Martin Sheen: 82 years between acting and activism

Martin Sheen: 82 years between acting and activism

Martin Sheen

His real name is Ramón Gerard Antonio Estévez, but from the beginning he is known to the general public simply as Martin Sheen. World-famous actor and above all capable of crossing generations, today 3 August 2021 he turns 82: on the occasion of this important anniversary, we briefly retrace his career and his life.

From the seventies with fury

As the full name would suggest, Martin Sheen is the son of immigrants: his father was in fact called Francisco Estévez Martínez and was originally from Spain, while his mother was called Mary-Ann Phelan and she was of Irish descent, to be precise from County Tipperary. Martin was born in Ohio where his parents had moved. His was a large family, consisting of ten brothers (including him) and a sister.

His big dream, fortunately, will blossom slowly. After an initial work in the theater, where he founded a small company, he carves out his space by covering numerous roles on the small screen in the sixties. He then decides to focus on television and cinema and the turning point comes with his interpretation, in 1974, of Eddie Slovik in the television film The Execution of Private Slovik, which focuses precisely on the only US army soldier executed for desertion during the second world war.

Even though the film is not distributed internationally, Martin with that role earns a nomination for Best Actor for the Emmy Award. He doesn't win, but that's enough to point it out to Francis Ford Coppola, who chooses him for the role of Captain Benjamin Willard, the protagonist of his upcoming Apocalypse Now. It is precisely his participation in this film that gives Sheen international fame, despite the psychological fatigue he accuses on the set and which has serious consequences for him. Heavily stressed, he first encounters alcohol problems and then even a heart attack in the middle of the shoot, so much so that he must be replaced by a stunt double in the shots where it was not necessary to see his face.

From the Eighties to reinvention

Clear of problems and risks, Apocalypse Now is for Martin Sheen the ticket both to international fame and to a bright career on the big and small screen. Many of his roles have been those of political and sometimes even historical personalities, such as his portrayal of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the 1983 Kennedy miniseries or that of Democratic President Jed Bartlet in the TV series West Wing - All the President's Men (aired from 1999 to 2006). This dedication to such specifically political roles is not entirely accidental: the actor is in fact passionate about the subject both at work and in private life.

Da an artistic point of view Martin Sheen has never made any secret of being very inspired by James Dean, but he has also had the opportunity to work with prominent actors such as Kirk Douglas. With the latter he starred in the film Countdown Dimensione Zero (original title The Final Countdown), released in 1980 and which sees the two respectively in the role of Warren Lasky and captain Matthew Yelland.

However for the more people distinctly nerd has become famous only in much more recent times: in 2010 he was in fact hired by Mark Webb for The Amazing Spider-Man, the reboot later released in 2012 and which featured Andrew Garfield in the role of the wall climber. Martin Sheen in this film has the key role of playing Ben Parker, "Uncle Ben" who indirectly gives birth to Spider-Man through his own death. In the same years, the actor also appears in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, where he plays Captain Oliver Queenan. The saga would then continue in 2014 with The Amazing Spider-Man 2: The Power of Electro, where Sheen (a bit inevitably) did not reappear.

Martin Sheen, that is not only cinema

Martin Sheen is not only known for his film and television career, on the contrary his prerogative is to be a very open and determined person to self- refinement and reinvention. In this sense, he also worked as a voice actor, lending his voice and likeness to the Illusive Man in the famous video game Mass Effect 2, a role which, among other things, he also reprized in the third chapter of the saga. He also appears as a guest voice in the controversial episode The Director and the Poor (1997) of the ninth season of The Simpsons.

In this episode he lends his voice to the “ true ”Seymour Skinner, a veteran of the Vietnam war later believed dead and replaced by Armin Tamzariam, a reckless young man whom he had served as a mentor on the battlefield. Clearly, according to the innate sense of quotation of the animated series, the fact that the character voiced by Sheen is a Vietnam veteran is a clear reference to Apocalypse Now.

The episode, however, did not have much luck: the upheaval of a much loved character like Principal Skinner caused perplexity even among the insiders. So much so that, following the negative feedback, the events narrated were no longer resumed in subsequent episodes (excluding some impromptu gags). In Italy, Sheen's voice was replaced by that of another guest star, the journalist Paolo Liguori.

Recent years, between universities and activism

Married since 1961 and with four children (of which the most famous is Charlie Sheen), Martin Sheen continues to both act and expand his culture. At the age of sixty-five he in fact wanted to start university, a symbolic action given that in his youth he had to choose between the academy and attempting the way of the show. In this sense, in 2006 he was actually registered as a freshman at NUI (National University of Ireland), a country with a strong significance for him being that of his mother's origin.

However, this did not prevent him from actively taking an interest in politics, adhering to liberal, environmentalist and pacifist positions; some of his most famous interventions are precisely against the military conduct of the United States.

In this regard, also due to his numerous roles (both historical and fictitious) linked to the world of politics, there was also someone who saw him as a possible candidate for the presidency of the United States. Sheen, however, has never supported these visions, arguing that his job is that of an actor and that he wants to remain so. However, this statement was an occasion for him for another political dig, in which he asserted that "there is no place for a pacifist in the White House".

In recent years, Martin Sheen has also been the protagonist of a bad episode: at the end of 2018 he was missing with his wife following a big fire in the city of Malibu. A few days after a worried tweet from his son Charlie, the actor was found and interviewed; in this circumstance he was able to reassure his children that he and his wife were okay.

At the end of 2019, Sheen signed to play J. Edgar Hoover in the biopic Judas and the Black Messiah, concerning the life of African American activist Fred Hampton. The film is currently in post-production; its distribution, originally scheduled for August 21 this year, has been postponed due to the Coronavirus epidemic. We just have to wait to see him in a now classic role for him and, in the meantime, wish him a happy birthday!

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