Martin Sheen is the patriarch of a distinguished acting dynasty. Sheen starred in the politically-themed TV series The West Wing (1999-2006), as well as films such as The Subject Was Roses (1968), Badlands (1973), Apocalypse Now (1979), and The Departed (2006).
His children have all managed to forge careers of their own in the entertainment industry: Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Ramon Estevez, and Renee Estevez each have plenty of acting credits to their names, as well as some filmmaking and songwriting credits between them. The family is pretty much a Hollywood dynasty, and their collective achievements are many.
While the Sheen-Estevez family’s many accomplishments are well-known, the reason for their different last names may not be. Here is the story behind it.
Ethnic Prejudice In The Entertainment Industry Led To The Brothers’ Different Last Names
The family patriarch, Martin Sheen (born Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez), changed his stage name after being denied roles because of his heritage. In an interview with Closer Weekly, Sheen explained his decision in retrospect. “Sometimes you get persuaded when you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe in, and you pay for it later. But, of course, I’m only speaking for myself.”
He also concedes that his birth name might have hindered his career, especially early on. He told The Guardian, “It’s difficult enough trying to get started as an actor, and my name kept throwing people—they couldn’t pronounce it. I thought, ‘I’ve got enough problems, I can’t be bogged down with this name.'”
He said he does regret dropping the name Estevez, although it is still on official documents like his driver’s license, marriage license, and passport.
Charlie followed in his father’s footsteps and changed his name from Carlos Irwin Estévez. In a 2017 interview with Fox News, he said that as a child, he began going by “Charlie” to distinguish himself from an uncle named Carlos. He took his father’s stage surname when he decided to become an actor.
Charlie claims his parents didn’t emphasize their Latinx heritage in raising them. He says he’s not ashamed of his background or trying to hide it—he just identifies as a white man. “I don’t wake up feeling Latino,” he explained. “I’m a white guy in America.”
Emilio chose to keep his last name because he didn’t want to coast into acting based on nepotism. He told The Guardian that the decision didn’t come without some criticism. “My decision was met with a lot of resistance at the time. … but it was abundantly clear to me that my father had earned his name and I hadn’t.” Emilio also said he liked the alliteration of the double “E” of his first and last names.
Unlike his brother Charlie, Emilio said he feels in sync with his Spanish heritage. According to an archived version of a 2011 interview with Latina, he explained, “I chose to stay with my family name because, first of all, ‘Emilio Sheen’ looks stupid. Right? And it’s just not who I am, man. And I have to tell you, the Latino community has always been very supportive of that choice and very proud of me that I chose to go with that—and honor my Latino roots.”
Emilio said that Hollywood executives did pressure him to ditch his name, but he’s glad he didn’t. Emilio said his dad told him, “Don’t make the same mistake I made. You will regret it for the rest of your life.”
The Siblings Remain Supportive Of One Another Despite Their Differences
Addiction has been a problem that dogged some members of the Sheen-Estevez family. Emilio has acknowledged that he used to have a contentious relationship with his father, especially when Martin drank. He opened up about how traumatic it was for him in an interview with The Telegraph in 2011.
According to an archived version of the interview, Emilio recalled, “I hated him when he got drunk, because he got violent.” He claimed that his father sometimes physically took out his frustrations on him; he was the oldest of the children, thus seemingly the most susceptible to Martin’s alcohol-fueled wrath.
Their tensions boiled over on the set of Apocalypse Now, which had an arduous, problem-plagued shoot in the Philippines. Martin had taken his wife, Janet, and teenage Emilio along during filming.
Looking back, Emilio called that period “horrible.” But now, Martin is sober. Ramon is a teetotaler. Things have settled down considerably, but they got even worse before they mellowed out. Charlie’s emotional eruptions, marital wrangles, and out-of-control behavior eventually caused him to be fired from Two and a Half Men.
Fortunately, Charlie got back on an even keel after his HIV diagnosis. In 2019, Emilio told People, “He’s great. We’re just proud of him.” He even hinted at that time that they might work on something together once again. Ramon co-produced the TV series Anger Management with Charlie from 2012 to 2014.
Emilio Estevez Rocketed To Fame As A Member Of The Brat Pack In The ’80s
Emilio was featured in Gen X films like The Outsiders, The Breakfast Club, and St. Elmo’s Fire. Those classic coming-of-age films established Emilio as a presence in movies, but they were just one milestone in his career.
Beginning In The 1990s, Emilio Built A Lasting Career Independent Of The Brat Pack
Emilio shed his Brat Pack persona in the projects he did during the 1990s which showcased his skill in front of the camera and behind the scenes. He wrote, directed, and starred in Men at Work (1990), a comedy-action film whose stars included his brother, Charlie.
He was in all three films in The Mighty Ducks trilogy. Those popular Disney movies described a fictional youth hockey team coached by Emilio’s character, Gordon Bombay.
Emilio also starred opposite his father in The War at Home (1996) and The Way (2010).
Emilio Is Also A Respected Director
Wisdom (1986) marked another significant accomplishment for Emilio. The film made him the youngest person ever to write, direct, and star in a single major motion picture. He has directed episodes of many TV series such as Cold Case and CSI: NY.
Bobby (2006), a film which Emilio directed and wrote, was an account of the 1968 assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy immediately after he won the California presidential primary. It featured an impressive ensemble cast that included Helen Hunt, Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone and Emilio’s father, Martin.
The Way (2010) was written, directed, and produced by Emilio and starred his father, among others. Filmed in Spain, it is dedicated to Emilio’s grandfather, Francisco Estevez.
Ramon Is Also An Actor And Producer
Ramon appeared in films like That Was Then…This Is Now (1985) and Cadence (1990). He runs Estevez Sheen Productions.
Martin Sheen and his talented children have had their share of hurdles to navigate over the years. Although they have varying takes on their ethnic background and on keeping their father’s given surname, they seem to have come together in a loving and respectful way as a family of immensely creative, successful artists.