Tree of Life director Terrence Malick has had an enormous impact on actor Martin Sheen’s life.
“He’s one of the great, great people,” says Sheen, “and one of the most mysterious, wonderful characters.”
Professionally, the director gave Sheen the role that broke him out of the episodic television grind and made him a movie star. As Kit Carruthers in Badlands, Sheen won raves and was set upon a career path that would see him star in Apocalypse Now and win a collection of Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards for playing President Bartlet on The West Wing.
Personally, however, Malick’s influence has been even more profound. A formerly lapsed Catholic, Sheen’s faith was restored after meaningful discussions with Malick 30 years ago.
The pair has stayed in touch despite Malick’s notoriously reclusive lifestyle.
“He is the most shy person I have ever met in my life,” says Sheen.
“He was living in Paris years ago and we got reacquainted in 1981. One day we were walking down the street and somebody recognized me and he kept going. I lost him totally! I said, ‘Hey, how are you guys?’ and boom, he was gone.
“He lives in Texas with his wife, who is the love of his life. They grew up together and went to school together but it took two wives in between to get back to that. I adore him.”
The two old friends still engage in deep conversations, says Sheen, and it’s possible that indirectly their tête-à-têtes helped the actor get into his latest film, The Way.
“We talk about family,” Sheen says.
“We talk about spirituality. We talk about the mystery of life.”
All topics covered in the new film.
Directed by his son Emilio Estevez, it gives Sheen his first chance to carry a film since the days of Apocalypse Now.
Describing the movie as a story about “loss, recovery and healing, with some laughs along the way,” Sheen hands in a touching performance as Tom, a man struggling to deal with the death of his son.
What begins as a physical trek on the El camino de Santiago from France to Spain turns into a spiritual pilgrimage as Tom re-examines and rediscovers his faith.
Sheen is out tub-thumping the film to the press, but there is one person he surely won’t be deliberating it with — his friend Malick.
“We have never discussed films,” he says.