WEIRDLAND: Rob Lowe remembers Emilio Estevez & Charlie Sheen in "Stories I Only Tell My Friends"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rob Lowe remembers Emilio Estevez & Charlie Sheen in "Stories I Only Tell My Friends"

"Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography" by Rob Lowe (Publisher: Henry Holt and Co., 2011)

"A lovely autobiography, equal parts dish and pathos" -Vanity Fair

"[Lowe's] charming, honest, even affectionate memoir is the story of strong guts behind a strikingly handsome face... A book to recommend widely." -Booklist

"At school we all began to buzz about Halloween, which was fast approaching and was a big deal on Point Dume. Stocked with a dozen eggs and a full canister of Barbasol, I met up with a group of kids to make our rounds. It was a a perfect, dry, breezy, moonless night. None of us wore costumes; that was for kids, not young men on a mission. If we felt like trick-or-treating, we might pull out a twenty-cent mask, if needed. My first stop was the Sheen's house. Knocking on the door, I hoped I might get a glimpse of the by-now legendary Martin Sheen, who recently returned from his two-year odyssey of making "Apocalypse Now". There were rumors that the movie had almost killed him and that he might have gone insane while shooting it in the fetid jungle of the Philippines. Although I'd spent some time with Charlie and Emilio making our amateur movies, they never discussed their father. I was even more curious about him when I learned that he, too, had begun his acting career in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
I've begun to put my toe into school politics. I'm savvy enough to know that I can't compete with the handsome, older, and more athletic Emilio Estevez for "Boys' Vice President", so I choose an office that no one else wants: parliamentarian. Back at school, friends are trying out for the school's tennis and baseball teams.
Charlie Sheen has an absolute bazooka for an arm and wants to be a pro ballplayer. We are constantly in his backyard batting cage or playing "tennis ball baseball", the Malibu version of stickball. Every once in a while his dad, Martin, will join us, cigarette dangling from his mouth, and completely crush a ball out of the park. He laughs at us and then, maddeningly, runs the bases backward. Charlie's brother, Emilio, still wants to be an actor, and has taken their original family name, Estevez, to ensure he is not riding his dad's coattails. Emilio is a few years older than me; he's got a car and is really making the rounds, auditioning for tons of roles. Charlie and I (and often my brother Chad) still make the occasional 8 mm movie together, but now that I've been to the "bigs" I see little point in backyard movies. I'm moving forward - not backward.
In history class I bond with a hilarious, madrigal-singing maniac named Robert Downey Jr. No one is funnier or more brilliant at stream of consciousness banter. Charlie Sheen is also one of a kind. While his brother is serious and always has his eye on the ball, Charlie, a Polo preppy clotheshorse in a world of O.P. shorts and surf T-shirts, is a wonderful mix of nerd (he's a member of the AV club and won't go near the ocean) and rebel (always ready to ditch class to go to the Dodgers game to root for our beloved Reds). He is also a conspiracy-theory freak, who sometimes wears a bulletroof vest under his clothes to school, and together we debate everything from the likelihood that the moon is hollow and whether the trilateral commission killed JFK to the authenticity of the moon landings.
Apparently there is an amazing part in an upcoming movie that Robert Redford is directing. Emilio is preparing for his audition. I hear the mysterious Sean Penn is also gung-ho about the part. They say the role of Connor in "Ordinary People" is the kind of role that changes your life.
I look over at Tom Cruise, the only "exploring" he'll be doing here today is to try to find a way to bash my brains in and take my role from me. Francis Ford Coppola points for three actors to step into the lilghts. "Say your name into the camera and what role you are reading for", he instructs. Rob Lowe as Soda Pop in Francis Coppola’s film "The Outsiders" (1983)

I pray that I'm still in the running for Sodapop. Other than Ponyboy, Sodapop is the most coveted role in the movie. The part is huge, romantic, and, with the big breakdown scene at the end of the movie, unforgettable. I'm worried I've lost it. I spend all my free time four houses down at the Sheens.
Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in “Badlands” (1973)

We work out, play hoops, call our agents, call up girls, hide our booze from Martin, hit baseballs with Charlie and Chad, anything to try not to lose our minds with anticipation. I have settled on USC as my college. If I don't get a part, I will enroll and study film. Finally my agent calls. I'm still alive in "The Outsiders" sweepstakes. "What part am I reading? Soda or Randy?", I ask, holding my breath. "Both". I put down the phone. It rings in my hand. It's Emilio. "Dude, did they call you? Are you going to New York?", "Yeah! I made it. What about you?", "We're going, too! Me and Cruise!", "What parts?", "I'm going for Soda, Randy, and maybe Darrel", says Emilio. I hang up, exicted that my friends are among the chosen. We are competitors and it will likely come down to one of us versus the other. But until then, it's down to the Sheen's Gilligan's Island pool to celebrate.
We lounge together in a giant loftlike waiting arena in some dingy office building somewhere near Broadway. I find a spot on the floor next to a radiator and take a nap (to this day, when I feel too much stress I want to fall asleep). "Dude, wake up", says Emilio, banging me in the ribs. I try to clear my head as I roll up off the floor. "Francis wants us in the studio".
I walk down to the Sheen's house, looking for Martin. We crack open the vanilla Häagen-Dazs and I ask him every question I can think of. He is gracious and patient; I am vulnerable and a little scared, but excited. I thank him. At the door he stops me. "One last thing...", "Sure, Martin, what is it?", "Don't let Francis make you do anything you're uncomfortable with".
I'm flying alone. Tom and Emilio were offered parts at the last minute and are driving out in Emilio's pickup. Tom is playing my best friend, Steve, and Emilio, Two-Bit Matthews, another of the Curtis brothers' circle of friends. The Sheen family's complicated history with Francis runs so deep that before he accepted the role, Emilio literally put the script under his mattress and "slept on it" before finally saying yes. The plane comes in for a bumpy landing on an early spring afternoon in the beginning of March 1982. It's two weeks before my eighteenth birthday. The Tulsa Excelsior sits smack in the middle of downtown. This will be my home for the next ten weeks. At the front desk I'm handed a new shooting script, crew list, an envelope with a wad of cash, per diem, and a key to room 625. "You are right next door to Tommy Howell and across the hall from Mr. Macchio. Welcome to Tulsa", says the man behind the counter. I look up and recognize Diane Lane coming through the revolving door of the lobby. At only sixteen, she already seems like a legend. She has starred with Laurence Olivier and been on the cover of Time magazine. Oh, and she may be the prettiest girl on the planet. She will play Cherry Valance, the queen Soc. Too shy to introduce myself, I watch as she breezes by with her chaperone.
Now Howell and Emilio have their blood up. They don't want to be upstaged, so they begin digging in earnest. Splaat! One goes down. Thunk! Another hits the deck, making the sound of a side of beef hitting the pavement. Eventually some of the guys figure it out and then, mercifully, it's time for our next assignment back in the rehearsal hall. Francis tells us that we will be shooting the entire movie on video, in front of a green screen in the gym, before we begin real, principal photography. Later he can use new Sony technology to put in any background he chooses. But before we shoot, he asks us to do a lengthy improvisational exercise that culminates with us attempting to go to sleep on camera. "Very good job, Rob", he says, and I'm thrilled. Diane Lane and the other Socs, led by the teen idol Leif Garrett, arrive to do the big drive-in sequence. The minute Diane enters the room, a competition for her attention commences. Matt Dillon clearly has the inside track and soon we all know that we have no chance. Francis appears to dote on Matt as well - he's clearly grooming him to be the James Dean of the movie.
I am in awe of Emilio's bold choice for his "look". He will wear a Mickey Mouse T-shirt throughtout the movie. Francis likes it so much that not onlyh does he pay Disney exorbitant rights so Emilio can wear the character on his shirt, he writes a scene where we all watch Mickey on TV. And indeed, Emilio's relentless ad-libbing and ideas took a peripheral character and made him a focal point.
I still hang out with my girlfriend, Melissa, and my high school buddies, I'm spending more and more time down the block at the Sheens. Emilio and I are inseparable and in constant touch with Cruise and Tommy Howell. "Pass me a beer", I call to Emilio as we sit, going over a script. There are stacks on his desk and I recognize all of them. And now, as I sit sipping a Corona, Emilio and I are preparing to read for a cool romantic comedy called "Class". We are both trying for the same part, a boarding-school virgin who mistakenly falls in love with his rich roommate's mom.
In the Sheen's backyard there is a professional batting cage. My brother Chad and Charlie play all the time, still hoping to become baseball players. They rib Emilio and me mercilessly about being "Serious actors!" Somehow Emilio has gotten word that the very first coming attractions, or trailer, for "The Outsiders" is playing in front of a movie called "Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone", with Peter Strauss and an unknown fifteen-year-old girl named Molly Ringwald. We are all dying to see it, and so Emilio, Cruise, and I pile into a car and drive to the only theater we can find that's playing it. We end up thirty miles away, in Marina Del Rey. There are only about fifteen people in the theater. "The Outsiders" trailer comes on, and it's like watchig our future flash before our eyes. On the drive back to the Sheen's house we are ecstatic. We aren't looking to form some sort of "actors club" (Brat Pack, anyone?) or to be cool, we just want to be around people who are dealing with the same new, mysterious, frustrating issues. I try to calm myself and enjoy the amazing scenes that weren't cut out: the rumble; the beautiful scenes with Tommy and Ralph; Emilio's ad-libbed laugh lines. But it's hard. At least I will finish strong with my big breakdown scene in the park. The lights come up. I'm dazed. My entire story line was cut from "The Outsiders", easily ten scenes and twenty minutes of screen time.
I meet with John Hughes for "The Breakfast Club", but he wants to make his own discovery of an "unknown". So the fantastic part of John Bender goes to newcomer Judd Nelson.
“I’m not a winner because I want to be one. I’m a winner because I’ve got strength and speed… kinda like a racehorse. It’s about how involved I am in what’s happening to me.” - Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) in "The Breakfast Club" (1985)

When Emilio gets a role in the movie, I decide that I need to choose a movie of my own. After a long night of "research" for "St. Elmo's Fire" (it's about a bar after all), I find myself with Emilio and Judd Nelson at the top of these stairs, peering into the darkness below. Once again I'm working with Ally Sheedy and Emilio. It's my second movie with Andrew McCarthy. I adore the wildly talented Mare Winningham and envy Emilio's on-screen romance with the stunning Andie MacDowell.
Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and Melissa Gilbert

Demi and I connect so well on-screen that I don't mind when she jumps ship and switches to a more serious relationship with Emilio.
For weeks, Emilio has been trailed by a reporter from New York magazine, who is doing a cover story on him as the youngest writer, director and star to make a movie since Orson Welles (it's true, you can look it up). He's been swamped in postproduction, in editing rooms, and in marketing meetings on his movie "Wisdom". The reporter, a balding, skinny guy who made no real impression on anyone, eats and drinks with us like it's his last night before the electric chair. Emilio, always generous, picks up the very large tab. "Thanks, guys. I think that went really well", says Emilio happily. A few weeks later, the writer drops his story about Emilio as an auteur. Instead, he writes a sneak-attack, mean-spirited hatchet job about our dinner in his honor. New York magazine runs it on its cover with a studio photo from the soon-to-be-released "St. Elmo's Fire". The headline: "Hollywood's Brat Pack". "Thee Brat Pack" article was an instant classic.
I rush to Hancock Park. The wedding goes without a hitch. Sheryl and I say our vows in front of our semistunned friends and family, including Steve Tisch, Garry Marshall, and Emilio. Sheryl is breathtaking in her gown, and I feel like, together, we will blaze a new trail of love, hope, and possibility.
The first person I ever knew to play the then new California State Lottery was Emilio and Charlie's dad. Martin bought enough rolls of tickets at the Mayfair Market on Point Dume to choke a donkey. He never did find that winning ticket when we were kids. But years later, with "The West Wing", he finally did.

Extracts from "Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography" by Rob Lowe (2011)

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