It is 7 am in Los Angeles and Martin Sheen is ready to talk about Warren Anderson, the ‘charming villain’ that he has played in Ravi Kumar’s Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain, releasing this Friday .
Based on the events that led upto the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, this is not the first time that Sheen is seen in an apocalyptical tale. In 1979, he was part of America’s hegemonic designs in Vietnam in Apocalypse Now . Sheen says both films reflect America’s “cultural arrogance”.
“We have this problem of looking down at people of Third World countries. If we run business in a developing country we behave as if we are doing them a favour. This sense of cultural superiority has proved detrimental for us many times including Bhopal. Now we are busy establishing democracy in different parts of the world when we have had enough problems with our own democracy. We can see it in the way things have panned out at Ferguson,” reflects Sheen.
Suggesting that not much has changed in the last three decades, Sheen, known for his liberal political views, says that the politicians are still busy pushing the corporate equation, which has scant regard for the human life. “Conglomerates like Shell and Chevron are still calling the shots. And the biggest loss in this profit led policy is moral responsibility. It was shed in Bhopal and it is still being done,” he rues
Sheen describes Anderson, who passed away recently as a charming well read man who had a way with people but at the same time he says he was a coward, despicable man driven by greed. “Had he returned to India after the tragedy and mourned with the people, it would have done some repair, he could have saved his spirit at least but he chose to run away from the situation.”
A pacifist, Sheen, 74, says it is important to show people characters, who have lack of courage. “I like to put my weight behind such characters for it makes you articulate what greed can do to you. It also tells you who you are as an artist,” says the actor who is known for his performances in Badlands, Gettysburg and television series The West Wing.
To give the company its due, Sheen says when Union Carbide factory came up it was far from the populated areas but gradually the city grew around it because of the opportunities that it provided but still it doesn’t absolve the company of not taking adequate security measures. “The company was driven by greed and compromised on the safety standards.”
Recalling his association with the country, Sheen says he came to India in 1981 to shoot for Gandhi (he played the fictional journalist Vince Walker) and it had a profound “spiritual effect” on him. “This time I stayed in Hyderabad where the film was shot and liked to observe the close bond between Hindus and Muslims in the city. It is a good reflection of you as a society. I found the common people very shy but then we are very expressive and egoistical and perhaps that colours our vision,” says Sheen in a self-deprecatory tone.
A friend and supporter of late Cesar Chavez, Sheen has been associated with United Farm Workers. “The small farm workers have been affected hard by big agro business houses like Monsanto. Small family farms have been pushed out of business. They have been lured into using pesticides and fungicides. Things are not different for small farmers in various parts of the world. Thankfully, there is greater awareness in the US now.”
Reflecting on his eventful journey as an actor, Sheen says, “You can’t confine me as a Hollywood actor. I love to work in different parts of the world and in different media. Recently, I have finished shooting for a comedy for Netflix and am now preparing to do a play. Also, I am not just addicted to acting. I know my roles as a friend, a husband, a father and now a grandfather,” Sheen signs off.