Some actors take their roles so seriously that they start to blend reality with the fictitious. In the case of Martin Sheen, he used to really drink when his characters were supposed to drink. He was not just insanely drunk when he was filming Apocalypse Now — he really hurt himself and was smearing real blood on himself in one scene.
Martin Sheen Was Drunk, “Exorcising” Demons on Apocalypse Now
Sheen once told Bob Costas that the scene where Captain Willard is supposed to have a mental breakdown in his room was much more real than most people thought. It’s towards the beginning of Francis Ford Coppola’s film when The Doors is playing in the background.
Sheen admitted to Costas that he’s an alcoholic (technically although he no longer drinks, a person who is once an alcoholic is always an alcoholic).
“I had done that scene at bars, I had done that scene at home,” Sheen said. “I had to come to grips with it. I had to exorcise that out of myself.” And so, Sheen had to beg Coppola to let him do the scene as he saw. That meant, getting really hammered and then accidentally hurting himself. When he punched the mirror, his hand was hurt much worse than anyone thought it would be.
“I bled quite a lot and Francis tried to stop the scene, and I begged him to continue rolling. There were two cameras going,” Sheen told Costas. “He said he couldn’t do it and they had a nurse standing by. And I said, ‘Please. I must do this for myself.’ And he did. And he allowed me, in a sense, to wrestle with some demons that I had been wrestling with for quite a while. Now, I was doing it in a public forum, and in a sense, I got them out.”
Sheen said he still has the scar from the scene. When Costas asked him what he sees when he watches the scene now, Sheen said he doesn’t recognize himself.
Sheen Doesn’t Recognize His Old Self: “Pretty Sad Man”
“Pretty frightening. Today I don’t recognize that man. Pretty sad guy. Pretty sad man. Trying to be something he wasn’t, afraid of things that he shouldn’t have been. Immature in a lot of ways. A painful guy.”
Costas asked Sheen to explain more about what he was going through back then. Sheen admitted that he was highly insecure due to starring in Francis Ford Coppola’s film alongside greats like Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall. All of these people were people he looked up to, and he was constantly asking Coppola how to play Captain Willard.
“He’d tell me constantly, ‘Willard is you, who you are, in this time, in this place.’”
When Costas mentioned that some had suggested the heat and humidity of the Philippines, and the stress of filming Apocalypse Now, led to Sheen’s heart attack, Sheen refuted the idea.
“No. I chose to have that heart attack. I needed to have that heart attack. There was a part of me that was already dead. I had to die to that part of myself. You know, I’m talking very metaphysically. But spiritually, too. I was a desperate man. You follow? A terribly dishonest man. I was living two kinds of existences. And you can’t live that way. You can’t live healthily. Or whole.”
Sheen added that Coppola “wouldn’t let me get away with any cheap shots.” He was hard on him but also a sensitive man. “He wanted me to fully realize myself in this piece,” he said.
Martin Sheen has previously opened up about his own battles with alcohol and substance abuse. He was in an out of rehab, eventually finding help from Alcoholics Anonymous. He credits the Catholic faith and Alcoholics Anonymous as major factors that helped him get clean.
Martin on Son Charlie’s Substance Abuse Battles
Unfortunately, as alcoholism can often run in families, Martin Sheen’s son, Charlie Sheen, has also been struggling with substance abuse issues.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Martin Sheen and his older son, Emilio Estevez, reminisced about the family’s struggles with alcohol and drugs. When interviewer Craig Mclean asked Martin if he thought faith could help his son Charlie, Martin replied he thought so.
“Faith can help all of us,’ Martin Sheen said. “Addiction is the dark side. It’s a reflection of despair. And it’s fed by all the other negativity.”
He continued to explain that Charlie can hear and listen to voices of reason sometimes, but it depends on if he’s clear or not.
“Depends on whether it’s a moment of clarity for him,” said the elder Sheen. “I can’t determine that for him. You know, Charlie’s 45 years old. He’s not a kid. Emotionally he still is. Because when you’re addicted, you don’t grow emotionally. So, when you get clean and sober, you’re starting at the moment you started using drugs or alcohol.
“You’re emotionally crippled.
“But I know what hell he’s living in. I’ve had psychotic episodes in public. One of them was on camera — the opening scene of Apocalypse Now. So, I know what Charlie is going through. And when you do something like that, that is out of control, that’s the most difficult thing. You have to have courage.”
Charlie Sheen has been in the news quite a bit over the years. Some of that has been pertaining to seemingly unhinged, intoxicated public rants towards his ex, Denise Richards. Some of that has been due to a lawsuit where someone accused him of exposing her to HIV.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).