Martin Sheen Discusses Family, Activist DNA for Who Do You Think You Are?

7 years ago by Reg Seeton

Martin Sheen in Who Do You Think You Are? - Lalo Villar/NBC

Actor Martin Sheen explores the origins of his family history, activism, and commitment to social justice in the Season 3 premiere of Who Do You Think You Are? on Friday, February 3 on NBC.

Although Martin Sheen rose to acting fame in such films as Badlands, Apocalypse Now, Gandhi, The Dead Zone (and many more) before going on to play the President in The West Wing, Sheen has long been a peaceful activist for social justice. From his support of the farm workers movement in 1965 with labor leader Casar Chavez to his opposition of the Iraq war and his fight for the environment, Martin Sheen has a long history of fighting for what he believes is right.

So, with his family history the focus of the Season 3 premiere of Who Do You Think You Are?, how does Martin Sheen feel that his journey into the past relates to his own commitment for social justice? When The Deadbolt spoke with Martin Sheen this week for the Season 3 debut, Sheen was keen to explore the origin of his activism.

“I have to say that was one of the things that I thought could very much be the case,” Sheen told The Deadbolt about how his activism could have been in the family.

“I had two uncles on both sides of my parents’ families. My uncle, who was an Irish volunteer and fought in the [Irish] War of Independence and then fought against the free state in the Civil War [of Ireland] from 1921 to 1923.”

Martin Sheen in Who Do You Think You Are? - Peter Morrison/NBC

For Martin Sheen, born Ramón Antonio Gerard Estévez in Dayton, Ohio to a Spanish father and Irish mother, his fight for social justice has deeper family roots.

“On my father’s side,” Sheen continued, “my father’s brother Matias had fought against Franco at the onset of his coup and spent an awful lot of time in jail. In fact, he received a life sentence that was finally rescinded in 1969 and I had just met him that year. So, the connections are just amazing in that they’re so deeply personal. And yes, both of them had risen up against oppression. In one case, a dictatorship in Spain and had suffered mightily for it but stuck to his principles.”

So, after exploring his family history on Who Do You Think You Are?, does Martin Sheen see a connection between his own activism and the principles of those who came before him in his family?

“For me, maybe this is some unknown quality that I have possessed. Not to the extent that these gentlemen did – they were absolutely heroic and risked their lives – but the message is clear that maybe this is part of my DNA.”

Martin Sheen in Who Do You Think You Are? - Peter Morrison/NBC

The father of Hollywood actors Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen also revealed that he now has a grounded sense of who he really is after taking the NBC journey into the past. In fact, Sheen has a special respect for the value of history.

“I think anyone who goes on one of these journeys,” Sheen elaborated, “whether it’s in front of a camera or on the internet, is really looking for a personal identification with the past. What is amazing about that is that as you go back further and further into lineage in generation and generation, you begin to look at dates. For example, one of my great, great, great grandparents died at the onset of the American Revolutionary War. In that sense, it gives you some perspective that you really think about in terms of historical value.”

Who Do You Think You Are? airs Friday, February 3 at 8/7c on NBC.

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Reg Seeton

Reg Seeton created The Deadbolt in 2005 after working for the pioneering movie news website, Coming Attractions. Reg has over 15 years experience as a top online entertainment journalist and interviewer, has worked with several award winning actors, musicians and writers, and has managed entertainment networks in New York and Los Angeles. And he's done it all with one eye!