TORONTO (CP) _ Emilio Estevez is the first to admit his reputation wasn’t exactly that of a top-notch film-maker as he struggled to make his new movie about the events at L.A.’s storied Ambassador Hotel on the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.
"I’ve been in movie jail for the last 10 years," Estevez said with a laugh at a Toronto International Film Festival news conference on Thursday after "Bobby" made its North American premiere. "It’s been a very interesting decade … it feels good to be back."
But his lack of a stellar film-making CV didn’t seem to discourage serious actors from clamouring to join the cast once word got around in Hollywood about "Bobby," a moving film about the patrons and employees of the Ambassador and how their lives intersected on June 4, 1968, when Kennedy was gunned down in the hotel’s kitchen after a triumphant political speech.
Estevez’s onetime flame, Demi Moore, and Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins were among the first to come on board, and then "the ball was in motion," Estevez said. Soon William H. Macy, Sharon Stone, Helen Hunt, Christian Slater, Laurence Fishburne, Harry Belafonte, Lindsay Lohan, Joy Bryant, Heather Graham, Elijah Wood and Canadian Joshua Jackson, among many others, joined the all-star cast. Or as the loquacious Stone, interjecting frequently during the news conference, described the phenomenon: "We started this movie with four actors. And we knew, we believed and we had the faith, that the actors would come."
"Bobby" particularly resonates now, with the U.S. mired in an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq that’s reminiscent of the situation in Vietnam during Kennedy’s ill-fated run for the presidency. But Estevez said it wasn’t his intention to take advantage of the current political climate in the United States. He started writing the script in 2000 and finished it by 2001 _ before the war on terror began.
"And then 9-11 happened and the world turned upside down," he said. "Sadly, the film has become more and more relevant now. And it is not by design, by my design, unfortunately, it’s by the design of the current administration … The movie forces us now to take a look at what we’re doing, our inhumanity to one another. Bobby Kennedy believed that we are all connected, we are all brothers and sisters, and we share the same short moment of life, and what we choose to do with that moment is entirely up to us. We can either choose to move, touch and inspire people, or we can go in another direction."
He adds: "We need Bobby Kennedy’s voice probably now more than ever."
Estevez is emotional about the film, breaking down at one point during the news conference _ joined soon in his tears by Stone, who caressed his back while he collected himself. Estevez wept recalling how he suffered a terrible bout of writer’s block, unable to get beyond page 30 in the script.
"I was doing anything and everything I could to distract myself from the work. My parents dispatched my brother to my house because I think they were nervous actually about where I was at … and he said ‘Can I see those 30 pages, brother?’ " Estevez said, his voice breaking.
"He took the 30 pages to the backyard and he read them, and he came back inside and he said: ‘You have to go finish this, you have to do this, this is potentially your life’s work, it will change your life if you finish it.’ "
The film features a couple of truly standout performances _ one, surprisingly, from Demi Moore as the fading and alcoholic Virginia Fallon, a Hollywood lounge singer performing at the Ambassador the night of Kennedy’s shooting. Moore and Stone share a powerful scene in the film as a drunken Fallon apologizes for her past shoddy treatment of Stone’s character, the hotel beautician.
"I was terrified," says Estevez _ understandably given the seeming chilliness between Stone and Moore at the news conference. Stone rarely let Moore, tiny yet gorgeous in a dark-green short-sleeved dress, finish her answers to the questions put to her by assembled media.
"It was like locking two tigresses in a cage, throwing away the key and running away," Estevez says of the scene, but adds it ended up being one of the most "potent" moments in the movie.
Freddy Rodrigues, best known as Rico on the HBO drama "Six Feet Under," is also enthralling as the young Mexican busboy who ends up cradling Kennedy’s head in his lap as he lies dying after the shooting. Nonetheless, Estevez doesn’t consider the star-studded cast to come anywhere near the wattage of the subject.
"He was Mick Jagger and Tom Cruise all rolled into one," Estevez says of Kennedy, who appears in the movie through old newsreel footage. "He was so charismatic, he was gorgeous, people loved him … the star of the film is Bobby Kennedy."