Onscreen sheen Badlands (1973) Director Terrence Malick delivered a stunning feature movie debut that saw Sissy Spacek costarring alongside Sheen. As the self-absorbed, desensitised Kit Carruthers, Sheen, wrote Time magazine film critic Jay Cocks, “conveys Kit’s craziness so effectively because he does not ever act the madman; he is, instead, a disturbed man trying to act sane”. apocalypse now (1979) During this acclaimed Vietnam War movie by director Francis Ford Coppola, 36-year-old Sheen – who plays the central character of Captain Willard, who is on a mission to kill fellow US Army officer, Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando – suffered not only a heart attack but also a nervous breakdown. Recovering quickly, however, Sheen’s for-real portrayal nabbed him an American Movie Award for Best Actor. da (1988) In Ireland, at least, this remains one of Sheen’s most fondly remembered roles (as well as one of the few movies that Sheen himself recalls with pride) as he plays a New York-based writer returning to Ireland to bury his father. wall street (1987) Director Oliver Stone’s movie about predatory financial sharks features Sheen co-starring with his son, Charlie, as a conflicted workingclass father and son. With a nice comic touch, the real life fatherand-son pair revisited their Wall Street performances in the parody Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993). the west wing (1999-2006) Sheen has played various US presidents (actual and fictitious) throughout his career, but his best-known “President” must surely be Josiah “Jed” Bartlet in this long-running television series that garnered the actor a Golden Globe award as well as six Emmy nominations (for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series).
Sheen in his pivotal role as Captain Benjamin L. Willard, in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
substantial roles for men of his age in what he terms “big” movies. “I have to be content with either doing small parts in big pictures – such as my role in the latest SpiderMan movie – or big parts in small pictures. I prefer to do the big parts, to be honest, because I still love to perform. I’m still healthy, too, so I’m lucky enough.” He admits to being extremely fortunate to have been able to enjoy a full career doing something he clearly loves – he has been acting since the early 1960s. “I have absolutely no regrets, and I’m very fortunate to continue to work. It’s remarkable I’ve been able to do it, to continue to do it. I don’t have any prescription for it – it just happened that way. You can do it, I think, if you just stay alert. Or if your life is not separated from your career; if you’re able to unite all the aspects of your life …” Sheen says that for many years he was “fragmented … I was an actor over here and father over there, a husband over there, and a brother over here … Everything was compartmentalised, and I was
pulled and pushed this way and that.” All this stopped, he says, over 30 years ago, when he experienced a religious conversion. This, he reveals, culminated in his return to Catholicism. “That really was a defining moment in my life, because it brought me to the centre of my life, and for me that meant I was no longer fragmented. From that point, I started to live a joyful, honest, free life, where I became my authentic self. All of us, no matter how we try to deny it, are looking for an authentic life.” It all started, effectively, for Sheen in his late teens, in Dayton, Ohio. At this point, he was known by his birth name, Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez, but on his arrival in New York in 1959, he adopted a less obviously ethnic name in order to nab those all-important early acting parts. The first ten years of his acting career, he remembers, were in theatre (from off-off-Broadway to Broadway itself) and television (bit parts in shows such as The Defenders, Route 66). “Those shows would sustain you,”