a lot of ways for me. He was able to see where I needed to focus
and was able to guide me to a little clearer place. He would give me
material, books to read. Finally, the last book he gave me was The
Brothers Karamazov, and that book had a very profound effect on my
spiritual life, and that was like the final door that I had to go
through. I finished reading that, and it was May Day, and I went
into what turned out to be the only English-speaking Catholic church
in all of France. I had not gone to church in years. I came across
an Irish priest. I told him I'd stayed away from the faith for a
long time, and I'd like to make a confession. He said you come to
see me Saturday afternoon at the appointed hour, and I did. That was
for me the journey home. Terrence was key to my awakening. Also,
many of my beliefs were influenced by Dan and Phil Berrigan and the
Jesuit community they helped run in New York.
Q: How did being a golf caddie affect you as a boy?
Sheen: Those years on the golf course as a caddie, boy, those people
were something. They were vulgar, some were alcoholics, racist, they
were very difficult people to deal with. A lot of them didn't have a
sense of humor. They didn't know your name. It was always "caddie."
This was before golf carts were used. If they needed to play, they
were either going to hire a caddie or pull one of those rolling
carts themselves. They weren't about to carry them when they could
get you to carry them for a few dollars. Some of them were so cheap,
selfish, and stingy. They taught me so much [laughs]. I am so
grateful to those people. Because the bottom line was, for me, I
thought, don't let me become that! It was one of those valuable
lessons about what not to be, what not to do, how not to do
something. They were ignorant, arrogant people, and they thought
they were very charming and thought they had the world by the tail,
with all the money and power they had.
Q: How has the game of golf helped you to develop your life
Sheen: Anybody who plays golf will tell you that you play against
yourself. I am a very conscientious golfer. I count every stroke. I
learned to play that way. That is the only way I can play. It taught
me to be honest. There is no greater virtue than honesty. The game
is basically about yourself. Because you can cheat at golf, but you
are only cheating you, so what is the point? If you are gambling and
you cheat to make money then you are a thief and a liar, so it is
exponential. Golf is fundamentally about being honest. I see people
hit eight shots and tell me they shot five. I never say a word. It
is a reminder to me of what is at stake.
Q: Are you worried that this nation might be going down the tubes in
Sheen: It is slip-sliding away. The last couple of years, we've
witnessed the slow unraveling of a lot of very good legislation that
was put into place by a lot of hard activism.
Q: What is your greatest hope for our species?
Sheen: That we survive, and come to know ourselves, and win our
Q: And your greatest fear?
Sheen: That we are not going to make it.
Q: Do you despair, or do you have hope?
Sheen: No, no, I never despair, because the President is not running
the universe. He may be running the United States, he may be running
the military, he may be running even the world, but he is not
running the universe, he is not running the human heart. A higher
power is yet to be heard in this regard, and I'm not so sure that we
haven't already heard, we just haven't been listening. I still
believe in the nonviolent Jesus and the basic human goodness present
in all of us.
If all of the issues that I have worked on were dependant on some
measure of success, it would be a total failure. I don't anticipate
success. We're not asked to be successful, we are only asked to be
faithful. I couldn't even tell you what success is.
David Kupfer's work has appeared in The Progressive, Whole Earth,
Adbusters, and Earth Island Journal. He lives on an organic farm in