Martin Sheen Image Credit: Supplied

It’s impossible not to be charmed by Hollywood actor Martin Sheen. The Apocalypse Now star, who was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award this weekend at the Dubai International Film Festival, made it a point to introduce himself to the photographers who were flocking to take his pictures against the backdrop of the Burj Al Arab on Sunday morning. He didn’t stop there.

Spotting a Filipina face in the crowd, the 73-year-old went over and asked about the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, which ripped through the Philippines last month taking with it more than 10,000 lives. His genuine concern was there for all to see. The moment he heard that there was an American football fan in his midst, he was more than happy to discuss his favourite team Ohio State’s dismissal from the BCS championship game earlier that morning.

All this when he had more than a dozen interviews lined up for the morning. He just couldn’t hide his genuine interest in people — a trait that is missing in today’s world leaders, says the actor.

“They are not suffering like the people are. They are not in the streets … All the great leaders in the past, be it Gandhi, Mandela or Malcolm X were the people who had suffered in life. But they were people who had transcended that suffering. That’s what today’s leaders lack,” said Sheen in an interview with tabloid!. He’s known as much for his acting roles as his activism to end war. Sheen, who played US President Josiah Bartlet in award-winning TV series The West Wing, was one of the most outspoken celebrities against the US war in Iraq.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the anti-war hero loved the festival’s opening night feature, Omar, directed by Palestine’s Hany Abu Assad. The psychological thriller set in the occupied West Bank is a love story that questions the concepts of trust, loyalty and friendship among three childhood friends.

“I just saw it and I thought it was a brilliant movie because it terrified me. The cause may be just but violence only destroys the possibilities on both sides. If you use violence and treachery, both sides are compromised,” said Sheen. He also loved that Omar did not mention politics overtly in its narrative.

“There’s an adage in Hebrew that goes: choose your enemy well, for he is who you will become. So if you oppress people then you will become the person or thing that you hate the most. That’s what happened … Omar was so personal and I loved it. If a film is impersonal then you just lose your audience right away,” said Sheen, added that he believes films give a face to grave issues that are crippling the world.

However, Sheen wasn’t always this sorted. The self-made actor, who was born Ramon Antonio Gerardo Estevez, has survived alcoholism and a near-fatal heart attack in his thirties. But he’s cleaned up good. Sheen, who has been directed by Hollywood heavyweights such as Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppala and Martin Scorcese in a career spanning five decades, claims his best work in his career was acting in The Way.

In the American drama directed by his son, Emilio Estevez, Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who goes to France to deal with the tragic loss of his son. Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the religious pilgrimage through Spain to Santiago de Compostela, called the Way of Saint James or Camino de Santiago, to honour his son’s desire to finish the journey.

“We financed it ourselves and we even mortgaged our house to raise the money. I never had a film that has such a satisfying response. After watching the film, the people in America were encouraged to do the Camino de Santiago… It’s so gratifying to talk about transcendence. That journey of 500 miles then is not just a physical journey but an internal one where you find yourself,” said Sheen.

He may come across as an actor who doesn’t let fame or stardom affect him, (he was dressed in a grey corduroys and sports shoes) but in Dubai, he had his own fan moment when he met Hollywood actress Cate Blanchett for the first time.

“She’s one of my favourite actresses and I was humbled to meet her yesterday. Actually, I felt shy.” But isn’t he the bigger star, with at least 80 films and award-winning TV series under his belt?

“But sometimes when we get around somebody whom we admire in this business and is so talented, it is hard not to be intimidated. And she was disarming and funny. But when look at her, you realise that she is this magnificent actress whom you have watched for years and it is just gratifying to know that someone from our profession can have such influence and talent,” said Sheen.

But don’t get carried away by his humility. The father to troubled star Charlie Sheen isn’t doing too badly himself. With the Diff Lifetime Achievement honour, he joins the likes of Omar Sharif, Morgan Freeman, Sean Penn and Amitabh Bachchan who were presented with the same in the past. Any regrets?

“Oh, I do it everyday, every moment...” said Sheen laughing heartily.

“I feel I could have done this day better… but these things [lifetime achievement honour] are gifts that you welcome. They help you with life and says ‘it’s not over for me’. I may not be young anymore but it means I have contributions to make.” The contribution is going to come sooner than you think. Sheen is now starring alongside his son Charlie in the TV series Anger Management.

“It is about a therapist who is a former athlete and he breaks his leg through his own fault. He [Charlie Sheen] retires and becomes a psychotherapist to students in a school to help them with their anger. I play his father … It’s hilarious.”