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Working with the ensemble cast on Bobby was like being the coach of an all star football team where every player is a potential match-winning centre forward, says director Emilio Estevez.

“I’d look around at them and just think to myself ‘man, this is incredible,” says Estevez.” Anyone of them can score the winning goal.’ That’s exactly what it was like.”

His incredible team sheet included his own father, Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Christian Slater, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Freddie Rodriquez and Laurence Fishburne.

“You know, there are times that I still can’t quite believe that we managed to get a cast like that together,” says the director. “And you can imagine what it was like in terms of the schedules – a nightmare. It was like piecing together a giant jigsaw. But we did it.”

That such a stellar cast signed up for the film is undoubtedly a tribute to Estevez’s compelling script which centres on the hours leading to Robert F, Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5th, 1968.

Estevez introduces the characters whose lives will be changed forever by the fateful events of that night – hotel staff and guests, political campaigners, journalists – as well as reminding us that the world changed on that terrible night when, almost certainly, the future President of the United States was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan.

“He is one of the great ‘what ifs?’ not only in American politics but if you think about it, in the history of the world,” says Estevez.

“He was killed by a Palestinian who didn’t agree with Bobby’s stance on Israel. That was 40 years ago and what’s changed? Nothing. And would it be different? Would he have won? Probably. It would have been a tough fight with Nixon but probably he would have won. He was the presumptive nominee.

“So you wonder how the world would have been. And there’s no way to know. Vietnam would have ended sooner. But all those lives that presumably would have been saved, what would their contribution have been?”

Estevez was just six years old when Bobby Kennedy died and remembers it vividly. “I saw the announcement on television and I ran to tell my father who had been a Kennedy supporter for a long time. It was terrible.”

Martin Sheen later took his sons to the Ambassador Hotel – the place where he was shot but also where he had delivered his final, moving speech, a heartfelt call for unity and peace.

Perhaps the seeds of the story were planted way back then. “I guess so. It certainly stayed with me and I never forgot walking through there holding my father’s hand as he told me that we had lost a great man.”

Years later, with Estevez established as a successful actor who was also making a name for himself as a director, he returned to the Ambassador Hotel for a photo shoot and suddenly, the memories came flooding back. “And that’s when I decided to start writing the script,” he recalls.

He decided to approach his story from the point of view and instead of honing in on Kennedy and Sirhan Sirhan in the lead up to their bloody confrontation, Estevez tells the story of the ordinary people whose lives were blighted that night. He completed his screenplay in 2001 and then embarked on a five-year battle to get it made.

“It was a struggle,” he smiles. “But at least we got there in the end. And I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the fantastic work by this amazing group of actors and I’m proud to tell this story. I do feel that so many of the issues that Bobby Kennedy was addressing back in 1968 are still so relevant today. And, of course, you can’t help wondering ‘what if?’”

As well as writing and directing, Estevez also acts in the film, playing Tim the disenchanted husband and manager of alcoholic nightclub singer Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore).

Estevez, 44, was born in New York, the eldest son of Martin Sheen and Janet Sheen. His credits as an actor include Repo Man, St Elmo’s Fire, Young Guns, Stakeout and many more.

This interview was conducted during the Venice Film Festival where Bobby was given its world premier.

Q: Bobby is about the events leading to the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Do you see it as relevant to today?

A: Yes, it is relevant. It’s a pro-people movie. It’s anti-violence and that’s the way it started out. It’s the celebration of a man’s spirit and this guy that we lost, this important voice that we need to find again. It was an incredibly inspirational voice – he moved and touched and inspired people like no other politician before him because he wasn’t just a politician, he was an idealist. He was not infallible, you know when you look at the history of Bobby Kennedy, but I think after Jack’s assassination he was a changed guy, obviously, but in more ways than the obvious. I think he went into a place into his heart and he started standing up for the little guy, the underdog.

Q: Do you see him as more important than his brother as a political thinker?

A: Perhaps. Jack was the great ambassador. Bobby was the guy in the trenches, you know.

Q: Do you see anyone with anything like that vision in politics today?

A: Not yet, no. We’re looking for it.

Q: Could Al Gore come back?

A: I don’t know. I can’t make any political predictions because everything is so open to speculation and there are so many wild cards out there. I will say that I showed the pictures to a California state senator and he was really moved and he said ‘this movie is a call to action’ and perhaps the disenfranchised – meaning the young too, not just minorities – will see it as a call to action and step up and maybe new leaders will be inspired by this. If a movie, if an artist, moves, touches people that’s the most we can ever hope for. Without being sentimental, I think sentiment is the death of art. And it’s incumbent on the media, what we do out in Hollywood we are all drinking from the same watering hole, we are all dependant on each other and we have started to cannibalise one another and instead of focusing on what Lindsay is wearing let’s focus on who the next leader is going to be. Let’s change our paradigm. And let’s together, figure out how to make a change, because I think we are all responsible for it. But you guys can’t attack Hollywood for making shit and then write about Lindsay’s clothes. So we all have to change. George Bush says we’re binging on oil and he’s right but we’re also binging on gossip and it’s a distraction.

Q: You’ve assembled an incredible cast. Does it cost a lot of money to do that?

A: Not in this case, no. Because a movie like this would be made for under $20 million and we were still under $10 million when all said and done. It’s still a lot of money but by the standards of what is on the screen, it’s worth every penny.

Q: Did you ever think about casting your brother, Charlie Sheen, in a role in Bobby?

A: We did but his schedule was so impossible on the TV show he works on (Two And A Half Men). He works three weeks, he’s off one. And that week he likes to take time off. And we had enough problems with the scheduling of actors and that was our main juggling act. It was like ‘Sharon is available six days and we need to schedule Demi on these days and Christian somewhere else..’ It was a giant jigsaw. It was like having a football team where you can get anyone to play centre forward – always, anyone can score in this team. And so if there was an issue with somebody. Nick Hahn overslept one night and was three hours late. And nobody’s talking about that. We had other things to shoot. We always had a go to default position because everyone was there ready and we had so much to shoot.

Q: Lindsay Lohan will help bring in a younger audience for this film. Is that why you cast her?

A: I cast her because she’s a great actress and she’s great in this movie. But she is a tremendous draw in the right film. She is just lovely and I think she is just terrific in the picture.

Q: Did you have to direct her much?

A: Well here’s the thing, because of the times restraints, because of the absence of rehearsal and many times I would walk in, often times, I would not see a set because they would be building it while we were shooting something else. So often I would walk into a room and go ‘OK, let’s go..’ it didn’t enable me to do a shot list, it didn’t enable me to plan out properly. I would say 90 to 95 per cent of the film was steadycam and hand held.

Q: The film has all these different stories converging and is obviously set in an hotel. Was Grand Hotel an influence?

A: it’s really homage to Grand Hotel although Bobby’s presence is in every scene. And where Harvey (Weinstein) and I are of a different opinion is that I believe the most political scene in the film is the scene in the kitchen with Freddie (Rodriquez) and Lawrence Fishburne Jacob (Vargas). It’s the most political scene in the movie and yet politics are never mentioned, Bobby Kennedy is never mentioned, there are no radio ads flapping about the campaign, nothing. And yet the politics are so heavily rooted in that scene.

Q: Do you and Harvey have a lot of discussions over the film?

A: Discussions (laughs). We have a fight now and again. It’s all good natured but he accuses me of being an Irish thug (laughs), It’s all good natured but I have an opinion and I’ve been working on this movie for free for six years. Harvey comes into it in April and I built the house already. So come and tell me how to re-paint the wall, fine, I don’t like your choice of colour (laughs).

Q: Do you think you get that combative nature from your father?

A: Oh yeah.

Q: Was your father able to give you some advice on this movie?

A: Well, he was so busy on West Wing and again it was one of those issues, where “Martin’s available Monday and Wednesday but not Friday’ and Sharon is available ‘Tuesday and Thursday but not Monday’ and to try and get them all in the same shot, in the same scene, was a challenge. So he wasn’t much help to me in terms of being there for research. But in post production, he has been a tremendous resource.

Q: In what way?

A: Just being a father, being my Dad. You know, just being a shoulder and to keep reminding me to fight the good fight, that none of this happened by accident, that I have been preparing to do this movie probably my whole life without knowing it. And he loves the film and is incredibly proud to be a part of it.
He said to me the other day ‘you know it’s one of the few movies I’ve been in where I don’t care how I look, I’m just happy to be included. I’m happy to be on that poster, on that list of names.’ And that’s great.

Q: Has it been difficult having a famous father?

A: Listen, I live 200 yards down the street from him – we’re like the village. He comes over for dinner, I go over there. He’s gone off to Ireland now to go to school so he is going to study oceanography and English literature in Galway. God bless him. To have the courage to do that is fantastic and he’s a bright cat, as you know. He is bright, well spoken, reads incessantly and he just felt the need to put some more brainpower behind him.

Q: He is a religious man. Are you?

A: I’m more agnostic but I believe in the power of prayer, I believe in a higher power, I believe that we channel things at certain times during our lives. I’m baptised Catholic but not practising.

Q: But your father is a Catholic and always has been?

A: Oh yeah (laughs)

Q: Was that difficult growing up around?

A: Yeah (laughs).

Q: And do you think that your brother Charlie rebelled against that a little bit more than you?

A: He did, yes.

Q: When you make a film like this, which is obviously the fruition of a life long ambition, what do you follow it with?

A: Comedy! (laughs). Comedy. There’s a script that I wrote that is about the competitive world of harness racing and I know it’s probably more popular (as a sport) in Europe than it is in the US, but I’m going to shoot it like Ben Hur. But it’s a family drama/comedy, like an inspirational sports movie, and it’s called Johnny Longshot and it’s probably going to be the next thing I do. It’s lighter fare for sure, but it’s still inspirational and it’s pro-people and pro-life, in the truest sense.

Q: Was there a feeling that you had to get this film out of your system before you could move on?

A: Maybe. I never felt like I had to get it out but it came out and here it is and now I have to be responsible for it.

Q: So from a family of actors you’re heading down the director’s path…

A: Yes. It’s a beating (laughs). Danny DeVito said directing was death by a thousand questions and he’s right. And not just here, but when you are making the film and you are on the floor. Truffaut in Day For Night where there is that one shot across the courtyard and he is asked what 32 questions in the course of that one hand held shot, and it’s like that every day, every hour on the set. And so you learn how to be a great communicator otherwise it all goes to hell. but it’s also very exhausting. I have a few stories I want to tell as a director and if this is a means to an end, then great. Acting is a lot less gruelling, a lot less challenging to a certain extent.

Q: You cast certain actors in roles that weren’t necessarily where we would expect to see them. Was that intentional?

A: Yes, to play roles that they don’t normally get an opportunity to play. I mean, Sharon (Stone) and Demi (Moore), that’s my mother’s voice in those two characters. She is present in this movie in all the female characters.

Q: What do you mean by that?

A: Just in terms of who these women are, what they have gone through, where they are in their lives. I listened when my Mom complained (laughs). You know, my mother is never given enough credit, frankly. My Dad is always the one who is heaped with praise for siring this (family of actors) and my Mom is sort of standing by and she, in many ways, is a lot stronger than my father so I think it’s important sometimes to give her some credit. My mother is quietly observant. She misses nothing.

Q: What is Robert Kennedy’s legacy?

A: He is one of the great ‘what ifs?’ not only in American politics but if you think about it, in the history of the world. He was killed by a Palestinian who didn’t agree with Bobby’s stance on Israel. That was 40 years ago and what’s changed? Nothing. And would it be different? Would he have won? Probably. It would have been a tough fight with Nixon but probably he would have won. He was the presumptive nominee. So you wonder how the world would have been. And there’s no way to know. Vietnam would have ended sooner. But all those lives that presumably would have been saved, what would their contribution have been? All those young men, 58,000. I don’t know in 1968 what the numbers were. All those lives that were lost and we’ll never know what their contribution would have been. So I think that Bobby’s death had an enormous impact and it was the third strike – you had Jack in 1963, you had Martin Luther King in April and then two months later, Bobby shot. And then you had the Democratic Convention in Chicago which was a train wreck. And then Nixon and we became cynical and we became resigned and we are where we are today largely because of that.

Q: We haven’t seen you on screen for a while. Where have you been?

A: You know this business is cruel and it’s unforgiving and it’s fickle and familiarity breeds contempt and so you go away. And for me, I’ve been in a basement writing, keeping to myself, maintaining a great life, raising my children, who are 22 and 20 now and directing CSI and Cold Case and flexing that muscle. I didn’t know that I was preparing to do Bobby, in other words it was a script, one of six, just trying to get it made but working quietly.

Q: Is television a good training ground?

A: It’s fantastic. We shoot 50 pages in eight days. I mean, it’s 15 hour days and it’s madness and it’s all about the transition – you know, it’s cast, the script is there, the sets are built, so the only thing the director has control of is the transition from scene to scene which was so important with Bobby. You had all of these characters and it was incumbent on me to make the transition as seamless as possible. And I think we succeeded on some levels, we failed on others but I didn’t have 80 days and $100 million to make it, it was guerrilla style filmmaking. We had 37 days and we started out with a $5 and a half million budget, it grew but it was still below $10 million. And every penny is on the screen.

Q: We talked about Grand Hotel being an influence on the film. Any others?

A: Grand Hotel was great influence on me. Airport, Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure This movie is Grand Hotel. I think all the characters are substantive and they are emblematic of the times and I think that the net that I cast, using the hotel, using Grand Hotel as a template, creating these characters that were representative and emblematic, that’s what I wanted to do.


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