It took Emilio Estevez seven years to get the movie made. At one point, he had such a bad case of writer's block, that he only had thirty pages of the script and lied to people that he was working on it. His brother Charlie Sheen read the pages and convinced him to finish.
The scene of Sharon Stone's character cutting her husband's hair (played by William H. Macy) was not in the script. Stone was to pantomime cutting the hair, but she actually snipped his hair. Macy's visibly tense reaction to the haircut was real.
A few scenes were filmed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, the real-life location of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination, during its demolition. The wing of the hotel they were using hadn't been touched by the demolition crew yet, in order to preserve items from the pantry where Kennedy was shot.
Sir Anthony Hopkins plays a door man named John Casey in the film. In reality, there actually was a John Casey who served as door man at the Ambassador Hotel. At the end of the credits, it states, "'John Casey' is the name of an actual doorman at the Ambassador Hotel from 1928-1965. His portrayal in this film is not intended to reflect the actual facts of his life or legacy."
In many ways, Writer and Director Emilio Estevez felt that he was fated to make this movie all of his life. Just six years old when Robert F. Kennedy died, Estevez vividly remembers that night through a child's eyes, and seeing the horrific announcement that the Senator had been shot on television, and rushing to awaken his father, Martin Sheen, a long-time Kennedy supporter, with the shocking news. Soon after that, Sheen took his son to visit the spot where Robert F. Kennedy had delivered his final speech at the Ambassador Hotel, a heartfelt, impromptu call for American unity and action in the face of escalating rifts and violence. Estevez recalled: "I remember my dad holding my hand as we wandered through those grand halls, and I remembered my father talking about what we had lost."
At one point during the film's script development, after developing a case of what Emilio Estevez called "paralyzing writer's block", Estevez set the script aside. But then came another twist of fate. Estevez set out to re-tackle the screenplay in a remote hotel on the Central California Coast, near Pismo Beach. When he checked in, the woman at the desk recognized him, and asked what he was doing there. "I'm writing a script about the night Bobby Kennedy was killed," he told her. Tears instantly welled in her eyes. "I was there," she replied. Estevez interviewed the woman, who had been a volunteer for Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, eventually turning her personal story, which included marrying a young man to keep him out of Vietnam, into the Lindsay Lohan's Diane Howser character in the film. Estevez said: "She really helped me crack the spine of the story and give it a beating heart. After that, it just started to flow."
Several years later, after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the loss would continue to weigh heavily on Emilio Estevez. Like many, Estevez began to see R.F.K.'s assassination as the shot that had stopped in its tracks the idealism and optimism of an earlier generation of Americans, and ushered in the later times' much harsher world of cynicism, apathy, and disenfranchisement. Robert F. Kennedy's legacy of refusing to be silent in the face of injustice, of advocacy for the downtrodden, and of speaking plainly about what he believed was wrong in America seemed to have far too few successors. Estevez said: "From that moment of June 5, 1968 on, it seemed we became more and more cynical and resigned, and I think it's a big part of why we are where we are at culturally today. It's heartbreaking."
The first cast member to be cast, and set the ball in motion, was Sir Anthony Hopkins, who still had a profoundly strong memory of Robert F. Kennedy's death several decades earlier. Hopkins recalled: "I remember exactly where I was. I was sitting in a make-up chair in a London studio when the news came through. I said: 'They've gone insane. The world's gone mad.' We had J.F.K., Malcolm X, Dr. King, and now Robert Kennedy. I thought it's coming apart at the seams, and it was."
Laurence Fishburne, who played the sous chef with his own ideas about how to deal with a racist society, as with Demi Moore, also had a long past with Emilio Estevez. The two have been friends since they were fourteen years old. Yet for Fishburne, the power of the screenplay transcended even that. Fishburne said: "I just knew that people of all generations would relate to this film."
The only character in the film other than Robert Kennedy that was based on a real person was the busboy José. He was based on Juan Romero, the young Hispanic man who was seen cradling Kennedy's body immediately after he had been shot.
Rather than attempt to search for all the people who were in the Ambassador Hotel that night to request their life rights, Emilio Estevez decided to take a novel approach. Estevez would merge the basic facts of the evening with his own imagination. Turning the story completely inside out, he chose not to focus on Robert F. Kennedy and his convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan's movements, which are widely covered in a myriad of books and documentaries, but instead on a widely varied group of ordinary people, whose lives were profoundly changed in those few terrible moments. Estevez began to weave a web of diverse characters, each of whom brings their own individual struggle into that catalytic night in June 1968, as events build, conversation by conversation, to the piercing moment of change. Estevez would use the Ambassador Hotel as a microcosm of what was happening in the country at that time.
Part of Robert F. Kennedy's final speech on June 5, 1968 said: "What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis, and that what has been going on with the United States over the period of the last three years- the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society. Whether it's between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups, or over the war in Vietnam, that we can start to work together again. We are a great country, an unselfish country, and a compassionate country, and I intend to make that my basis for running."
In 1965, still mourning his brother John F. Kennedy's death, Robert F. Kennedy journeyed to Canada to climb Mount Kennedy on the Alasken-Canadian border, which had been named in his brother's honor. Breaking away from the team of experienced mountain climbers, Kennedy made it to the summit making him the first man ever to reach the top.
For Martin Sheen, the father of Emilio Estevez, the project was a labor of love on many levels. In addition to proudly watching his son come into his own as a director, this film also continued Sheen's long-lived relationship with the Kennedy family. He previously played Robert F. Kennedy in The Missiles of October (1974). In this film, he played a very different role, that of a wealthy East Coast man, who has entered into therapy, and was examining the very roots of his modern malaise, much to the discomfort of his younger wife, Samantha, portrayed by Helen Hunt. Sheen said: "Robert Kennedy was a very great personal hero of mine. He continues to be a great source of inspiration to me personally. I'm privileged to work for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation. Each of the last few years, I've narrated a film that explores the foundation's involvement in social justice, and furthers the work of Robert Kennedy." Sheen continued: "I think it's important for us to celebrate heroes and to try and inspire people to higher and more humane service to their fellow men, and I think this film will do that by honoring the spirit of Robert Francis Kennedy, and that my son has been responsible for this, just makes me so hopelessly proud."
Hearing Robert F. Kennedy's speeches had a profound effect on Elijah Wood (William Avary), a young man about to get married in order to change his draft classification. Wood said: "Kennedy's words are incredibly powerful and really resonated with me, especially seeing what we are lacking in our world today. Since his death, we really haven't had a political leader that has spoken to so many people, and has provided people with a sense that our country really could turn things around. It's incredibly sad, actually, when you realize that in a way, when Bobby was shot, the hope of the country was shot, too."
Robert F. Kennedy once got into a contest with Richard Burton, who greatly admired him, in which they tried to outdo the other by quoting William Shakespeare's sonnets. Both were word-perfect, and Burton was forced to "win" the contest by quoting one of the sonnets backwards, a feat Bobby could not match.
For some of the film's younger actors and actresses, this movie was an introduction to the idealism that marked the era preceding the 1968 election. Joshua Jackson (Robert F. Kennedy aide) said, "The main thing that attracted me to my character, was that it seemed so cool to be a true believer without veering off into extremism. Kids who worked for Kennedy were giving everything they had, because it was a time before they were disaffected by the political process."
For Emilio Estevez, a large part of what kept him motivated through the years of fighting to get the film made, and then the ultra-fast, high-pressure shoot, was simply that he never ran out of inspiration. Estevez said: "Everyone got involved in this film, because we all really care about the things Bobby Kennedy was talking about, and what's really clear, is that the issues he was addressing back then, are the same issues we're facing today. I hope this movie raises the question of why haven't we moved forward from those times and reveals how relevant Bobby's ideas still are to us right now."
The production notes for this film cite a quotation from Senator Robert F. Kennedy's speech in Ohio from April 1968. The quote reads: "Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul."
Deftly combining fact, fiction, and fate, the interwoven human stories of this picture unfold on June 4, 1968. The film begins its imaginative and stirring re-creation of that catalytic day just a few hours before Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, as party-goers, performers, hotel employees, and campaigners all descend on the hotel in preparation for the big night. As the day progresses, each of these characters will encounter their own battles between the sexes, between races, between social classes, between personal despair and public hope, as they all converge on the ballroom for Robert F. Kennedy's speech, never to be the same again.
Harry Belafonte had been preparing to meet with Robert F. Kennedy shortly after his life was so cruelly cut short. Belafonte said: "I had worked for him, and I had known him for a good spell. Our lives had come together in very unusual and impactful ways." It was this personal perspective on who Bobby Kennedy was, and what he might have meant to the country, that compelled Belafonte to take on the role of Nelson in this film. Belafonte states: "The moment seen in this film is one which forever changed the course of not only this nation, but one I think changed the course of all human history."
Having Sir Anthony Hopkins as the first member cast in the film became an immediate drawing point for other actors and actresses. "He was one of the reasons I took this role," said William H. Macy, who plays the hotel's manager, Paul Ebbers, a man besieged by a raft of personal and professional crises in the course of this one historic day. Macy added: "I'd act the Yellow Pages with Anthony Hopkins."
Christian Slater was challenged by the role of Daryl Timmons, the hotel's kitchen manager, who expresses barely contained rage and bigotry towards his largely Hispanic staff. Explained Slater: "Timmons represents the guy who just isn't thrilled about the idea of change and the direction that Bobby Kennedy wants to move the country in. I think he just comes from a really old school way of thinking, and quite honestly, he's a bit of a racist." Timmons' wrath comes down especially hard on the kitchen worker, Jose Rosas (Freddy Rodríguez), who can't believe he has to work a double shift on the night Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale might extend his amazing, record-setting shutout streak.
After scouring Los Angeles, California, a series of Ambassador Hotel-like locations were found including the historic Santa Anita Racetrack, which sported a period pantry and kitchen that resembled that from the Ambassador Hotel; the 1920s-era Park Plaza Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, the circa-1920s elegant lobby of which was used for the scenes with Harry Belafonte and Sir Anthony Hopkins; the Castle Green Apartments in Pasadena, which provided the Ambassador's lush gardens; and a country club in Agoura, where a few 1960s-era cabanas were added to a pool strongly reminiscent of the Ambassador Hotel. Consistent details wove these disparate spots together into one. Production Designer Patti Podesta laughed: "We started to realize that a lot of creating the right look in a hotel, has to do with plants and draperies."
Robert F. Kennedy became close to Warren Beatty during his 1968 campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Beatty's relationship with Robert was closer than the one he had with John F. Kennedy while J.F.K. was President. Beatty was particularly valuable in firing up volunteers for such mundane activities as door-to-door canvassing. Bobby was impressed by Beatty's thorough understanding of the issues. After Bobby's assassination in Beatty's hometown of Los Angeles, Beatty became a vocal gun control advocate.
In the time since the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Emilio Estevez had grown into a promising writer and director, who was in search of that one special project that would take him to creative places he'd never been. While conducting a photo shoot in the Ambassador Hotel, Estevez was suddenly reeling with memories from that trip with his father, and inspiration struck. Estevez decided he would start writing about the night that Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Estevez explained: "All I knew in the beginning is that I wanted to tell a story that would celebrate the spirit of Bobby."
In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy made a speech in South Africa, the words of which have continued to sum up his viewpoint on the world. In the speech, Kennedy concluded: "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." Kennedy's own life was to become such a ripple of hope, at least for a brief, shining moment.
In taking on the role of retired Ambassador Hotel doorman John Casey, Sir Anthony Hopkins especially relished the opportunity to work in concert with the legendary Harry Belafonte. Hopkins said about his scenes with Belafonte: "It was so wonderful to work with such a distinguished figure from Hollywood history. Harry is a dynamic force of nature, a revolutionary force, and the fact that he was so personally close to Bobby Kennedy brought so much more meaning to me." As for working with Hopkins, Belafonte felt a mutual sense of excitement. Belafonte said: "There was not a moment in his presence where I wasn't being challenged and awakened to great opportunities with just his slightest nuances."
Cast members were also pulled into the project by the complexities of their characters. Sharon Stone, who portrays Paul Ebbers' (William H. Macy's) cheated-upon wife, loved the idea of playing a 1960s hairdresser. She observed: "I liked the part, because I think the beauty salon was really the psychiatrist's office in the '60s. Everyone comes in to tell her their personal story. I also like the way the script deals with how Miriam is betrayed by her unfaithful husband in a way that feels so true to the times." For Stone, there was a feeling on the set of this film unlike any other film she's made in her extensive and diverse career. Stone commented: "It was a poetic feeling. To be in the Ambassador (Hotel) and touch those powerful moments and be educated by that time again. It was something very special."
Many of the cast members noted the film's relevance to the world of the time that the picture was made as America faced some of its deepest divisions in decades. "There is still a real need to bring people together," said Demi Moore. "After Bobby Kennedy was shot, there seemed to be a great loss of innocence, and with it came an unfortunate loss of passion, and a feeling of helplessness that has endured." Moore plays one of the film's saddest characters, the chanteuse Virginia Fallon, a once glamorous, now drunken lounge singer, who has reached rock bottom upon her final performance at the Ambassador Hotel. Moore noted: "This was the first time that I've had the opportunity to play a woman that drinks way too much. It's exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, because you can let go about caring how you look, because it's irrelevant. There's something very raw about going to a core place, and giving your body permission to do anything. There's no censorship necessary; you can be and say whatever you want." Moore especially enjoyed collaborating with her long-time friend Emilio Estevez, with whom she worked in his directorial debut film Wisdom (1987). She commented: "Even though he's also the writer, he didn't hold anything as precious. He's giving, but not controlling. He's especially open to improvisation on the part of actors and actresses, because he really trusts them. He allowed us to create and share, and at the same time he guided us too."
Once one of Los Angeles' swankiest spots, the five hundred-room Ambassador Hotel was built on Wilshire Boulevard in 1921, designed by renowned architect Myron Hunt. It quickly became an integral part of Hollywood's glamour, hosting such stars of the day as Jean Harlow, John Barrymore, and Gloria Swanson. Even more so, the hotel's famed Coconut Grove Nightclub became a focal point of Los Angeles nightlife. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Ambassador Hotel attained fame as the setting of the Academy Awards. It was also renowned for regularly hosting American Presidents on their trips to the West Coast.
Of the Ambassador Hotel, Production Designer Patti Podesta said: "Our Ambassador Hotel is actually made up of bits and pieces of buildings all over Los Angeles, all put together to give us the flow we wanted." Podesta knew she faced another major challenge in taking on this picture. She added: "It was heavy in that not only was my job to try to capture the essence of the times and that moment in June 1968, but also to capture the Ambassador for probably the last time. But researching this kind of stuff and getting to play with it, is a designer's dream." Podesta focused on using the film's design to mirror the emotional trajectory of the film. She continued: "Everything starts out very bright and frivolous, and becomes very sad and tragic, and I tried to use that as a map, in terms of making spaces full of texture and with the right sense of light and emotion."
During the one week the crew had at the Ambassador Hotel, Patti Podesta made what she called "emotional sketches" of the building, not so much focused on complete accuracy, as on mood and atmosphere. She also pried away as many discarded doors and accessories as she could, to add more authenticity to the sets that would later be created elsewhere. Other furniture items, such as the Ambassador's authentic lobby chairs, were purchased by the production at an auction held by the School Board. Since the building had already been remodelled since 1968, Podesta was further aided in re-creating the Ambassador Hotel by twenty minutes of raw CBS television footage from June 4, 1968, that Emilio Estevez had come across in his research. In another stroke of serendipity, Podesta also discovered that Costume Designer Julie Weiss' sister had been married in the Ambassador Hotel in the 1960s, and had a scrapbook filled with detailed pictures. Additional inspiration came from 1960s feature films filmed in the Ambassador Hotel, such as the classic movie The Graduate (1967).
In 1968, with the Vietnam War escalating, along with unrest at home, and President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration foundering, Bobby (Robert F. Kennedy) faced a quandary. Though he did not want to run for President in the wake of his brother's death, he was eventually pulled into the race by the sheer force of millions of ordinary Americans who wanted him to take up their mantle. Bobby came into the race with a very different platform from any other politician. He not only wanted to end the Vietnam War, he wanted to uplift the very fabric of the country, and reawaken a passion for making not only the U.S., but the world, a better place. His personal style was also entirely unique, mixing the most radical, creative ideas with core conservative values of self-sacrifice, morality, and hard work.
In the first days of June 1968, the following occurred: June 1, 1968: Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" hits number one on the charts; June 3, 1968: The Poor People's March on Washington takes place, and Artist Andy Warhol was shot in his New York City studio, The Factory, by Valerie Solanas. Though seriously wounded, Warhol survived ; June 4, 1968: Dodger Don Drysdale pitched his sixth straight shut-out game, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy won the California Primary, putting him in prime position to take the Democratic nomination in Chicago, Illinois; June 5, 1968: Shortly after midnight, after making a rousing victory speech in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot and mortally wounded. Five others are also shot during the melee, but they all survived. Kennedy remained conscious until the ambulance arrives, asking if everyone else is all right; June 6, 1968: Robert F. Kennedy died in Good Samaritan Hospital, at the age of forty-two.
Right from the start, the project felt like the most meaningful of Emilio Estevez's life, but he had no idea that this would be the beginning of an intense, seven-year-long journey, and fight to get his film made. Estevez remarked: "So much of what happened in the making of this film was random, so much was coincidence and accidental, and yet nothing was random, and nothing was coincidental."
Russian actress Svetlana Metkina, who starred as the tenacious Czech journalist in this film, had a unique point of view, coming from behind what was once the Iron Curtain, the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). She said: "To me, this movie is about more than just a single person. It's about all of us back then, and today. Bobby Kennedy knew how important freedom is for everybody in the world, which meant a lot to someone who grew up in a Communist country."
Creating the world of the 1960s-era Ambassador Hotel, was a behind the scenes team that included: Writer and Director Emilio Estevez, Director of Photography Michael Barrett, Production Designer Patti Podesta, Costume Designer Julie Weiss, and Editor Richard Chew.
Emilio Estevez completed the screenplay one week before another American tragedy: the events of September 11, 2001. At the time, he chose to keep the screenplay under wraps for another six months, then slowly began to show it to friends and family, receiving lots of enthusiastic responses. But when he tried to get the project off the ground, Estevez was suddenly in the position himself of being a definite underdog. He said: "I had this script that was very large in scope, and would obviously be dependent on performances and execution, and I hadn't really proven myself to be that kind of director. There wasn't that kind of trust that I could pull this off."
The cast of the film had their own perspectives on how Emilio Estevez was able to maneuver through so many characters and themes. Sir Anthony Hopkins observed: "He's just so passionate about what he does. He actually lets you do what you want to do, and then he comes in with a few suggestions. I think he held complete control of the movie by not trying to over control it."
When Emilio Estevez's screenplay started making the rounds in Hollywood, its themes and his obvious fervor for the project rallied a remarkable ensemble cast to take on the roles of the film's twenty-two main characters, each of whom becomes indelibly intense in a very short frame of time. Co-Producer Lisa Niedenthal said: "It's rare that you find a script that has so many incredibly meaty roles in it. Actors and actresses were attracted, not only by the opportunity to tackle great characters, but to work with their peers on a project that felt so meaningful to all of us."
The Ambassador Hotel was still one of Los Angeles' finest, if fading, hotels in 1968, when it was irrevocably linked with Robert F. Kennedy's death. But by 1989, the deteriorating building was so in need of massive refurbishments, that it finally closed its doors. The hotel's fate was now left to a decade-long series of legal battles. Finally, in 2005, the historic structure was, at last, about to be gutted and transformed into a much-needed Los Angeles school building. Ironically, at the same time that Emilio Estevez was hoping to keep the Ambassador Hotel open, his father Martin Sheen was helping the Kennedy Family to arrange for its imminent demise. Explained Sheen: "Ethel Kennedy had asked if I would support the family's effort to have the building torn down, and if a school was built, then hopefully the school would be named after her late husband. So I called several people at the City Council and told them what Mrs. Kennedy wanted, and, coincidentally, Emilio was trying to get them to delay tearing it down, so he could film his movie there." Fortunately, Estevez was able to wrangle a special dispensation from the Los Angeles Unified School District to film for just one week in the Ambassador Hotel before it would disappear forever. During this time, Estevez was able to capture the building's exteriors, as well as its hallway corridors and coffee shop, before proceeding with the demolition. "They were literally tearing down the walls around us as we shot", recalled Estevez. "It's quite challenging to keep your composure through that." The film's lightning-fast filming schedule would give the film some of the authenticity Estevez was seeking, but now the creative team was also forced to rethink the film's design. "The idea had always been to have the camera flow from one room in the Ambassador to the next and have the architecture of the hotel serve as a way of linking all of the stories", Estevez explained. "We never imagined we would have to move from location to location."
Apart from the film's Los Angeles location filming, the rest of the interiors were built at Santa Clarita soundstages, located north of Los Angeles, California. There, one of the key sets created was the hair salon, where Sharon Stone (Miriam) encounters many of the film's other characters in their most confessional moments. Production Designer Patti Podesta said: "It's a little posh and a little Deco. A multi-faceted space where everything plays out in the reflection of mirrors."
Throughout, Patti Podesta collaborated closely with Costume Designer Julie Weiss and Cinematographer Michael Barrett on palette, utilizing soft and muted colors to give off the effect of a time before film became so vivid and crisp. Her relationship with Emilio Estevez, meanwhile, was one built, by necessity, on sheer trust. "The shoot was so fast, and we were on such a tight schedule, that sometimes Emilio wouldn't even have seen a set until literally five minutes before he was shooting", noted Podesta. "But we were so like-minded, and he is so articulate in what he wanted, that there was a definite trust. We both saw the film the same way: as a kind of intimate series of conversations leading up to one transformational moment."
All of the artistic crew's special touches, from the hotel furniture, to the Jackie Kennedy dresses, and bouffant hair-dos, helped the cast and crew to feel even more a part of 1968. That also extended to the film's photographic style. In working with Cinematographer Michael Barrett, Emilio Estevez hoped to create a fresh look and feel for the film that would capture the essence of 1968 as the dividing line between an innocent, hopeful society and the troubled, chaotic one, with which we are so familiar today. "People sometimes make the mistake of seeing 1968 as kind of a walk down Haight-Ashbury, all colorful and psychedelic, but it was really just before all that happened. In 1968, there was still a kind of formality to American life. People still dressed for dinner, they said 'please' and 'thank you'. Young Robert F. Kennedy supporters, along with those of Eugene McCarthy, even cut their hair before going out to campaign", Estevez explained. "I wanted to capture that formality." But Estevez also wanted to contrast that traditionalism, just as Kennedy had, with an infusion of fierce energy and creativity. "While there is a formality, and to the film, the camera never stops moving", he continued. "Ninety percent of the film was shot on Steadicam to give the film a real free-floating kind of feeling."
The third son of Joseph P. Kennedy and the seventh of nine children, Robert F. Kennedy would spend the first part of his life living in his older brother's shadow. After the death of the eldest Kennedy son, Joe, Jr., in 1944, John F. Kennedy became the family's great hope, and it fell to Bobby to support his brother's political rise. In 1952, Bobby managed his brother's campaign for the Senate, and would go on in 1960 to help John garner the Democratic nomination and eventually win the Presidency of the United States. John would then name his brother Attorney General, sparking one of the closest and most intimate relationships between a President and his counsel in American history. Bobby Kennedy was highly visible in the short-lived, but dynamic Kennedy administration, playing key roles in the Cuban Missile Crisis and Civil Rights issues. Yet just as the Kennedy administration was beginning to find its rhythm, John was assassinated, leaving the nation traumatized, and Bobby alone, questioning, and nearly inconsolable.
While Democratic rival Eugene McCarthy appealed mainly to a youthful intellectual crowd, Bobby's appeal was widespread amongst the young and old, the wealthy and the blue collar, and across all races. Journalists compared his effect on audiences to that of a rock star. People screamed when they saw him coming and clamored to touch him, as if something about his very presence was magic. Some have theorized that Bobby spoke in a way that tapped directly into people's greatest hopes and dreams.
In the picture's production notes, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, speaking just after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, said: "Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago, to tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of this world."
The film's opening prologue states: "1968 was a year of political and social turmoil in America. On March 16, Robert F. Kennedy thrust himself into the race for President. Campaigning on a platform for peace and justice, the forty-two-year-old Senator from New York was viewed by many as the candidate who could bridge the gap among the races and our nation's best hope for an honorable withdrawal from an unpopular war."
A wax replica of the head of Robert F. Kennedy from the defunct Hollywood Wax Museum was auctioned off for a winning bid of two hundred dollars, during a live auction on eBay on May 11, 2006 which was the same year that this film debuted in cinemas.
This film re-imagines one of the most explosively tragic nights in American history. By following the stories of twenty-two fictional characters in the Ambassador Hotel on the fateful eve that Presidential hopeful Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot, writer/director Emilio Estevez and an accomplished ensemble cast forge an intimate mosaic of a United States of America careening towards a moment of shattering change, as different characters navigate prejudice, injustice, chaos and their own complicated personal lives, while seeking the last glimmering signs of hope in Robert F. Kennedy's idealism. In exploring the diverse experiences of ordinary people, the film celebrates the spirit of an extraordinary man and servers as a snapshot of this emblematic time in history.
One character strand seemed to lead to the next as Emilio Estevez carefully laid out the interwoven stories of the twenty-two fictional people. They were inspired at once by the spirit of the times and by Estevez's personal experiences. He said: "I wanted to create characters who would be emblematic of the era and who would really open up the story. They are archetypes to a certain degree, but I also know each and every one of these characters intimately. They are all based on people who have been in my life in some way or another."
Some of the film script's most compelling stories turned out to be those of women. Women who were on the cusp of revelation and change at the very beginnings of the women's movement, including Demi Moore's sinking alcoholic singer, Sharon Stone's stoically betrayed wife, Heather Graham's ambitious hotel worker, and Helen Hunt's Manhattan socialite. Emilio Estevez said: "I think in writing the women characters, my mom was a big influence. She's a really strong person, and I think her voice is in this piece as well."
Ultimately, over time, the strength of the writing and of Emilio Estevez's passion won out over reservations. Producer Michel Litvak said: "When I read the script, I knew it was a film we had to make. I believe that the story of Bobby Kennedy belongs not only to the American people, but is an inspiration to all the people of the world. His message and his dream live on."
Once on the set, Emilio Estevez revealed that he had the kind of guiding vision that could in fact hold together a star-studded, multi-layered story meshing fact and fiction. Estevez said: "It was madness on the set. But we made the movie in a real, shoot-from-the-hip, fast-paced, guerrilla style that I think suits the subject matter."
Some in the cast saw the film as calling out for a new generation to take things in their own fresh direction. "I think that a lot of the things that were going on in '68; the Vietnam War, poverty, civil rights; we can draw a direct parallel to what's going on right now," said Joy Bryant, the former Yale student and model, who played hotel switchboard operator Patricia. "I think that we can still take some of those ideals from the '60s, make them more modern. We can't recapture what happened then. We can't fully recover from it. But we can move forward."
A character in the film that played a major role was the Ambassador Hotel, whose hallways, ballrooms, hair salon, back offices and kitchen connect the characters of the film to one another. It was always clear to Emilio Estevez that the hotel would be a vital location for the film, but unfortunately, just as production was kicking into gear, the hotel where his entire story took place was slated to be demolished. So, Estevez was only able to film there for a week.
Following the death of his brother John, Bobby underwent a visible change that deeply impacted his own original political vision. The once ruthless crusader seemed to have been made newly raw and vulnerable, by suffering and grief, and he began talking about creating a society based on morally sustained action and compassion. He spoke out on in very plain, emotional, human language on a wide range of topics including civil rights, freedom, democracy, poverty, human rights, education, health care, war and peace. But he wasn't simply about words, he also remained very much a man of action, personally going into migrant worker camps, urban ghettos and the Mississippi Delta to see how the poor really lived, meeting with angry African-American activists to better understand their concerns, and going out of his way at every turn to speak with the marginalized and disenfranchised. He became a voice for all the Americans who had no voice.
The night that Bobby Kennedy was shot, his vision of a brighter future seemed to have been snuffed out by the rising tide of violence in America. But the story wasn't over. His legacy has continued to inspire millions who continue to believe in the promise of human creativity and compassion. His work lives on through all those who continue to strive for change, as well as through the Robert Kennedy Memorial, which promotes a peaceful and just world with programs that help the disadvantaged and oppressed, that seek to tackle the toughest problems facing current society.
The day Robert F. Kennedy won the California Primary, on his way to likely becoming the next President of the United States, has been one that still haunts the U.S. It was a time not unlike several decades later, a time of war, and fierce divisions, and in an America tearing at the seams, Robert F. Kennedy was the sole candidate who seemed able to unite people of differing races, classes, and beliefs. Having lost his own brother, John, to unthinkable bloodshed, he had publicly transformed into an impassioned, yet pragmatic, advocate for creating a new American future, one that would look beyond rhetoric for credible ideas to end poverty, racism, injustice, and most of all, the growing epidemic of violence. A champion of the underdog, and a man compared to such magical cultural avatars as Bob Dylan and The Beatles, Robert F. Kennedy was a politician who crossed into territory never entered by a politician before or since.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Freddy Rodríguez (José) ultimately shakes Robert F. Kennedy's hand moments before Sirhan Sirhan shoots Kennedy. This is based on actual fact; Latino busboy Juan Romero was holding Kennedy's hand when the Senator was shot in the Ambassador Hotel. Romero and José cradled Kennedy's head, and give him a rosary to hold.
When Senator Kennedy is assassinated, William (Elijah Wood) is shot in the head by a random bullet. This is a reference to how one of the five people wounded by Sirhan Sirhan's wild shots was hit in the head, miraculously surviving the wound.
According to Emilio Estevez, the actions of Dwayne (Nick Cannon) after Kennedy's assassination were based on how a young black man furiously threw a chair against the wall when told of Kennedy's being shot.
The intensity of principal photography increased as the production approached the scene they all knew would be the hardest, both technically and emotionally: the frenzied shooting in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen. Robert F. Kennedy had come down from his Ambassador Hotel suite to make his victory speech around 11:30 p.m. When the speech ended at 12:15 a.m., and as the roused audience began chanting "Bobby! Bobby!," the Senator made his way into the kitchen pantry, a short-cut that led to where the press were waiting outside. In the kitchen, the mood was ecstatic and chaotic as hotel staff and party-goers crowded into the small space hoping to get a closer glimpse of Kennedy. It was then that shots rang out. Though Emilio Estevez was not filming the incident as it had happened, he wanted to authentically capture the sense of sudden madness and helplessness that gripped the room that night. For the cast and crew, it was a powerful experience. "When they were shooting the actual assassination there was an eerie feeling on the set", explained Jacob Vargas (Miguel). He added: "I remember watching some of the playback. It just felt so real, and that made it scary. There was pandemonium, and there were bodies and blood. I wasn't even born at that time, but it gave me goosebumps." For Estevez, the scene was vital, not only as the film's dramatic climax, but because he hoped it would cut right to the core of Kennedy's stand against violence. To remind audiences of Kennedy's alternate vision, Estevez overlaid the scene with one of Robert F. Kennedy's most beautiful and eerily prescient speeches, given in April 1968, on ways to end violence.
Robert F. Kennedy's vision for what might have been possible never got the chance to be explored. Instead, he was gunned down, along with five others, shortly after midnight in the kitchen of the Ambassador, moments after giving his moving victory speech, only to collapse in the arms of a Mexican busboy. Shot in the head at close range, Senator Robert F. Kennedy died at the age of forty-two a day later. The other five victims survived the incident. Despite all the shocks that had come before, the assassinations of Bobby's brother, John, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the latter of whom was killed just two months before Bobby, the agonizing violence of the Vietnam War, and the protests at home, Robert F. Kennedy's death felt to millions of Americans like the ultimate knockout blow to American idealism. It left many wondering, and still waiting, for a time when that kind of hope and belief in a better America might return.
The film's closing epilogue reads: "Robert Francis Kennedy died at Good Samaritan Hospital on the morning of June 6, 1968. His wife Ethel was at his side. The other victims of the shooting that night all survived."