Well-known actor speaks on passion for environment, advocacy
THE SANTA CLARA
April 16, 2015
Most people know Martin Sheen as America’s “acting” president since he played President Josiah Bartlet on the television series “The West Wing.” Sheen’s acting career took a backseat, however, to his involvement in social justice movements during his on-campus talk this Tuesday.
A legendary actor, Sheen is most known for his roles in “Apocalypse Now,” “The Departed” and “Catch Me if You Can,” and has won multiple Emmys and a Golden Globe Award. On the other hand, Sheen has also been arrested over 70 times for acts of civil disobedience. He spoke on campus as part of the Dean’s Leadership Forum.
“While acting is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive,” Sheen said.
He is an advocate for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which protects marine wildlife around the world; School of the Americas Watch, a nonviolent movement aimed at changing oppressive American foreign policy; and Office of the Americas, aimed at furthering international peace, among other organizations.
“We are all responsible for the world, either consciously or unconsciously,” Sheen said. “We are all beneficiaries of the countless heroic strangers who go and assure us that the world is a safe place.”
Jonathan Fung, a Communication Department film lecturer, said Sheen is able to inject parts of his life into the characters he plays, shaping them to parallel his own experiences.
“He definitely has that presidential stature, and he has been an activist and advocate for certain causes,” Fung said. “Playing that role is fitting for him, in a political position having that kind of influence.”
Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty advocate and featured speaker in the forum, joined Sheen onstage for a conversation with Michael Whalen, associate professor of communication, about social justice and activism.
To embody a role, an actor has to expose his or her own brokenness, fears, angers, resentments and insecurities, which enables the him or her to relate to others, Sheen said.
“The wonderful blessing of being an actor for me was that it led me to the most broken part of myself,” Sheen said. “Through that brokenness, we begin to feel compassion for one another.”
Marie Brancati, director of external relations for the Dean’s Office of the College of Arts and Sciences, said that Sheen’s talk made it clear that his faith is his life and drives him to help others have a better life.
Sheen was raised Catholic but fell out of touch with his faith for 20 years after gaining fame. He reconnected with the Catholic Church in 1981 and then became involved with the peace movement.
“When I came back to the faith, I had a sense of center,” Sheen said. “I was nourished as a whole and became aware that I was loved. If you know you are loved, you understand the greatest and most important mystery in human life.”
To Sheen, being passionate about helping others gives a person’s life a purpose.
“My fondest wish for every single one of us is that we will find something in our lives worth fighting for,” Sheen said. “When we do, we will have found a way to unite the will of the spirit with the work of the flesh.”
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