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‘I don’t enjoy playing disgraceful people as much as heroic ones’

Martin Sheen on portraying the late CEO Warren Anderson of the US firm Union Carbide in Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain and his belief in social justice


Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain had a decent opening in the US. Were you aware of this tragedy before getting the script?
We completed the filming five years ago and the film released on November 7 (in the US) close to the 30th anniversary. I was aware about this incident and how it became so tragic, so quickly. Each day the number of victims increased exponentially leading to deaths of men, women and children. There were over 3,000-4,000 fatalities in the first night and now the tragedy has gone into another generation and its effects continue. My hope is that we can increase awareness among people, and urge the government officials and the executives of Dow Chemicals to take responsibility for this tragedy and look at ways of compensating the community.

Did you have any reference point for portraying Warren Anderson?
We had his record of working with Union Carbide. He studied chemical engineering, and had a wife and children. We didn’t want to portray him unjustly, unfairly, or without giving him a chance to defend himself. But he never responded to our requests to meet. When I portrayed him, I wanted to ensure the best parts of his character were defined. He was a charming man and among other things, he was concerned about profit, so much so that when the tragedy occurred, he fled the country. I don’t enjoy playing disgraceful people as much as I enjoy heroic people. You have to enjoy playing people responsibly.

How often do you work with your children?
I am doing the 100th show of Anger Management with my son Charlie (Sheen) when the film premieres in Bhopal on December 3. But one of the most rewarding experiences was with my son, Emilio (Estevez) in 2010 when we acted in The Way. We filmed a pilgrimage through the Camino de Santiago mountains in Spain. With Charlie, the only film I every directed was Cadence in 1990, starring him and my other son Ramon Estevez.

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Everybody recalls your role in Wall Street (1987) with Charlie Sheen. Has the acting equation changed between the two of you over the years?
Well one thing is for sure, we both have aged a bit. But I adore him and I love working with him as an actor. He was quite brilliant in Wall Street. And the film was a great experience with Michael Douglas also. It is still viewed as a powerful film about trade unions in America.

Of late you have become more involved with political activism and issues on social justice.

I have been involved with social justice activities for a while now. It is an extension of my upbringing. I like to be involved with fair working practices for labour across America, since I come from a large immigrant family. I am also aware of the women’s rights movement in India to provide clean toilets as a basic necessity. My wife and I believe in this initiative hugely. She stays in touch with people involved in this campaign and ensures they know we support it.


Have you started experimenting with your roles lately?
I think what happens to all actors as we grow older is that our understanding of acting expands. And we tend to have lesser anxiety in front of the camera and have lesser fears about our age. I finished a situational comedy for Netflix with Jane Fonda called Grace and Frankie. And the average age of the cast is 74 years. It could be the first show where old people are playing old people. Also I am playing a lot more characters, based on real individuals.

What are your future projects?
I am going to New York to do a limited run of the play Love Letters with Anjelica Huston. It opens in New York on January 13. I haven’t been on stage for a while now, so I would like to catch up with that side of me.

First published on: 01-12-2014 at 12:00:34 am
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