10 Questions for Emilio Estevez

He is best known for his parts in the Brat Pack movies The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire and, of course, Disney's Mighty Ducks kiddie trilogy. But now Emilio Estevez, 44, has taken on a weightier role as writer and director of the new film Bobby, about the day that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Estevez, a lifelong R.F.K. buff, talked with TIME's Julie Rawe about the pleasures of C-SPAN, the perils of focus groups and the downside to having a famous father.

You were 6 when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel. Do you remember hearing the news?

I remember running upstairs and waking both of my parents and telling them. The following year, when we relocated from New York to Los Angeles, the very first stop that we made was the Ambassador. I remember my father [Martin Sheen] walking us through the lobby and the ballroom and listening to him explain that this is where it happened, this is the place where the music died.

This is hardly a plot spoiler, but the movie ending is a real downer. What do you want viewers to come away with after seeing Bobby?

The death of Bobby Kennedy was the death of decency in America, the death of formality and manners, the death of dreams and of hope. Politicians no longer speak from the heart. They are focus-grouped and packaged in a way that I think the public can sniff out. The movie can serve as a reminder that there was a time when our leaders were trustworthy, when they weren't mouthpieces for special interests.

Do you think the world would be much different if R.F.K. had lived?

I do. We would have been out of Vietnam a lot sooner. There would've been a better chance for peace in the Middle East, since that was on his agenda, and I think we would be a more united nation than the divided nation we've become. I don't think he would have talked about red states or blue states.

Is it hard being an idealist in Hollywood?

Yes and no. I am optimistic, I am idealistic and I am earnest, and sometimes that flies in the face of the current resignation and cynical culture that we live in.

So how hard was it to get this movie made? Did you have to call in a lot of favors?

It wasn't necessarily favors because I never wanted to be that guy--the actor-writer-producer-director who always has his script in his car. And because I've never been that guy, I was able to call the agents and make the offers. And actors who normally say no to more money than the entire budget of this movie were saying yes to the spirit of Bobby Kennedy, and they were saying yes for free.

Bobby includes a chaotic scene during the California primary [Kennedy was shot that night at a victory party] in which voters are warned that a new type of ballot comes with the risk of snafus like hanging chads.

Right. This was the first time [punch-card] voting machines had been used in Los Angeles. [News footage showed] massive confusion, especially among the elderly, as to how to use this newfangled device. It was just so curious and sadly relevant.

What do you think of campaign coverage today?

Campaign advisers need to let the candidates be themselves. Had Al Gore been allowed to be Al Gore and not been focus-grouped to death, we might have been able to hear his message about the environment in 2000. On the other hand, it's difficult for candidates when the gaffe squad is out in full effect, waiting for candidates to slip up. Then they spend the next five days doing damage control, so the message is lost.

Do you watch The Daily Show or Stephen Colbert?

I'm a C-SPAN fan, actually.

No filtering, eh?

I love not having a filter, and I love watching the House of Commons. We could take a few lessons from the lively debate the fellas across the pond engage in. It's certainly more entertaining.

When you were trying to keep the Ambassador from being torn down so you could film the movie there, your dad was lobbying on behalf of the Kennedy family to hasten the demolition so a school could be built on that site. Maybe you two should chat from time to time, have lunch. [Laughs.]

We have open lines of communication. This is just one thing that slipped through the cracks.

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