The well-loved Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now is full of daring escapades and acts of bravery. As it turns out, things weren’t much different on the set. In a recent interview, Emilio Estevez revealed that when he was only 14 years old, cast member Laurence Fishburne stopped him from drowning in quicksand while on location for movie production.
Filming for Apocalypse Now began on March 20, 1976, in the Phillippines. It was directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Upon its release, critics had varying reactions, but that didn’t stop the movie from being nominated for a staggering eight Academy Awards. Looking back at the film, it is now generally regarded as one of the best ever made and is even better regarded among war movies.
It’s even been preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as a culturally significant film. It is set during the Vietnam War and follows the secret mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. Alongside a famous cast, the still-young Laurence Fishburne was put into one of the supporting roles, playing Tyrone ‘Clean’ Miller. Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez’s father, played Captain Benjamin Willard, the character tasked with assassinating Brando’s.
Stuck in quicksand
Although he wasn’t part of the cast, Estevez accompanied his father to the Philippines, along with the rest of his family, for filming. He explained that “My folks believed that for the family to actually stay together, we had to stay together, and that meant traveling. He had it in his deal that wherever he went to work, we went with him — whether we liked it or not.” This was important to Sheen as he had a relatively young family during his early career.
Fortunately for Estevez, he was able to pass the time by getting to know Fishburne, also 14 years old. The two had only known each other for a few days when they decided to get up to some shenanigans. In a 2023 interview with Jennifer Hudson, Estevez revealed that on one occasion, the two of them decided to take out a small boat they found nearby. After paddling for a little while, they realized that things weren’t going the way they wanted.
Estevez recalled, “we started getting too close to the shore and I said, ‘Well, let me jump out, I’ll push us offshore. I jumped out, and it was like quicksand mud.” Realizing that he was starting to sink, he looked up to the young Fishburne, who was shouting at him to “Grab my hand!” Thanks to this quick thinking, Fishburne was able to pull Estevez back into the boat before things took a turn for the worse. Estevez said the pair “were bonded ever since,” understandable after a traumatic moment like that.
Perhaps the best part of the story is that, in typical 14-year-old fashion, neither of the boys told Martin Sheen about what had happened. This may have been due to the difficulties the actor was already having with the film, which included having a heart attack during production.
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Nonetheless, they eventually fessed up to what happened…decades later. Sheen, shocked by the news, “called Mr. Fishburne to thank him for saving my son’s life.”
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