He is probably best known for his starring role as an Army captain assigned to assassinate a rogue officer in 1979’s “Apocalypse Now,” and for playing Catholic President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet on Aaron Sorkin’s NBC White House drama “The West Wing” (1999-2006).
Raised in Ohio in a large Catholic family, Sheen fell away from the faith, but a heart attack suffered during production on “Apocalypse Now” brought him back.
From the National Catholic Reporter:
Martin’s Catholic faith is very important to him. Although he was away from it for a few years, he came back in 1977 after a serious heart attack. Now he admits he can’t imagine living without it. Back then he made some changes to his life. He’d developed a drinking problem and gave that up. He had to learn to be true to his separate roles: husband, father, and actor. A trip he made to India for the filming of Gandhi in 1981 made him conscious of the many suffering the miseries of poverty. He was influenced by the book, The Brothers Karamazov. He spent time in Paris and remembers the impact of St. Joseph’s Church on the Right Bank, an English speaking church that Oscar Wilde had known. It became the site of his own spiritual renewal. That experience in Paris alerted him to the realization that the internationality of the church allows it to offer a home despite geographic distances.
Sheen is devoted to the church. He attends Mass in his home parish of Our Lady of Malibu. A tiny parish, it welcomed five converts at the Easter Vigil — four women and one man. He loves the Gospel passage that describes the women going to the tomb “very early in the morning while it was still dark. …”
Sheen is also a supporter of same-sex marriage, so he’s not entirely orthodox, and his Catholic-themed work reflects varying views of the Faith.
Here are three very different moments.
In this clip from “Two Cathedrals,” a season-two episode of “The West Wing,” penned by Sorkin (who’s Jewish), President Bartlet is grieving the sudden and tragic death of his longtime assistant, Mrs. Landingham. So, he decides to take out his anger on God — partially in Latin — putting forward the somewhat narcissistic view that her death (and the recent non-fatal shooting of aide Josh Lyman) was a judgment on him, despite his litany of political achievements.
The scene was not, however, shot in a Catholic church, but in the Episcopalian National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.. The cigarette at the end of the scene subsequently discouraged the church from allowing filming inside, but it did recently start allowing same-sex marriages (which would probably please Sheen).
In the 2010 movie “The Way,” Sheen plays a doctor who heads overseas to retrieve the remains of his son (played by Sheen’s son, Emilio Estevez (also the director, producer and writer), who died while on the Camino Santiago pilgrimage in Spain — and then decides to walk the route himself.
Here’s the trailer and then an interview with Sheen, in which he discusses the film and more, and a joint interview with Estevez.
Most recently, Sheen played an Irish priest in the 2011 film “Stella Days,” set in 1956 in Tipperary, Ireland, hometown of Sheen’s mother. Here’s a trailer and a clip (and yes, much of Ireland was still not electrified in the 1950s).
From The New York Times:
“Stella Days” opens with the last rites and closes with a first for a tiny rural parish in Tipperary, Ireland: a movie theater. In between boil all sorts of shenanigans, most of them in the vicinity of Father Daniel Barry (Martin Sheen), a welltraveled priest on loan from the Vatican. More progressive than his bishop or parishioners would like, the good father soon learns that electricity and enlightenment are to be equally distrusted.
Image: Courtesy Warner Bros. Television