Martin Sheen back in political fray with "Echelon Conspiracy"

Thu Feb 26, 2009 1:13pm EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a career of more than 45 years, actor and social activist Martin Sheen has played many a president and political character.

His latest movie "Echelon Conspiracy", which opens in the United States on Friday, sees the man best known for his seven-year stint as President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet in TV's political series "The West Wing", at the heart of a modern electronic surveillance conspiracy.

Sheen, 68, talked to Reuters about his latest role as a U.S. National Security Administration director, his activism that has led to numerous arrests, and what he's been up to since his fictional White House term ended in 2006.

Q: The premise of "Echelon Conspiracy" -- out of control electronic surveillance that was set up ostensibly to protect the nation from terrorism -- is pretty scary. Were you aware of such a system before taking the part?

A: "No, I had never heard of it. It's not so far from unimaginable with the pervasive spying that's going on in our lives. I was in London a few weeks ago and everywhere you look there is a (street) camera. I know it's about crime prevention and catching traffic violators but at the same time, it's like paranoia."

Q: You've been politically very active over the years. Is that why you took the role?

A: "It didn't hurt ... But with my age, the offers frankly get a little lean. I've tended to be far more independent, and I don't really have a lot of intimate work relationships in Hollywood. I've never made a friendship because I thought I could get a job. I've always been shy about that ... There are people in the business who love film making and are brilliant at it. But they are not involved in the reality of the outside world very often.

"But take someone like Sean Penn ... He is the best actor of his generation and he is very politically savvy and very much involved in social justice. He is a genius as an actor and he is equally invested in (social) culture. I don't have near the impact, the range or involvement that Sean does."   Continued...

<p>Martin Sheen arrives at the screening of "Talk to Me" at the Mann Village theatre during the opening night for the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival June 21, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>