Emilio Estevez has been a Young Gun, a Mighty Duck, a Repo Man, and a Man at Work. He has been an Outsider and a member of both the Breakfast Club and the Brat Pack. What he has not been is taken seriously.
Which is odd, given that Estevez is a serious kind of guy. ”I’m not feeling very funny these days,” he says gently as he leads the way into his utilitarian offices on the Disney lot, which came along with a production deal. It’s difficult to reconcile this earnest, reserved 34-year-old, dressed in an untucked button-down shirt and jeans, with the heartthrob who sent teenage girls into fits when he became briefly engaged to Demi Moore 10 years ago. It’s even harder to accept that the same man with two directorial failures in his credits has now directed, produced, and starred in the $4.2 million film The War at Home. An emotionally brutal story of a Vietnam veteran returning to Texas to do battle with his parents, played by Kathy Bates and real-life father Martin Sheen, the film is unlikely to draw the Mighty Ducks contingent, but it may turn him into something unexpected: a critics’ darling.
”He’s the most mature of the lads,” says Martin Sheen, 56, comparing Estevez with his actor siblings Ramon, 33, and Charlie, 31. ”He always has been. He’s the only one who has a memory of when I wasn’t doing very well economically. He was made to grow up quicker, and as a result, he had to forgo a lot.”
What Estevez is trying to forgo these days is the paparazzi-worthy reputation earned by having married — and divorced — singer Paula Abdul, from being the son of an actor and the older brother of a tabloid sensation, and from starring in films that attracted moviegoers as quickly as they repelled critics. The Stakeouts and Mighty Ducks made Estevez a rich man, but ”I was at a point in my career where I was in an artistic free fall,” he says without apology. ”I was doing movies for money, or sequels because I had commitments.” When his father brought James Duff’s 1985 play Home Front to Estevez’s attention, ”I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this as a film.’ I felt like I needed this for my spirit. I was just desperate for it.”
It took three years for Estevez to get the film going: First, he had to convince Duff, who also wrote the screenplay, that he was up to the task of directing the film. ”I was thrilled he wanted to play the role, since I hadn’t met anyone who had the acting chops to do the part but also had a name,” says Duff, who adds that he was impressed by the actor’s ”psychotically neat script notes.” But Duff was warned by his agent that perhaps the director of 1986’s Wisdom, starring Estevez and then fiancée Moore as criminals on the run, and the 1990 garbageman comedy Men at Work, shouldn’t be in charge of a bleak drama. ”I suggested a couple of other people to direct it, and to his credit, he didn’t hold it against me,” Duff says with a laugh. ”He said that if any of them were truly interested, he’d consider it. That was Emilio’s way of saying no, which I didn’t know at the time.”