Sheen & Son clash over 'Bobby' biopic

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When Oliver Stone made his movie about the assassination of JFK, he took his cameras to the actual scene of the shooting in Dealey Plaza, on the edge of downtown Dallas. So when Emilio Estevez first thought of making a film about the assassination of Robert Kennedy, he naturally felt that he too would shoot in the actual location - the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

That, though, was before a demolition plan was approved to raze the Ambassador, which has long since ceased functioning as a hotel, and replace it with a giant high school. The last effects have already been auctioned off, and the demolition is now getting under way.

And so Estevez - one of Martin Sheen's sons, perhaps best remembered for the "brat pack" movies Breakfast Club and St Elmo's Fire - has had to move in a big hurry. Over the past couple of months he's managed to capture at least a little footage of the real-life Ambassador before moving to a substitute location dressed up to look as much like the original as possible.

But the story has an added twist. One of the champions of the demolition of the Ambassador happens to have been Estevez's own father.

About a year ago, Martin Sheen was asked by Ethel Kennedy, Bobby's widow, to make a few calls in support of the school-building plan. It seemed to her a fitting legacy to one of the most famously idealistic of modern US politicians.

Sheen obliged, without thinking about the implications for his son's project. As Estevez recounted inThe New York Times last week, the entire family almost choked on its dinner. "Are you insane?" he remembers asking his father.

The actor had been mulling over his film, to be called Bobby, for years. He first tried to launch it in 2001, but was told that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks nobody wanted to see a film about another national tragedy. It is only now fully financed, and attracting a dazzling cast including Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte, Sharon Stone, William H Macy, Laurence Fishburne, Christian Slater and Sheen himself.

The movie takes place in the 48 hours leading up to the shooting, in the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador on the night of the California primary. Bobby Kennedy was running for President and seemed assured of the Democratic Party nomination, delivering a rousing victory speech minutes before being gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan, a Jordanian-Palestinian immigrant.

The conceit of Estevez's film is that its main characters are all bit-players in the drama - campaign workers, hotel employees, party supporters, and so on - while the character playing Bobby Kennedy appears only briefly. The authenticity of the location was supposed to be key. In fine Hollywood tradition, fake authenticity will just have to do.

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