Not-So-Average-Joe Estevez: A Life of Show, Cinema, Superbness, Skill, Spirituality and Service

Photo Courtesy of Joe Estevez

Photo Courtesy of Joe Estevez

Joe Estevez:  Actor, Writer, Producer, TV Show Host, Jack-of-all-Trades (well, Renaissance Man really) and most prolifically steady actor in town.  Having lived in the same neighborhood of Franklin Village for years, the two of us have come to know each other as fellow theatre folk, writers and morning exercisers.  I have additionally come to call him:  Honorary Neighborhood Dad!

His relaxed, down to earth, generous attitude towards life matches his demeanor as he enters Victor’s Square http://www.victorssquare.com/ in comfy casual Sunday attire.   Rather than an interview, our roughly two hour tete-a-tete feels more like a fun and multi-faceted conversation as Estevez discusses his vast career, playwriting, Chris Elliott, his faith and the spiritually induced epiphany that had him running the Hollywood Hills from the wee hours of the morning until sun up, and the time Francis Ford Coppola scared him sober in the midst of a recording session for ‘Apocalypse Now’.

Estevez opens the interview on a most positively reflective note:

“So far my life has been pretty good…pretty good…  I’m sure I’m like most people; I’ve never really planned anything I just stumbled from one thing to another to another…”

“It seems like it’s been really colorful, like you just do a lot of creative things and that, to me, is the way to live.  Y’know…follow your bliss and do whatever is creative to you… and you write too.”

“Yeah I do.  I have a book called Wiping off the Sheen which is just somebody interviewing me.  But in the back of it, I said I’d really like to get this story published and it’s called Baby Makes Three and it’s about this trip I took to Hong Kong to do a commercial and I thought it was pretty good and they published it. But I don’t write to become famous.  I think sometimes you just have to write…  Y’know, I get up in the middle of the night where I just have to write something down and I do and then I go back to sleep…  But when I was a kid, I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of bums and the bums would give me–I love the word bums–but they would give me money.  I remember they’d give me three cents and two cents and a nickel; interesting people to talk to.  ‘Cause they’re free spirits.  And that’s why with hobos, I never knew any hobos as violent as that, but you’d go back to these bums who’ve got great perspectives of life because they look from the outside in y’know?…And I think that in most  of my writing, I like to write about society not subjectively but objectively… And try not to judge.   But [writing’s] not my main angst or focus…  I mean, I’m primarily an actor and I love hosting. I’d love to interview you.  I used to have a show called ‘Hollywood Joe’…”

“I read about that… Tell me about that.”

“[So] I used to have a show called Hollywood Joe.  I would just go all over Hollywood, things like this building (pointing to picture overhead of The Villa Carlotta) stand outside of this Franklin Building here that Randolph Hearst got for this lady, and just tell the story of the building…y’know… ? I would interview anybody from celebrity to…street people.  It was all just about the inner workings of Hollywood and I loved it.  I really loved it.  And uh…unfortunately, the guy who was…um…paying the bills on it…he uh…um…went to prison. (laughs)”

Oh my God:  A story in and of itself!”

“Yeah, come to find out he was uh…well…I love the guy.  I still love him.  His name’s Dr. Henry King but…they say he was running a Ponzi Scheme and that was what was supplying the money for his uh..uh..company…y’know?  But I loved the guy, he was very good for me… ‘Cause I’m a people person…   I just generally love people from all walks of life.”

“(laughs) …Any GOOD stories revolving around producers and directors?”

Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

“I did a film called ‘Cake’ with this kid who was from New York and he called me to do a another film in New York and so I went down and I played a Catholic Priest and I always say grace before meals and I think he noticed that and he called me to host a faith film festival in New York City which I did and I loved.  And then I pitched him this show, ‘All Things Catholic’ and he said, ‘Okay, let’s give it a try.’ So anyway, I’m hosting that now and we’re about on our twelfth episode.  They absolutely love it back in New York and so it’s kind of like ‘Hollywood Joe’, except all things Catholic. We were down in San Pedro last Sunday doing Saint Joseph’s Day.  We were at City Hall last week, Friday, doing Saint Patrick’s Day.  We do ‘Day of the Dead’ down on Olvera Street, so we’re all over and I just really get off on people and talking to people and they excite me and I like them if they’re excited about what they’re doing.”

“And you air it on…”

“Starting on June 1st it will air on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision 30, Verizon Fios on Demand, and its web address is:  www.netny.net on Net TV.  Yeah ‘All Things Catholic’ now has really become my main focus of what brings me joy in life…just these beautiful, beautiful people…  They work in the fields of the Lord. They just are always full of joy…just full of magnificence…the heart is open and the love just radiates from them.  You know father Boyle from downtown, ‘The Homeboys’?”

“No.”

“Father Boyle, Greg Boyle ‘Homeboys’?”

“No.”

“Downtown we got a great interview with them.  ‘Homeboys’– he takes these thugs off the streets. He takes these convicts that are coming out of prisons and…he just says ‘Look Man, you’re loved.  Come join us.’  And he’s turned thousands of young men and young women’s lives around.  They have a bakery, they have a clothing store.  If you go in Ralphs or whatever, you’ll see ‘Homeboys’ goods.”

“(exclaiming in recognition!) I’ve seen that now I know what you’re talking about yeah yeah yeah!  What a great idea.  So they make that, sell it and they raise money.  Yeah yeah yeah.”

“So these are incredibly legitimate businesses and these guys, that were absolute thugs and killers, are now–because of Father Boyle–unconditional love…y’know…but they see that.  They pick up on it and they find that love in themselves. They find Christ God in themselves.  And they radiate it.  Bob Smith who has a place called ‘Faces’…gets these young girls [who] are kidnapped and taken into slavery and sold as prostitutes and are run all over the country and when anybody’s arrested it’s the poor girl, it’s not the pimps.  And this is like big business in this country.  But these are kids…runaways…13 and 14 years old.  These people really do hang out at bus stations and…it’s horrible!  And Bob who used to be a cop down in San Diego said, ‘My God this is just wrong!’  So now he’s out there rescuing these kids. Another woman who works with women wanting abortions or who have had abortions [will say to them]…’Y’know we want that child, we’ll take that child.’ …and it couldn’t help but move me and make me grow as a spiritual person and make me say what really is the purpose of my life?  Whatever talents I’ve been given, what really have I been given them for?  And I don’t think I’ve been given them so I can make another horror movie.  I don’t want to.  I did a movie called “Soultaker” back in ’86/’87…I don’t know… [but] it did pretty well and now I can do a lot of horror movies I want to do.”

“…So all these people…that I interview that I’m around with ‘All Things Catholic’…they’re good, good people.  They’re tough people Man.  Tough guys with tough women y’know…but the first thing that they ask:   ‘How can I be of service?’  We are here to serve because giving is the only way we can find our true self which is love….That’s our spirit.  That’s our essence and the more that we practice that essence, the more that it comes to the front, y’know?  So—[while] I’m incredibly human…now the longer I’m with ‘All Things Catholic’ the more that I am giving of myself  and the more that somebody asks something of me, I’m able to give it without asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’”

“And that’s very divergent from Hollywood.  I think they don’t…especially when people are younger, you don’t find that so much in Hollywood.  So it’s probably different from your past too!”

“Yeah…yeah…”

“Have you always been very dedicatedly Catholic or is that something…?”

“No…no…I’m like one of the Catholics that fell away from the faith…y’know…?  And…let me tell you something, it’s not that these people are Catholics…it’s that they are good people that are making a difference in the world…and the only reason… I’ve got to stick to the Catholics is (laughing) the network that I’m airing on…is Catholic.  My producer is my wife and I’m the host and I’ve got a camera man who’s my director and editor.  …So it’s just three of us.  And what they get for a whole series is incredibly inexpensive.  Back in New York they love it. The sponsors are lining up for it and I’m thinking, ‘Hey y’know…I’m silly.  I’ll do anything for a laugh.  I’ll talk to anybody…I’m like um…y’know…Huell Howser? He used to be my idol.”

“Huell Howser!  Oh my God he stopped into our offices one day and here’s the funny part, he was asking *us* for directions to get somewhere.  Is that ironic or what? (laughing)”

“Oh my God…that’s…yeah…(referring to Howser) ’You know something.’…Yeah…So I’m [shooting] ‘Hollywood Joe’, I’m at the Roosevelt Hotel and I want to go back there and talk about the Hollywood Hotel and they have bungalows in the back y’know…?”

“Ohhhh! I don’t think I’ve seen those before.”

“So I wanted to get back there and…so we snuck back…and I’m doing this interview and [asking] who used to live there  and I see Huell Howser and…I say…’Mr. Howser can we have an interview with you?’  He took the microphone and it was just (laughing) …it was great.  I loved it!  In fact, I [saved it] and one of these days I’m going to give it to PBS as the unknown Huell Howser that’s never gotten out there!”

“That’s so cool.  I’m surprised you haven’t done that yet!” 

“I’ve thought about it…just…the laziness of it happens…but I will get to it…But…y’know…you get that microphone and you get that camera and it’s like you’re invincible…and I think that I really enjoy it.  I think the camera sees that I enjoy it.  I’m out there being this big ham.  I’m eating all the scenery.  I’m havin’ a great time…and I’m doing good for the world.  It doesn’t get any better than this…  So…that’s kinda where I’m at now. I should do more movies but I’m more particular than what I used to be.”

“Wow!  Any other recent…?”

“I did this show for ‘Adult Swim’:  ‘Eaglehart’.  ‘Adult Swim’ is like the ‘Cartoon Network’ after six o’clock…and Chris Elliot’s got this show called ‘Eaglehart’.  He’s a beautiful guy.”

“He’s hilarious.”

“Yeah, I fell in love with him… He has got such incredible timing as a comedian…wow and you throw him anything and he’ll play off of it.  Anyway in the episode he mistakes me for Martin Sheen and I play along with it…and it’s funnier than Hell…  So, ‘Adult Swim’ is Tim (Heidecker) and Eric (Wareheim)’s show.  They do a thing where they review movies but it’s tongue in cheek humor, very dry…and they dislike each other immensely.  They call me in as a guest…and we make asses out of ourselves without knowing that we’re making asses out of ourselves and…it’s great fun.  But, I did one for those and that’s how they found out about me for ’Eaglehart’. “

“But… y’know…I’m bragging here but I [also] got an award in Cleveland last year from the Cleveland Film Festival… The international Independent Filmmakers’ Hall of Fame gave me membership in that [too so] I’m a member of the Hall of Fame now of Independent Filmmakers. “

“Oh Cool!”

“…And I’ve gotten a couple of awards from…film festivals, Lifetime Achievement Awards and such, so I thought…that’s really sweet y’know…it’s kind of like you get to this age to where [you’re] recognized for what [you] do…  I got some best supporting actor/best actor things so that’s nice… It really feeds my ego but I think…I’m just in a different place [now after having done so many horror films.] My head’s in a different place…  Like somebody was…talking to this woman, and they said, ‘What kind of part is left that you’d want to play?’  And she said, ‘Y’know, I’d like to play a serial killer.’ Why would you want to do that?  What the hell is in your psyche that you would want to do that?  What do you want to touch in yourself that you would want to do that…?  …I forget her name.  She was a relatively famous actress.  But people ask me that.  I say duh. Duuu-uh!  (laughs) I’ve done everything.  I did this film last year where I played God so, y’know…hey! You know what I mean?

“You can’t get much higher than God!  (laughs)”

“…and …I tellya…acting, y’know, these method actors dear God in Heaven aw Jesus…”

Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

Goofballs:  Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

“(laughing) So pretentious!”

“Oh my God.  Y’know…Oh Jesus look!  Man–understand something, we’re pretending.  We’re pretending.  Understand, you-are-playing-a-part.  This is pretending.  This is not great art!”

“So pretentious that they don’t want to just pretend…”

“[Yeah]… I consider acting an art but it is a lesser art than painting or writing.  Y’know, we’re just acting.  We’re pretending…we just happen to have this particular skill…  And I’ll tellya something else, I can’t understand these big budgeted movies, how anybody can actually be bad.  You cannot be…with the editing that they have and these movies that you’ve got a line here, two lines here and that camera is everyplace reading other people’s expressions and…I think this best actor award is absolutely nonsense!”

“It’s all so subjective.  And y’know what it is…Dennis Leary was on Conan O’Brien and he said, ‘I just vote for my friends.’—Oh my God, Popularity Contest!”

“Yeah…yeah absolutely.  I mean…look, you see anybody give a good performance in a low budget independent film, that guy’s an actor… Watch Bobby Z’dar in an independent film and how marvelous he is.  When that camera’s laying on you for five minutes and every little false step it records…  It is almost impossible to be bad in a major motion picture.  …Because the greatest artists in this film business are the editors and that’s why most great directors come out of editing.”

“Oh interesting…”

“[Otherwise] it’s all so much congratulatory…patting ourselves on the back y’know…and it’s like…[in] these little towns…these people are so—well even in Hollywood–they’re so enamored with movie stars and such…and I think….’Why,  because they can act…[because] they have this particular skill?’  I think your gardener [that] could make a bush look like a bunny rabbit’s got more skill than [that]… I have a lot more respect for the writers and painters and sculptors.…poets…yeah…”

Staged reading of "Hobos" and "Pizza Man" by Joe Estevez; Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

Staged reading of “Hobos” and “Pizza Man” by Joe Estevez; Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

“…Or even…what do you think about theatre actors?”

“Well…for the first six years [of my career] I was a theatre actor.  My brother [Martin Sheen] once said to me, ‘Don’t you want to be a movie star?’  …And I said, ‘I just want to…work as an actor…steady.’  He said, ‘Oh man…’  He became the movie star and I became the steady working actor.  (laughs) So…we both got what we wanted.  …One of the proudest things I’ve done as a stage actor was reopen the Pasadena Playhouse… Back in 1980…the Producer’s name was Steve Rothman, he was just a house of fire.  And we reopened it with a play called ‘Echoes’.  It’s a two character play.  It’s like um…two hours…two character play.  Richard Nash wrote it…same guy [who] wrote ‘Rainmaker’ and I did not know this but I’m glad I did not know it… It played one day on Broadway and closed.  But…there were over 400 actors that read for that part and I was very proud of myself that I got it ‘cause… I’ve always considered myself a stage actor…I’m very comfortable on a stage …I did a play 2 ½-3 years ago called ‘A Short Wake’ where I toured all of Ireland and…it was marvelous.  …I got to play the Le Grand in Belfast. …My mother’s from Ireland and I got to play 20 miles from where she was born.  And my cousin, who’s a priest, came up to see it. My uncle, Michael Phelan, was a charter member of the Abbey Theatre.  He was a big time actor in Ireland.  He was also an Irish Revolutionist which is a whole other story but…yes…I always I think in a previous life I was in Vaudeville.  (laughs) Y’know?  …I just love that immediacy of theatre.  …I do staged readings whenever I can.  I just did one a couple of months ago with Dan Fante.  He’s a great writer.”

“So the plays with Ed Asner are those still going on?”

“You know, it’s funny we got some seed money from this producer and we were all set to go… We were gonna do ‘Pizza Man’.  ‘Cause I think that [and the play ‘Hobos’] play marvelously [together]… So I think that they’re good scripts.  I haven’t done anything [more] with them [yet].  [But]a guy wants to do them in Cleveland.  A guy wants to do them in Texas… “

Staged reading of "Hobos" and "Pizza Man" by Joe Estevez; Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

Staged reading of “Hobos” and “Pizza Man” by Joe Estevez; Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

“Aside from “All Things Catholic” what other upcoming projects/ events are there?”

“I’m doing [a convention]…in Avalon New York because it’s a ‘Soultaker’ reunion and a lot of my friends are going to be there and they’re giving me a guaranteed amount of money to go there.  So I’ll go there to join my friends…and I go to those and I give away my pictures and it’s bad for everyone else y’know…’cause Estevez has got a line and he’s givin’ away his pictures…and they’re selling theirs.  [But otherwise, I don’t do too many conventions anymore.] I’m going to a Comic Con in Phoenix because this gal has written me into her comic book and I said, ‘I’ll tellya what, Kid, I’ll come and if they buy your book, I’ll give ‘em a free picture!’ But I think if I’ve got fans out there in the horror genre y’know…I got paid good money for the movie(s) [and] I’m honored.  I’m really honored.  If somebody wants a picture of me…I’m absolutely tickled to death to give it to them…getting older I’m thinking…because I believe in karma, what you put out is what you get back y’know…”

“…Can I tellya the story of how I quit drinking quickly?”

Oh yeah…yeah!

“…Francis Coppola asked me to come up and do the voice-over for ‘Apocalypse Now’ because my brother [Martin] was in Mexico and…”

“I didn’t know that, so that’s your voice in there?”

“Yeah, part of it is.”

“Oh my gosh!  That’s so funny.”

“So I said…’Okay.’ And I was a mess. When you drink so much, you smell…it comes out your pores.  I got hit on my bike drunk.  I got hit literally by a ton of bricks.  God’s got a sense of humor, right?  A guy on a fork lift had two palettes of bricks that added up to a ton [and] hit me…so my arm was in a sling.  So I went to San Francisco and I’m doing the voiceover and I’d do it and he’d say, ‘Go out and have some breakfast and I’ll have some more.’  So I’d go out and have some booze and do some more.  I was actually getting better I thought and about 1:30/2 o’clock, it’s about the 4th-5th time of going out and coming back and uh…I’m drunk…I’m gone by then.  I’m just a mess and I had some very intricate Vietnamese words that I just could not get my tongue around.  I just could not pronounce them and Francis, I call him Francis—he got into my face about right to here…I mean nose to nose and he said, ‘Can’t you say the words Joe…can’t you just say the FUCKING words?’  And I literally…literally felt myself shrink.  I was so embarrassed.  I was so humiliated.  That was it.  I continued to drink the rest of the day but that was my last drink.”

“You get dissed by Francis Ford Coppola Man…”

“…It’s not gonna get any worse than that.  But y’know, I lost some big parts.  I read for some big movies…y’know I’d drink that courage to go in and they could tell I was drunk. Or at least that I’d been drinking but y’know what?  It gave me courage anyway so uh…I…haven’t had a drink since 1978…”

“1978 wow!  You quit during the Disco era Man!!!”

“Yeah… yeah…”

“That’s crazy.  I don’t know how you did that!”

“But I…y’know…Can I tell you [another] experience I had?”

Staged reading of "Hobos" and "Pizza Man" by Joe Estevez; Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

Staged reading of “Hobos” and “Pizza Man” by Joe Estevez; Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

“Yeah, I would love to.  I would love to hear it.”

“I was um…I don’t want to go into too much detail about this, except I wasn’t hurting anybody.  Y’know…but I was I was doing some things in life that I was really hurting myself terribly.  I was living up on Holly Mont [in the Hollywood Hills] and I always prayed y’know and I was just incredibly broken and I thought, for all intents and purposes, it was all over.  I was broke.  I weighed about thirty more pounds than I do now.  I was just a mess.  And uh…I went to sleep and I woke up in the middle of the night just full of incredibly Godley joy.  It was joy and a love and a presence I mean…I…I could not put it into words.  Tears were running down my face. I was in such joy.  I was just filled with such incredible love…you know when you say you cry tears of joy?  I was just crying…  I get up and I’d been jogging or walking for 34 years but I had it maybe down to once every three months at that [and I] was just such a mess y’know?  I got out of bed, I put on my pants and I jogged the hills of Hollywood for 2 ½-3 hours until the sun came up!”

 “Oh my God!”

“…Just with my arms up and just tears coming down my face…tears of joy. …I was just filled with the Holy Spirit…I was just filled with LOVE!  And it was around Lent.  It was about this time of year.  So during Lent the churches are open right?  And I would go into the churches; Blessed Sacrament and such, and I would just sit in a pew and I would just weep with joy and the old ladies there thought I was just weeping for Christ because of the way of the cross. But it was [a place] where I could get away with crying this joy and [a place] people wouldn’t question if I was off my rocker.  But it was [the most] magnificent moment [of my life]…[Aside from] the birth of my three daughters of course.  But this…for me personally…I couldn’t compare it to anything.  It was so far and away and above anything that has ever happened to me that I was so privileged…so blessed so…that this would happen to me…ME…that it changed my life and every day I pray.  When I’m out walking I say prayers…mostly prayers of thanks.  And every day I thank God for that experience and I end my prayer with ‘I thank God for letting me know that he is real and I thank God for giving me this second chance.’ And I wonder, why…I maybe had 4-5 years left, ‘cause I was gone.  I was just gone…I was used up.  I was done.”

And in light of all that, ‘cause how do you really top all that?–is a reflection of how Joe lives his life.  In closing, he will add:

“…I’m not religious. I’m trying to be more spiritual…And a lot of people…think being spiritual and being religious are the same thing and [they’re] absolutely not. …I don’t think God gives a damn what you believe y’know?  There are so many things that you can believe.  So what!  Who cares what you believe?  It’s what you do. …What you do for yourself and for your fellow human beings; what you give.  How you can be of service.  And I tell ya man [all these words keeps coming back] ‘service….how can I be of service’?

Words to live by.

For more information on Joe Estevez and his prolific career, pleases visit:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0261724/

Jennifer K. Hugus

About Jennifer K. Hugus

Jennifer K. Hugus was born at a very young age. At an even earlier age, she just knew she would one day write for the LA Beat! Having grown up in Massachusetts, France, and Denmark, she is a noted fan of Asian Cuisine. She studied ballet at the Royal Danish Ballet Theatre and acting at U.S.C. in their prestigious BFA drama program. She also makes her own jewelry out of paints and canvas when she isn’t working on writing absurdist plays and comparatively mainstream screenplays. Jennifer would like to be a KID when she grows up!
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