Martin Sheen has a bit part in Selma. He’s not credited and he’s only in one scene, but it’s definitely him. He plays Judge Frank Minis Johnson, who holds the hearing that finally allows the Selma to Montgomery march to go forward. And, naturally, everyone in the theatre I was in instantly recognized him.
If you’re a nerd like me, you might know him a little better as the Illusive Man from the Mass Effect video game series. But, in the same way that Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch, Sheen is President Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet from The West Wing. Bartlet is described by Mike McCurry, a former press secretary for the Clinton administration, as having “the compassion and integrity of Jimmy Carter… that shrewd decision-making and hard-nosed realism of a Richard Nixon… the warmth and amiability and the throw-the-arm-around-the-shoulder of a Bill Clinton; and… the liberal passion of a Teddy Kennedy.”
He is also—like his actor—a devout Catholic.
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P., has written for Novalis before, in the ‘movies’ chapter of Faith and Literature Matters. She brings the same passion to Martin Sheen: Pilgrim on the Way—her love for movies and for Hollywood shines through. And her respect and admiration for Sheen is outstanding: in the introduction she says that it’s “very difficult to find something negative to say about Martin Sheen as a person” and calls him an intrepid storyteller, before sheepishly admitting, “well, he says ‘blowhard’”.
The book doesn’t shy away from depicting Sheen’s bout of alcoholism and conflicts with his faith. It documents some of his most troubled times, especially during the shooting of Apocalypse Now, but ultimately brings the reader forward into Sheen’s healing period through rediscovering his faith. One of Sheen’s quotes embodies this perfectly, when he talks about the word clumsily:
It’s a beautiful sentence because it is so true. We never know in advance what our next step will be. We just take a step, even if it is a clumsy, stumbling one. Sometimes we have to admit, ‘That wasn’t a very good move, I’ll try this instead.’ Or ‘Oops, I didn’t realize how expensive that was going to be.’ Or ‘Oh, dear, I didn’t realize that you loved me.’ But through it all we keep walking. We keep living. I didn’t become an actor because I was organized to be one. I became an actor because of my clumsy attempt to become myself. We, all of us, just keep engaging in these clumsy attempts to realize ourselves. It’s such a perfect expression of what it is to be human.
It’s an engaging and genuinely inspiring book, both for fans of Sheen and regular Catholic readers. His warmth and charisma come through in Sr. Rose’s writing, and keep you hoping for more—of the book, and of a life well lived for Martin Sheen.
-Gillian Robinson, Production Editor