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The day Bobby Kennedy died is the setting for a new movie by Emilio Estevez, who had been touched by the young politician – literally as well as metaphorically, he tells Philippa Wherrett, at the film’s world premiere in Venice.

Emilio Estevez wrote, directed, produced and stars in Bobby, a political drama which he says launches “the next phase of my life and career”. The movie examines a group of people present at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968 – the night American Senator Bobby F. Kennedy was assassinated. But the film which “brings him back into the game” nearly didn’t happen – until he met a hotel receptionist at Pismo Beach.

Estevez’ movie career stalled in 1996 after the third and final movie in The Mighty Ducks franchise, and for the past five years he’s been working on getting this film made.

"writers block"

Estevez had written 30 pages when a severe case of writers block stalled him for 12 months. His brother, Charlie, read the 30 pages and told Estevez, “You have to finish writing this. It could change your life.” The next day Estevez drove to Pismo Beach, looking for somewhere to dig in and write. It was the height of summer and his choices were limited. He ended up at a ramshackle hotel. The receptionist recognised him as he checked in. “She asked what I was doing up there and I said I’m writing a script about the day Bobby Kennedy was shot,” recalls Estevez. “She nearly fell over. Her eyes rolled up and she said ‘I was there!’”.

Diane, the role which would be played by Lindsay Lohan, was a Youth for Kennedy volunteer who spent the day canvassing in Pasadena. “She broke my writer’s block and I wrote that character, with her permission, and incorporated her into the piece,” says Estevez. “When the shots broke out Diane said it was as if the rug was pulled out from underneath her entire generation.” Diane went on to marry two men in order to keep them from being drafted to fight in Vietnam.

Estevez finished writing the screenplay in 2001. A few years later Bobby was ready for production, only to have the finance fall through. Three years later Harvey Weinstein came on board. Estevez had his money and soon he had a cast any first time writer/director would sell his soul for: Sharon Stone, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Harry Belafonte, Heather Graham, Ashton Kucher, Helen Hunt, Laurence Fishburn, Lindsay Lohan, Anthony Hopkins, Christian Slater, Elijah Wood and dad Sheen. And they all worked for scale.

Some of the 22 characters Estevez uses to explore the social pulse of those times are based on the experiences of people like Diane. Other characters are based on real people, but aren’t biographical. The character of Jose the bus boy played by Freddy Rodriguez, who is best known for his role as embalmer Frederico Diaz in the hugely popular TV soap Six Feet Under, is loosely based on the real bus boy who held the mortally wounded Senator Kennedy in his arms, giving Bobby his rosary beads to hold onto. There are also completely fictional characters – Demi Moore as a vicious drunk. Bill Macy as a womanising cheater and Christian Slater as a racist bigot.

It’s poignant and powerful stuff and Estevez means it to be. Because he has a message. “It’s time for Robert Kennedy. It’s time to remember what he stood for. It’s time to remember his voice. He was an extraordinary leader. He was more than a politician. He stood for the little guy, for the underdog”. After Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, Nixon was elected and re-elected on the basis of his promise to pull America out of the Vietnam war. Instead he increased the US military presence there. He seemed unstoppable, until the Watergate scandal. Estevez says Bobby’s assassination not only changed the political landscape it struck at the heart of the American people. “It was the death of decency. It was the death of hope and I think we have yet to recover from that. I think we’re still waiting.” Estevez’ hope is that his film will galvanise young people to get involved in politics. “Bobby Kennedy was very sexy. He was charismatic. We need to sex up the political process and it’s incumbent upon Lindsay’s generation to re-engage with the political process.”

In some quarters Estevez’ film has been characterised as a criticism of the current American government. However, Estevez points out that he wrote the screenplay before 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The film has become fittingly and very sadly relevant. And it becomes more and more relevant as time goes on,” says Estevez, “But it was never meant as an indictment. This movie is meant to inspire.”

"that had a profound affect on me"

Robert F Kennedy has been a part of Estevez’ consciousness since he was 5 years old. In 1967 in New York, Estevez was riding on his father’s shoulders when Bobby reached out and touched Estevez’ hand. Two years later Estevez and his father visited the Ambassador Hotel. “I remember walking through the halls, holding my father’s hand, walking through the lobby and the ballroom and just being knocked out by what my father was telling me. He said this is the day the music died. This is where it happened. This is where it changed. And that had a profound affect on me.”

But it wasn’t until 2000 that Estevez felt inspired to start writing. He and Charlie were doing a photo shoot at the Ambassador Hotel. “I was given the grand tour, including the spot where Bobby fell. And I started to imagine what this could be, what this movie could be, what this story would be,” recalls Estevez. “What I was curious to discover and make the film about was the ordinary people, the people at the epicentre of this important event. I stood at that place where Bobby Kennedy fell and I started to imagine how all of these lives were changed.”

And now his own.

Published March 8, 2007

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Emilio Estevez - in Bobby


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