The latest evidence of the Sheen movie dynasty is "Cadence," directed by Martin Sheen with a cast including himself and sons Charlie Sheen and Ramon Estevez.
The film follows last year's "Men at Work," starring Charlie and brother Emilio Estevez and directed and written by Emilio. Next up: a bullfighting movie starring Emilio and directed by Martin. Besides the three sons, Martin has a daughter, Renee, with a growing career as an actress."Where did he go wrong?" Martin laughed loudly at the question.
"If anyone had told me that all my children would become actors, I wouldn't have believed it," he said. "But I guess it makes perfect sense. They went just about everywhere with me on locations. They learned almost more by osmosis than anything else. Frankly, I thought they'd be sick of it and never want to be around a movie set. But the reverse has happened.
"They have an instinct for it. It brings great joy to them. And they're damned good at it."
"Cadence" is a dramatic story of a hard-bitten sergeant (Martin) who bedevils the rebellious prisoner (Charlie) in an army stockade.
"I go back so far with the project that I was young enough to play the role that Charlie plays," Martin Sheen recalled in an interview. "It was rekindled a couple of years ago when I ran into (screenwriter) Dennis Shryack in a restaurant, and he suggested trying it with Charlie. I thought it wasn't a bad idea.
"I gave it to Charlie, and he asked if we could do an updated rewrite - originally it took place in the '50s - and he had some other reservations. In fact, he and I drew up the scenario together."
Did Martin need an appointment with his son the star or contact him through his agent?
"I've been trying to get through to Charlie for 25 years," Sheen responded with a laugh.
"He is quite extraordinary. If he has one gift that I envy at his age, it's the acceptance of responsibility, of his position, of his mistakes, of his successes. He's quite remarkable."
Charlie signed on at a fraction of his normal salary, as did Martin. Even so, "Cadence" was a hard-sell with the studios. After numerous turndowns, the project was undertaken by the Movie Group headed by Peter E. Strauss, with Republic Pictures as distributor.
Ramon, the middle Sheen brother, joined the cast as a humorous prison guard. "We had to disguise Ramon so he wouldn't come off as Charlie's brother," said Martin. "We put glasses on him and made sure he wore his hat most of the time."
"Cadence" began filming at a former army base in British Columbia with Gary Busey as the sergeant. Busey and director Sheen ran into the customary artistic differences "and personal differences," and Martin reluctantly took over the role, which was not easy for someone directing his first feature. He originally planned to play a lesser but important role, which his friend F. Murray Abraham agreed to do without billing credit.
What did Sheen learn as a director?
"I learned how much I didn't know. I learned how much I had absorbed about directing from Francis Coppola (`Apocalypse Now') and Terence Mallick (`Badlands'). I learned I had to bring in every measure of psychological and ecumenical and spiritual and physical talent that I had," Martin said.
"The thing I learned about myself was how impatient I could be. I have a healthy respect for directors - not that I didn't have before. Now I know why. I can't wait to do it again."
Sheen was born into a Spanish-Irish family of 10 children in Dayton, Ohio, 50 years ago. His name was Ramon Estevez, and he changed it to Martin Sheen as an aspiring actor in New York (sons Emilio and Ramon retained the family name). Newly married and with a growing family, Sheen washed cars, bused dishes, jerked sodas and delivered packages for American Express between rounds of casting offices.
After a few small stage roles, he scored with "The Subject Was Roses" in 1964 and repeated his role in the film version that won an Academy Award for Jack Albertson. He has worked steadily ever since - in theater ("Romeo and Juliet," "Death of a Salesman"), television ("The Execution of Private Slovick," "The Missiles of October" as Robert Kennedy) and films ("That Championship Season," "Ghandi," "Wall Street" as Charlie's father).
Martin remains amazed at the acting careers of his offspring.
"I'm absolutely stunned by it," he said. "I see them on the screen, and I just weep. I look at these people who are my dear friends, my children, and there they are as fellow actors! I weep with joy, with sorrow sometimes, that they have to be in touch with so much of themselves so often. It's tough stuff being an actor."