Martin Sheen

Sun Oct 27,2013

Picking a favourite Martin Sheen role is no easy feat. With more than 80 films to his belt across five decades, Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez (according to his passport – Martin Sheen is just a stage name) has body of work stretching all the way back to his 1967 debut as a violent hoodlum in The Incident, and is one of the most respected and gifted actors working today. For this reason and many more, Sheen is the perfect recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award at the upcoming 2013 Dubai International Film Festival.

For many, it might be his iconic depiction of the West Wing’s Josiah Bartlet, otherwise known as ‘the most popular Democratic president in recent memory’ that gets the biggest cheer. During his two terms in office, Barlet managed to negotiate a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, develop a social security reform plan, grant amnesty to illegal immigrants from the Americas and provide strong support for alternative energy, which isn’t bad going. Older fans, however, might recall his magnetic breakthrough appearance as young James Dean-loving rebel Kit Carruthers in Terrence Malick’s classic Badlands, or perhaps his small but noticeable appearance alongside the likes of Orson Welles and Jon Voight in Catch-22. Then there’s his turn as troubled US Army Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now (he ended up having a heart attack after 12 months of gruelling filming), and his onscreen father to offscreen son Charlie in Wall St., in which he played arguably the only moral character on screen. Later Sheen strapped on a big old grey beard for civil war drama Gettysburg in 1993, removing it for his West Wing-a-like lead role in The American President.

One of our favourite Sheen characters in recent years is his portrayal of Captain Queenan, among the few straight-talkers in Martin Scorsese’s sublime tale of mob kingpins and double-crossers, The Departed. Seeing him flung off the side of a New York high-rise was a shock for most of us the first time we saw it. And of course, superhero fans will now recognise Martin as Spider-Man’s surrogate father, the warm-hearted Uncle Ben.

Off-screen, Sheen has been a hugely politically-active force throughout his career, campaigning for gun control, environmental issues and against US military activity. There have been repeated calls for him to run for the Senate, all of which he has turned down. “While activism is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive,” he told 18,000 young student activists in 2010.

While 18,000 might be a bit of a squeeze for us here at DIFF, we will be holding a Q&A event with Sheen to celebrate his career and the Lifetime Achievement Award. If you’d like to hear from the man himself which of his 80-plus roles he holds closest to his heart, you’ll probably want to race to get a ticket as soon as they become available.

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