Joe Estevez: Leading a Quiet Life in Front of the Scenes

By Tim Wahl
Tim Wahl
Tim Wahl
Timothy Wahl is an ESL teacher, reporter, essayist, and author living in Southern California. His most recent book is “Footballogy: Elements of American Football for Non-Native Speakers of English.”
April 22, 2017 Updated: April 27, 2017


“Movie Stumpers,” a question category on the popular TV game show “Jeopardy,” did not stump this contestant: “When the star wasn’t available, his brother Joe Estevez was brought in to do voiceovers on this 1979 film.”

The correct answer, worth $11,400, was “What is ‘Apocalypse Now’?”

But what about the road not taken in this prompt?

Who is Joe Estevez?

In this day and age, when some personalities in the narcissistic ambiance that Hollywood is known for are just famous for being famous, Joe Estevez has quietly maneuvered under the radar to become one of the most prolific actors under the sun.

Ever since he quit a factory job back in his native Ohio, in 1974, and headed west to join his older brother Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez, better known as Martin Sheen, the 71-year-old has steadily but quietly built an out-of-sight portfolio as an actor. Two hundred-and-forty movie and TV credits are to his name on the Internet Movie database.

“I’m the luckiest person in the world to be doing what I love to do,” said Mr. Estevez in a get-together with the Epoch Times at Souplantaion, an eatery he frequents in Los Angeles’ Atwater Village.

“I’ve made a living at something I love to do—am passionate about. I have a loving, beautiful wife Constance, and three daughters. They are what matters to me.”

What matters might not have materialized if not for an unusual twist of fate in 1979. An untimely medical emergency of Mr. Sheen led Francis Ford Coppola, the director of “Apocalypse Now,” to summon Mr. Estevez to the Philippines to be Mr. Sheen’s stand in and to take over the narration for his character Captain Willard.

But Mr. Coppola was to lose his patience with Mr. Estevez, who kept botching the words due to his intoxication, a malady Mr. Estevez chronicles in a memoir “Wiping off the Sheen.”

Mr. Estevez said he felt humiliated “in the presence of the most powerful director in the world.” This was a defining moment for the character of Joe Estevez, not just an eye-opener to the meaning of you’ll-never-work-in-this-town-again. He finally got the words right.

“I never had a drink since,” he said.

This experience may have mystically foreshadowed his professional path. Despite significant accomplishments in his lifetime, the veteran actor, still with a full head of hair, though gray, has achieved little public recognition. Not only was he not credited for his work in this epic film, but also audiences mistakenly assumed the narration was Mr. Sheen’s.

Following His Heart

His inclination to take on roles in “Indies,” or low budget productions, may have partly contributed to his name not catching on. Yet, this may present an advantage. He is untethered by the attention that typically comes with celebrity.

Mr. Estevez joined his established sibling in TV movies “The Story of Pretty Boy Floyd” and “The California Kid,” in 1974. A year later he broke off on his own in “The Hatfields and the McCoys,” starring Jack Palance, whom he claims to be his most revered actor.

Estevez went on to star in films of diverse genres: “Soultaker” (horror), “Bad Fellaz” (comedy), and “Doonby” (action) with familiar names like Jennifer O’Neill, Ernie Hudson, and John Schneider. He has performed roles from a supernatural being to a sheriff, a rowdy and a lowlife.

He presently plays the president of the United States in “Decker,” a comedy, which “Salon” magazine calls “delightfully low brow,” with Tim Heidecker on Adult Swim. His professed highest achievement is host of “All Things Catholic,” an interview show produced by his wife Constance.

Joe Estevez claims faith and humility to be his message for lasting success and happiness to anyone in or wanting to break in to what is often thought of as the self-aggrandizing material world of show business. “I pray every day,” he said, and advised others to do the same. “Whatever the method—prayer or meditation.”

Another word to the wise is to take chances. “Acting, like life, is taking risks.” He explained how a steady job like his old one in the factory can stymie dreams by making people complacent.

“You get a job and that’s it—forget about your dream!” he remarked, facetiously. “Keep yourself hungry.”

“If I stayed in the factory, it would have been the death of me,” he said.

His memoir describes a business he once started, and it was growing. But lest it interfere with his ardor for what drew him to Los Angeles, he sold it.

His parting words about the craft of acting may sound unpleasant to acting schools. Analogous to learning a foreign language, total immersion—not schooling—some say, is the best method for learning.

“Acting is life,” said Mr. Estevez. “Acting is not brain surgery; it’s outside our door, every waking hour.”

So, who is Joe Estevez? Approachable, without airs, he is an uncommon common Joe, let’s say, the living embodiment of Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” He’s someone to sit down with over a cup of—uh-hum—joe.

So goes the cliché, “it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” 

Timothy Wahl’s experience in business, education, the sciences, and the arts gives him a unique platform on a spectrum of subjects.


Tim Wahl
Timothy Wahl is an ESL teacher, reporter, essayist, and author living in Southern California. His most recent book is “Footballogy: Elements of American Football for Non-Native Speakers of English.”