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Bobby - Martin Sheen interview

Love and a bullet


The legendary actor Martin Sheen talks exclusively about his son Emilio’s new film Bobby, about the last day in the life of US Senator Robert F Kennedy.

‘Emilio told me the concept that he wanted to take fictional characters and mix them with the reality of Bobby Kennedy’s campaign footage. I thought it was a brilliant idea. I encouraged him as much as I could. It was a long journey. He started it in 1999 and he knew he was on a difficult journey. He could not get anyone interested. He had written 30 or 40 pages and his brother Charlie asked him one day what he was working on and Emilio told him, and Charlie said, “Can I read it?” Charlie was very, very impressed and said you must finish this for yourself and Emilio didn’t quite know how to begin again.

‘So he left town and went to this little hotel near Santa Barbara and the woman checking him in recognised him and said, “What are you doing here?” Emilio said, “I’m trying to write this script about the day Bobby K died,” and the woman says, “I was there at the hotel.”

‘The first character that he started with was a young black man who, on the night after Bobby K was shot, was seen raging in the lobby of the hotel carrying a chair which he flung into a fountain and he screamed “That’s what you get!” Emilio tried to find out who that man was. Where did he come from? What was his name? Who was he? Many people saw this man and it was reported in the press but no one knew who he was. He began to build a life for this character: he was from Watts; he was a Kennedy supporter; he would have been a Martin Luther King supporter; he would have realised that Bobby was the last great hope in America at the time. When I read that I was intrigued and I said, “Keep going, start building on that.”

‘I remember in 2001 The West Wing was honoured by the Robert F Kennedy Foundation as the show which most exemplified Bobby’s ideals. The award was this beautiful bust of him and I gave it to Emilio and said, “Let this be an inspiration to you.” He put it on his desk and it is there to this day. So in the last five years he’s been in Bobby’s presence.

‘I met Kennedy for his campaign in New York back in 1965. I spent about three hours with him during a rally at the old Madison Square Garden. The rally was to save the old Brooklyn Naval Yard, which was going to be torn down. I was amazed at how shy he was. Every now and then he would signal an aide and he would write something and the aide would go off. He spoke for five minutes if not less. He said, “Some men see things and ask why. I dream things that never were and ask why not.”’ (Interview by Kaleem Aftab)

Bobby is on general release from Fri 26 Jan.

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