In Discussion with Emilio Estevez, Writer and Director of

by Roger Durling

Bobby re-imagines one of the most explosively tragic nights in
American history. By following the stories of 22 fictional
characters in the Ambassador Hotel on the fateful eve that
presidential hopeful Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot,
writer/director Emilio Estevez — in full career resuscitation
mode — and an accomplished ensemble cast including Demi Moore,
Lindsay Lohan, Sharon Stone, William H. Macy, Freddy Rodríguez,
Martin Sheen, Anthony Hopkins, and Laurence Fishburne among many
others forge an intimate mosaic of an America careening toward a
moment of shattering change. The different characters navigate
prejudice, injustice, chaos, and their own complicated personal
lives while seeking the last glimmering signs of hope in Kennedy’s
idealism. I sat down with Estevez to chat about Bobby, which opens
in Santa Barbara theaters on Friday.

Why did you feel compelled to write about Robert F.
I was a child of the ’60s, even though a small
child. And 1968, specifically, was in many ways the year the world
shifted, when you think of the events that transpired during that
year — starting with the Tet Offensive, then [Walter] Cronkite
going to Vietnam and saying on national television that the war
isn’t winnable, then Johnson saying, “Well, if I don’t have
Cronkite, I don’t have the American people,” and then Martin Luther
King Jr.’s assassination, the Paris riots, Bobby’s assassination,
the Chicago convention …

Emilio_Estevez-186-258.jpgThe world was indeed upside down. I was
six in 1968 and I looked to my parents for comfort, for some
explanation, and they were as confused as I was in many ways. They
couldn’t give me answers. [Then] I was asked to be on a photo shoot
at the Ambassador Hotel in 2000. In between the photo sets, they
asked us if we wanted a tour and I said, “Yes, of course.” They
took us downstairs and through the kitchen and into the pantry and
behind these padlocked doors — we walked and stood where Bobby
fell. My childhood came back to me in that moment.

I remember where I was that morning I heard the news. We were in
Ohio and we were staying at my grandmother’s house and I remember
seeing it on the news, running upstairs, and waking my father,
remembering how he wept for two days until the news came that he
had passed on.

The following year in 1969, when we relocated from New York to
Los Angeles, the first stop we made was the Ambassador. I remember
holding my father’s hand, walking through the lobby, walking
through the Embassy vault room, and I recall him saying, “This is
the place. This is where it all happened. This is the place where
the music died.” So, cut back to 2000, standing in the Ambassador,
and my childhood literally came back to me, and I thought to
myself, “Why hasn’t anybody made this story?”

Why did you choose to tell this story in vignettes as
opposed to a linear narrative?
I wanted to focus on the
people who were affected, the ordinary unknowns. What I wanted to
do was create characters who were emblematic of the times and put
them in this hotel. And the hotel would serve as a microcosm for
what was happening in the country at the time. And in the tradition
of The Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure, we took this
hotel and turned it upside down, capsized it. In many ways, it’s a
disaster movie.

The characters on the screen were based on real
Inspired by. For example, the photo of the busboy
holding Bobby’s head, moments after the shots, inspired Freddy
Rodríguez’s character José.

For me, the women’s stories in the movie are so
compelling. How did the stories of the different women come
It’s really the voice of my mother. I listened to
her. I paid attention. My mother is not a things-and-stuff person;
however, she missed having dinner with LBJ in 1965 because she
couldn’t find the right hat. She tells the story and she’s
embarrassed to tell it, but it’s true. My father was a table away
from the president having a steak, and meanwhile my mother is back
at the hotel trying seven different hats and missed the whole
event. So she is in many ways the Helen Hunt character. I would
listen to her tell stories of her growing older and not feeling
sexy. And I laugh, and meanwhile I’m taking notes — this is great
material. So, thank you, mom.

You speak of your mom as an influence but how much was
your dad, Martin Sheen, an influence?
We all know
how political he is.
You couldn’t grow up in our house and
not be politically aware. My father was involved when I was growing
up, but certainly not as committed as he is now. But it was

Some of the scenes were shot at the Ambassador Hotel
before it was demolished.
A few of them were. We shot
there the first week of production. The schedule was a total of 37
days, so the first five were there. And I thought it was important
for the actors to stand on that ground to absorb a certain
sentiment that first week for the other locations. Our agreement
with the L.A. School Board was that we wouldn’t get in their way
and they wouldn’t get into ours and that the building would come
down. So it truly was by the grace of God that we were allowed
there. We had to jump through all sorts of hoops and they allowed
us those five days which I thought was miraculous.

When you speak about Robert F. Kennedy, you’re so
Well, I believe that the death of Bobby
Kennedy was the death of decency in America. I believe it was the
death of formalism, mannerisms, poetry. The death of a dream. For
me, I am unapologetically optimistic and idealistic and I don’t
think there’s anything wrong with that. Time magazine attacked me
this week for being — what did they call me? — hyper-earnest. When
is that a bad thing? When is idealism a bad thing? I think that
what we saw happen in this country recently on Election Day is a
call for change. I believe people want change.


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