01/10/2013 12:14 EST | Updated 03/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Star Power: Martin Sheen's Fight for Justice

Martin Sheen is truly a living Hollywood legend. Yet despite his accomplishments as an artist, acting is not where his true passions lie. As a pacifist, humanitarian and tireless activist for peace and social justice, Martin has been arrested more than 60 times for public protests and acts of civil disobedience. We caught up with him at We Day Alberta.

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Star Power: A six-pack of questions for celebs making a difference. Craig and Marc Kielburger, co-founders of Free The Children and Me to We, check in with some of their favourite actors, singers and activists to find out how they are changing the world.

Martin Sheen is truly a living Hollywood legend. The star of countless films, he is synonymous with epic cinematic events that have captured subjects from Mahatma Gandhi to the Vietnam War on the big screen. And on the small screen he remains, arguably, America's most revered and beloved fictional president.

Yet despite his accomplishments as an artist, acting is not where his true passions lie. In fact his "real" work typically takes him quite far from the bright lights of Tinseltown. As a pacifist, humanitarian and tireless activist for peace and social justice, Martin can boast a rap sheet nearly as long as his list of acting credits, having been arrested more than 60 times for public protests and acts of civil disobedience.

As a good friend of Free The Children, Martin regularly appears on the We Day stage. With his words, commitment and enthusiasm, he continues to inspire young people to end apathy once and for all. We caught up with him -- again -- at We Day Alberta.

Why do you speak to young people here (at We Day)?

It is the only way I can come to know myself.

As I stand there, my heart is pounding, my knees are shaking -- all of my insecurities are boiling over the top looking for any excuse to have this cup pass from me.

It's a very severe challenge to stand up, to declare yourself, to be humble enough to allow yourself to be the subject of a whole lot of possible criticism and failure and to accept that that's the only way you can grow. Because if I don't come here and I don't speak, I have stunted my growth. Each time I come here it is no less difficult. Public speaking is the number one fear in North America. It is higher than death itself, public speaking. And I can understand why.

This is my Mount Kilimanjaro. And it's costly. It's gotta cost you something otherwise you're left to question its value. You don't know how valuable it is until you walk off. It's a real joy.

What does it mean to change the world?

We talk about change in the world -- I don't really believe that we change the world. We change ourselves in the world and hence the world is changed. And you're still evolving so you can't know what it is the world needs to change; you can only be a part of the metamorphosis.

You have to trust that by sharing your love and your light in the darkest corners, you are basically nurturing and staying in yourself. The rest is God's work.

What do you feel is the biggest, most pressing issue facing the world today?

I think the greatest threat to every culture on earth, to the world as a whole, is poverty, ignorance, and disease because it's very difficult to capture people's imaginations if they have not been nourished by enlightenment and joy and commitment.

When you can mislead people into surrendering to the very worst part of themselves, that is the greatest threat to any organization, family, state, parish, tribe, community -- when people become convinced that the darker part of their nature is the dominant one.

They are ruled by fear and arrogance, and the old phrase "arrogance is ignorance matured" comes into play when we do not recognize the severity of poverty and ignorance and disease in the world. That is our greatest security risk -- when people are so desperate and so marginalized, so poor and so hungry, they will do anything that a mob mentality can inspire them to do.

Many people look up to you as a role model -- who is your hero?

Oh gosh, I have so many. Desmond Tutu. One of my favourite images, the most powerful images -- and I weep when I see it-- is him weeping at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when he's hearing testimony. He just lowers his lead to the desk and weeps.

He is definitely one of my heroes. But my first heroes were my father and mother and as I got older, I became inspired by the Kennedy brothers.

And the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., of course. He never ran for [or] held public office. He was inspiring from the grassroots -- a community organizer by and large.

What was the greatest lesson you learned from a parent or a mentor?

To tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth all the time. That is my wife's character and it took me 20 years to accept it and live it myself. Because nothing is more important than living the truth -- you can't come to know your true self if you're living a lie.

What advice would you give your high-school self, if you could?

Don't take yourself so damned seriously.

Do you think your high-school self would have listened to you?

Not a chance. No. Not a chance.

What kind of legacy would you like to leave?

Absolutely none. The sooner I'm forgotten, the better. I once heard it said -- it may have been Frank Sinatra. He was asked, "What would you like to be remembered for?" And the reply was, "For about five minutes." I concur with that. I think it's wonderful.

Well now, I'll take five minutes and be gone.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit

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