Whenever Hollywood's newest young Turks talk about one another, Emilio Estevez's name invariably crops up.
"Emilio just wrote and starred in his own movie," someone might confide in admiring tones. ("That Was Then, This Is Now," based on the S. E. Hinton novel). "He's re-e-e-a-a-l-ly hot ."
Just what kind of cinematic Wunderkind is this 22-year-old actor, whose most recent performance in "The Breakfast Club" has drawn so much critical praise?
When meeting Estevez for the first time, it's easy to see that his father is actor Martin Sheen (whose family name is Estevez). The resemblance is startling. Both are compact, with the same brownish-blond hair and--most noticeably--virtually the same piercing blue eyes, which study the world with fierce concentration.
On a typical weekday afternoon at the Santa Monica Pier, Estevez's eyes were not so much fierce as full of amusement.
"I can't beli-e-e-e-ve this!" Estevez sat on a bench, convulsed with laughter. In only 15 minutes, he had already watched an elderly gent run through some soft-shoe routines (apparently to music that only he could hear) and turned down an offer to buy some marijuana. Now, as he talked about his role (as the handsome star jock) in "The Breakfast Club," there was another interruption.
"Hey, were you in that movie 'Repo Man'?" The question came from a punker who, with a friend, planted himself squarely in front of Estevez. The actor nodded yes. (He played Otto, the suburban punk who gets involved with a group of automobile repossessors.)
"Right on!" the punker grinned. "I work at a video place and we did all the copies for that--like, I seen that thing over and over. Do many people recognize your face? We did 'Nightmares' (a four-part horror anthology released in 1983) too. . . . You were listening to Fear or somethin' on the headphones. . . . Gr-r-r-r-eat!" Again Estevez nodded.
"I gotta get the bus back up to Malibu, do you have an extra 50 cents or somethin'?"
Estevez, wearing jogging clothes (he had run from his apartment to the pier), showed the contents of his pockets--a house key--and, smiling, apologized.
"That's cool. . . . Take care, bro!" The two punkers strolled off.
It was surprising that he was recognized at all, given the dramatic difference between his "Repo Man" punker look and his current all-American "Breakfast Club" image.
Estevez indicated that he's experienced a little of both. Referring to the five characters in "Breakfast Club" (the jock, the flake, the hoodlum, the brain, the prom queen), Estevez explained: "I was kind of like a chameleon in high school (he attended Santa Monica High School). I ran track, so I was in with all the black dudes, and they liked me and there was a lot of mutual respect. I played soccer, so I knew the Hispanics and Latinos, and because of my name I was in there with all of them. I knew all the surfers, because I grew up in Malibu, and I got along with all the brains because I got good grades."
He could even relate to co-star Molly Ringwald's prom queen role because he was prom king his senior year.
"I'd forgotten all about that," he said, adding ruefully, "It was the most embarrassing moment of my life."
Although primarily an actor, Estevez spent most of the visit discussing his writing, an interest that long predates "That Was Then, This Is Now."
"I wasn't content with being just an actor," he explained. "I'd been writing since I was 7. In fact, in second grade I wrote a short story on lined paper with a pencil and submitted it to 'Night Gallery' (the Rod Serling series)."
He laughed. "It was a pretty cool science-fiction story . . . but they sent it back to me."
Then there were the movies he made with brothers Charlie and Ramon and neighbors Sean and Chris Penn and Rob and Chad Lowe, long before any of them became so well known.
"Sean and Charlie and I did a movie--we kind of wrote it as we went along. Sean steals my dog and kills my brother . . . then he kills his mother; then I kill him."
(One begins to wonder just how the neighborhood survived these burgeoning talents.)
Much later, while Estevez was working on "Tex" in Oklahoma (he later played Two-Bit Matthews in "The Outsiders"), he met S. E. Hinton and read "That Was Then."
"I talked to Susie (Hinton) and she said, 'I think you'd be terrific as one of the characters,' and I said, 'I think I should do it.' I tried peddling it around the studios but they all said, 'Let's wait and see how "Tex" and "The Outsiders" do.' "
The two films did little at the box office, but Estevez went the independent route and found two Midwest producers interested in making the movie. He was successful in keeping his original script fairly intact, although it took a backbreaking schedule to accomplish it.
"I worked on a rewrite during the filming of 'Breakfast Club,' " he said, explaining that he had not been pleased with a second draft that the producers helped write. "I'd go to work at 7 in the morning, come back at 7 at night and then write--sometimes until 5 in the morning--then get two hours sleep and do it all again. It was intense." "That Was Then," directed by Chris Cain ("The Stone Boy") and starring Estevez, was shot last summer in St. Paul, Minn. Estevez said he hoped the movie will be released this spring, although a distributor hasn't yet been named.
"St. Elmo's Fire," yet another movie in which he co-stars (with Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore and Mare Winningham), will be released later this year.
"St. Elmo's Fire" could be described as a more mature version of "Breakfast Club," since it involves a friendly group of recent college graduates. The prior film relationships among the actors and actresses made "St. Elmo's" seem almost like a family reunion, to hear Estevez tell it: "The associations are so strong," he marveled. "Rob worked with Ally on 'Oxford Blues,' he worked with me on 'The Outsiders' and with Andrew in 'Class.' Plus, I worked with Ally and Judd on 'Breakfast Club.' "
During the filming of "St. Elmo's Fire," Estevez wrote another screenplay--which he described as a "black comedy set in Redondo Beach"--that's currently making the studio rounds.
"I'm not a power-hungry human being, but I feel that I'm somewhat creative and that I have something to say," he explained, blue eyes blazing. "I want to bring that into the films that I choose to make, so I think that if I'm able to write and act and--someday--direct, that it's the best way to get my message across."