In the 1980s Emilio Estevez was one of the biggest names in Hollywood. He was one of the main members of the so-called “Brat Pack” of young actors who regularly starred together in teen movies, and he had a wealth of other flicks to his name. However, his on-screen career dwindled in the following decades for a variety of reasons. And as a result, he has only acted a handful of times in the last two decades.
Estevez came from a family with acting in its very DNA; his father is Apocalypse Now and The West Wing legend Martin Sheen and his brother is the comedy star Charlie Sheen. And Estevez has worked with both many times over the years.
Martin Sheen, meanwhile, was born Ramón Estevez, but he later chose his current name. And Charlie, whose birth name is Carlos Estevez, followed his father’s lead. But Estevez chose not to adopt this moniker when trying to make it in Hollywood.
Estevez explained why he didn’t want to change his name in an interview with People magazine in 1983. Then only 20 years old, the actor said, “I didn’t want to ride into the business as Martin Sheen’s son.” Indeed, here was a young man determined to make it on his own.
Estevez shot into the public consciousness that year in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders. And alongside a who’s who of young male Hollywood talent, Estevez made an impression on viewers. This is no small feat when you consider Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe were also part of the cast.
Estevez also starred in the horror anthology Nightmares in 1983 and then the subversive black comedy Repo Man a year later. But in 1985 he appeared in two teen movies that would become iconic and solidify his career: The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire.
In a 2011 interview with The Hollywood News, Estevez was philosophical about his part in the two megahits. He remarked, “What is always funny to me, is that those two films were, at that time, simply jobs. The director and producers said ‘yes’ as opposed to the other ten or twenty auditions that I went in on that particular week who said ‘no.’”
Following the success of the teen films and others like them, New York magazine columnist David Blum gave a name to the group of talented young actors taking Hollywood by storm. The so-called “Brat Pack” consisted of Estevez, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, among others.
The name was a play on the Rat Pack – the group of entertainers in the 1950s and ‘60s that included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. However, Estevez told The Hollywood Network that he always disliked being associated with the “Brat Pack” name. He lamented, “I never saw it as a term of endearment.”
Estevez claimed that Blum had been tasked by New York magazine with conducting an interview that was exclusively about his career and his ambitions in the movie business. However, Estevez was in the midst of filming St. Elmo’s Fire – which had an ensemble cast. He continued, “… My instinct was that this was a ‘shared experience,’ and I was uncomfortable having the spotlight on me so completely.”
Estevez continued, “I suppose if I had been more egotistical and self-promotional the article never would have seen the light of day… So, [we had] a few nights out with the writer and fellow cast mates and a new angle was created – and [it] evaporated my profile on being taken as serious filmmaker in waiting.”
Around this time, Estevez’s partner was model Carey Salley. The couple had two children together: a son, Taylor, born in 1984 and a daughter, Paloma, who came two years later. Sadly, the two broke up the same year their daughter was born. However, Estevez soon entered into a whirlwind relationship with Demo Moore while on the set of St Elmo’s Fire, and they were soon engaged.
But in terms of his career, Estevez had other ambitions that he wanted to pursue at this time: namely writing and directing. So as soon as he could manage it, he moved behind the camera with a project that was a lightning rod for publicity.
At the age of 23, Estevez secured a deal with Gladden Entertainment to produce, write and direct Wisdom – a romantic crime story about a modern-day Robin Hood-style bank robber. This made him the youngest person in history to have full creative control over a single major motion picture. In the press, Estevez was compared to Orson Welles – who was only 24 when he made Citizen Kane.
Estevez was very aware of the hype surrounding someone so young directing a big film. He told the Ottawa Citizen in 1987, “I made the movie first for myself, and I think just getting it done is an accomplishment. I fought my battle in just getting it done, and being the youngest person to get it done. Not that I set out to break any kind of record or anything, or to prove to anybody that I could do it.”
Unfortunately, Estevez’s first foray into directing was critically derided and it was a failure at the box office. In 1987 Estevez told The Morning Call newspaper that the film’s reception “was a very disappointing experience – the outcome of it.” He added, “I shouldn’t say disappointing. I should say devastating – the response, how it was received. I tell you what: It was not a great film, but it was a good film.”
Estevez recognized at the time that a major flaw for him was his writing, which he said was “an area of weakness.” He added, “I think I need to get an objective point of view.” Indeed, his self-awareness showed he knew that he still had a lot of learning to do to refine his craft.
Perhaps another mistake Estevez made with Wisdom was in the casting of the female lead. He chose Demi Moore – his fiancé and a fellow Brat Pack star. In 1988 she told The Ottawa Citizen, “I’m not going to sit here and say it was the most positive professional move for me when I made that picture.”
Moore said that she had agreed to play the role due to her closeness to Estevez and because she’d been a part of the project from its very inception. The actress said, “I was around from the day [Estevez] wrote the first page. I would read every page, and we would talk. The attachment to the project was real.”
Estevez and Moore planned to marry in December 1986 but had cancelled the wedding in the end. People magazine speculated that perhaps they might still make their relationship work but, less than a year later, Moore had married another actor: Bruce Willis. Estevez had taken painful blows in his professional and personal life, but he soon rebounded.
Estevez starred in Stakeout in 1987, which was a hit, and he also served as Tom Cruise’s best man in his wedding to Mimi Rogers that same year. Young Guns – in which Estevez plays legendary outlaw Billy the Kid – followed in 1988. He then returned for the sequel Young Guns II two years later. And with these successes under his belt, he subsequently returned to the director’s chair for his next film.
In 1990 Estevez wrote and directed the action-packed comedy Men at Work. His co-star was his brother Charlie Sheen and, though this time the movie was a financial success, the reviews were fairly negative. On that note, Estevez articulated the problems with his first two movies as a director to The Hollywood News two decades later.
“From the beginning of my career, I was always interested in directing, writing and storytelling,” Estevez said. “Early on, I was probably driven by my ambition rather than by good, sound material, as evidenced by my first two pictures as writer/director…” He admitted that the movies “suffered from my lack of maturity as an artist…”
In The Hollywood News interview, Estevez also addressed something that speaks to the independent path his career would take. He felt that his work then “not only suffered from my lack of maturity as an artist, but also my willingness to please the studio’s desire to target a specific demographic for the films.” He continued, “Audiences are oftentimes smarter than the studios give them credit for and can ‘smell’ bad movies before opening day.”
After the mixed results of his first two films as director, Estevez’s personal life hit the gossip columns again when he dated and then married pop star Paula Abdul. They tied the knot in 1992 but were divorced a mere two years later due to “irreconcilable differences.”
It transpired that Abdul had wanted to start a family with Estevez, but he was reluctant as he already had his two children from his relationship with Carey Salley. According to Entertainment Weekly, she said in 1995, “It was very hard for him to admit that he couldn’t handle having kids again. It was heartbreaking for us both.”
In the 1990s Estevez starred in The Mighty Ducks trilogy for Disney. These films gave him the security of having a popular franchise to work on and they allowed him to increase his cache in Hollywood again. He then used the third movie in the series to secure his next directing opportunity.
Estevez revealed to The Guardian in 2006 that he agreed to appear in D3: The Mighty Ducks for “no money.” Disney would then finance his next directorial project, The War at Home – a drama about a Vietnam War veteran with PTSD. And though this arrangement worked to get the film made, problems lay ahead for Estevez.
The film received the best reviews that Estevez has ever had for a directorial effort and he was proud of it. The director told The Hollywood News that he thought it was “a performance piece for all of the actors involved.” But issues arose when Disney allegedly released the film in only four theaters. Estevez explained to The Guardian, “The heartbreak of that almost forced me out of the business.”
After The War at Home, Estevez had a bit-part in 1996’s Mission: Impossible and then settled into some TV movies later in the decade. In the early 21st century the star then made his debut as a voice actor in the English dubbed version of The 3 Wise Men. However, all the while he was still plying his trade as a director; only now he had transitioned to television shows.
Over a period of four years from 2004, Estevez directed episodes of Cold Case, CSI: NY, Criminal Minds and Numb3rs. But in the midst of this, he would also make one of his most successful projects to date: 2006’s Bobby. This film follows a diverse and disparate group of staff members and guests at the Ambassador Hotel on the day of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Apparently, Estevez was extremely happy with how the film turned out. He told The Hollywood News, “I am very proud of Bobby. To be on that film set, with all of those wonderful, extraordinary actors and personalities who were all at such different moments in their careers and lives, was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience.”
Estevez told The Guardian in 2006 that he’d come up with the idea to do the film over a decade previously. He had also apparently spent hours in libraries researching and reading old magazines and newspapers to prepare for the flick. He became convinced that Bobby Kennedy had possessed the ability to bridge the racial gap in American society and heal the conflict between the establishment and the counter culture of the time. And as a result, his death had represented a major blow to resolving those issues.
Talking of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, Estevez said, “I believe it was one of the most important events of the 20th century. I believe we went into a free fall after that. We became cynical and resigned. The killing of [Kennedy] was the death of decency and the death of hope, the death of manners, the death of grace and formality. We unravelled culturally and spiritually after his death.”
Bobby was an ambitious film with a complex narrative and a multitude of characters to keep track of. The movie got mixed reviews; several movie critics lauded his Estevez’s efforts, though the movie received an approval rating of 46 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Nevertheless, the comprehensive nature of the library research Estevez conducted for Bobby would inspire his latest directorial effort.
Estevez had become very familiar with the Los Angeles Public Library while prepping for Bobby. And he’d noticed over time that there was a large number of homeless people who often spent their days there. As a result, the library employees had effectively become their social workers – for which they weren’t trained.
Estevez saw that the homeless were seeking refuge in a public space, and the people who worked there were treating them with dignity. Talking of the film, he told IndieWire in April 2019, “Librarians are seeing themselves reflected on screen in a non-stereotypical way. Homeless individuals are seeing themselves, saying, ‘Wow, wow. Okay. I look heroic. There’s some dignity there. There’s some humor there.’”
It took a long time to get the film made, but The Public was finally released in April 2019. It tells the story of a group of homeless people who refuse to leave a Cincinnati public library due to the bitterly cold weather after all of the local emergency shelters fill up. The situation devolves into a standoff with local police – while two librarians desperately try to find the best outcome for everyone.
Estevez, meanwhile, clarified to IndieWire that he has no intention of returning to studio filmmaking. The director said, “I finally just said, ‘I’m not gonna participate in the types of films other people want me to make. I’m gonna make films that matter to me.’”
The director continued, “… Studio filmmaking comes with its own costs. And its own set of restrictions.” He felt unsure that a major movie studio would have supported The Public – but making it independently meant he only had to answer to himself. Estevez added, “There’s a freedom in making independent films.”