LOS ANGELES - Emilio Estevez's life has been repeatedly touched by Robert Kennedy. So there's symmetry in the fact that Estevez's rebirth in Hollywood should come with the saga "Bobby."
Written and directed by Estevez, who also co-stars with a huge all-star ensemble, the film tells the fictionalized stories of 22 people gathered at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel for an appearance by Kennedy after the California primary in 1968, the night the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate was assassinated there.
For Estevez and his family, the Kennedy aura has been strong for decades. Before he starred as a progressive Democratic president from New England on "The West Wing," Estevez's father, Martin Sheen, played Robert Kennedy in the 1974 made-for-TV movie "The Missiles of October" and John F. Kennedy in the 1983 miniseries "Kennedy."
In 1968, Sheen celebrated Kennedy's primary victory. The next morning, he was awakened in horror by 6-year-old Emilio, who told him Kennedy had been shot.
The next year, Estevez and his father visited the Ambassador Hotel, where "I remember holding his hand and him talking about, `This is it. This is the place where the music died,'" Estevez, 44, told The Associated Press. "I remember it as if it happened yesterday."
A year before the assassination, young Emilio accompanied Sheen to a rally where Kennedy appeared in New York City. The boy had his one personal encounter with Kennedy there.
"My dad took me with him, and I was on his shoulders, and Bobby reached out and shook my hand," Estevez said. "I have no memory of it except as told. That's where it lives, but it's still something that happened."
Playing the film-festival circuit, "Bobby" has earned high praise for its cast, which includes Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, Laurence Fishburne, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Harry Belafonte, Christian Slater, Heather Graham and Elijah Wood. Sheen also appears.
"Bobby" opened Friday, pulling in a strong $67,000 at two New York City and Los Angeles theaters. The film expands to nationwide release Wednesday.
The many Kennedy connections in his family beg the question: Does Estevez feel he was destined to make "Bobby"?
"What is fate and what is destiny? What are miracles?" Estevez said. "You leave the house, get in your car and drive to work, and in front of you, the accident happens, and you just miss it. That's a miracle. That's what you assign a miracle.
"You leave the house, get in your car and drive to work, and you're in the accident. That's fate. It depends on what you assign to it and how you describe it. For me, I guess it's a little of both. It's truly a miracle that this movie got made."
Estevez counts off the hindrances. His original screenplay was 162 pages, much longer than most movie executives would consider. There was no central protagonist, rather a diffuse group of loosely connected characters, and no villain, "except for the chaos and the climate of the times," he said.
And Estevez himself was on the outs with Hollywood. As an actor, he had made a mark in the mid-1980s with Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders" and the quirky cult flick "Repo Man," then established himself as one of the Brat Pack with such hits as "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire."
He went mainstream with the Western "Young Guns," the cop caper "Stakeout" and "The Mighty Ducks," in which he played coach to a bumbling kids' hockey team.
In the 1990s, though, Estevez fell into the sequel trap, churning out "Young Guns II," "Another Stakeout" and two "Mighty Ducks" follow-ups, the latter a trade-off for directing and starring (with his father) in a pet project, the post-Vietnam drama "The War at Home."
Few people saw that film, so the third "Mighty Ducks" movie looked like a crass cash-in.
"I was branded a sellout, and how could I do yet another movie with a number after it? I think people didn't take me seriously as an actor any longer, and it felt like I'd done it, and I was over," Estevez said. "Certainly, the opportunities had dried up. I was not in a good place emotionally, spiritually."
Estevez turned to directing, overseeing "Rated X" in 2000 for Showtime, in which he co-starred with brother Charlie Sheen as porn-industry siblings. He later directed episodes of "The Guardian," "Cold Case" and "CSI: NY," valuable training for filming "Bobby" on a tight 37-day schedule and modest $10 million budget.
It took a long time to reach that point, though. In summer 2001, severe writer's block had Estevez stuck at 30 pages on the script. After a friendly rebuke from his brother, Estevez packed up and checked into an inn near Pismo Beach, north of Los Angeles, where the specter of Robert Kennedy again touched his life.
The hotel desk clerk recognized him and asked what he was doing there. Estevez told her he was writing a film about Kennedy. She told him she had been there, at the Ambassador Hotel, the night Kennedy was shot.
The woman became the inspiration for Lohan's character, who is about to wed an old friend (Wood) in hopes the marriage will keep him from getting sent to Vietnam. Estevez's writer's block was gone.
"Isn't that really the thing? It's one thing to have a great idea, but people who can complete a task, that is ultimately, I think, the formula for winning," said Stone, who plays the hotel's compassionate hairdresser in "Bobby."
Estevez now hopes to continue his career revival with a balance of directing and acting in other filmmakers' movies.
"Little by little, I'm getting my confidence back," Estevez said. "Was it the great leaders of the world that always used to have somebody sitting next to them saying, `It's only fleeting, it's only fleeting'?
"It's true. Especially having survived the last decade the way I have, I know that maybe better than most in this business."