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The Ambassador Hotel Was Catalyst
 for Emilio Estevez Film "Bobby"

By Terry Lawson, Detroit Free PressMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Nov. 21, 2006 -- When Emilio Estevez was about 8, his father Ramon, whose stage name is Martin Sheen, decided to relocate his large family from the East Coast to Los Angeles, where he was beginning to get steady work in movies.

"When we got Los Angeles, the first place we stopped was the Ambassador Hotel," Estevez recalls. "He said, 'This is it, kids. This is the place the music died.' "

Robert F. Kennedy, one of Sheen's personal heroes, was assassinated June 6, 1968, minutes after he had given a speech in the Ambassador's ballroom announcing his victory in the California primary for the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

Martin Sheen would later play Bobby Kennedy in a 1974 TV miniseries (as well as older brother Jack a few years later). Now Estevez has paid his own tribute with "Bobby," opening Thanksgiving Day. He wrote, directed and acted in the film, which looks at the hours leading up to Kennedy's killing through the fictional stories of employees, guests and visitors to the Ambassador.

"In spring 2000, I was at the Ambassador for a photo shoot," Estevez says about the hotel on Wilshire Boulevard near Beverly Hills. "It had been closed as a hotel about 10 years before, but it was still being used pretty frequently as a movie location, and it was also used by the Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT team for training exercises.

"At the time, there was a lot of what they called runaway film production, films being shot in Canada because it was cheaper than making them in Los Angeles. I was talking about this, and about making a movie about Bobby Kennedy at the Ambassador, because then, it would have to be shot there. That night, I went to a film premiere, and I was seated next to Bobby Shriver," the nephew of Robert F. Kennedy. "I thought, well, if this isn't God tapping me on the shoulder, I don't know what is."

Estevez says he never wanted to make a film just about the assassination. The idea, he says, was to "look at the people in the hotel as a microcosm of where Americans were at that specific place in time. My models, believe it or not, were those old Irwin Allen disaster movies. I remember seeing 'The Poseidon Adventure' as a kid and sitting through it twice, just because I was fascinated by the idea of all these different people being thrown together by this situation."

Two very different catalysts merged to provide the story's framework. The first, he says was a piece of graffiti that had been written on an Ambassador wall three weeks before Kennedy's entourage descended, something Estevez had seen in photographs: "The once and future king," it read, giving him the idea of "the hotel as the castle, and the people inside as the subjects in the mythical sense."

"So we had the accidental hero, who we made a kitchen employee, played by Freddy Rodriguez. Then there's the historian, the old doorman (Anthony Hopkins). There's the maiden (Lindsay Lohan), as a young woman who has volunteered to marry a friend (Elijah Wood) to keep him from being drafted and sent to Vietnam; the siren, an alcoholic entertainer (Demi Moore, to whom Estevez was once engaged), and the shaman, a drug dealer (Moore's husband, Ashton Kutcher) who turns on the two campaign volunteers. That's where we mix in a little Shakespeare. They're the comic observers, like the gravedigger in 'Hamlet.' "

The other thread, says Estevez, was the fact that most people don't know that six other people were wounded when Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, began spraying bullets in the kitchen. Since they did not become celebrities in that pre-CNN era, we have no idea who they are among a large cast that Estevez says was "working for love, not money."

It also includes Nick Cannon as a savvy young Kennedy junior staffer; Sharon Stone as a hotel beautician, and Martin Sheen as a successful but depressed man trying to reconnect with his wife, played by Helen Hunt.

Estevez did not cast an actor to portray Bobby Kennedy. He is seen only in news clips and newsreel footage, but is seen onscreen long enough to accomplish what Estevez hoped the film would do.

"I didn't just want people watching him thinking, gee, what would this world have been like if he had lived, this man of wealth and power who had been converted and humbled by the things he saw and felt, the poverty, the struggles, the killing of his brother and Martin Luther King, the horror of war. What I wanted was for people to compare what it was like then to what it is now. How it was possible to have this politician who didn't speak from TelePrompTers, based on information he got from polls and consultants. Someone who spoke from his heart. It's not about what was, it's about what still could be."

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Copyright (c) 2006, Detroit Free Press

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