Sean Astin Q&A at GenCon 2003
A HUGE Thank you to HannColl for typing this in for us.
[Transcriber’s note: at this point Sean Astin came onto the stage and fell to his knees before JRD, then bent and kissed his foot. He then stood up and the two embraced.]
(cheers and applause)
JRD: I give you a future Oscar nominee (cheers, SA shakes his head ‘no’), future president of the Screen Actors’ Guild (more cheers, SA gives a ‘sounds good’ nod) a future Governor of California (cheers, SA pumps his fist in the air) and a candidate for the [presidency] of the United States. (loud cheers)
SA, in Sallah voice: Indy! They are digging in the wrong place! (laughter) (sings a bit from Sallah’s song) .bad dates. (laughter and applause) (regular voice) I would do that on the set every time that John came on and finally one day, after the 4,000th time I did that he said (JRD voice) ‘you know Sean, my dear boy, it borders on parody’. (laughter and applause)
JRD: And if you CAN slip them Orlando Bloom’s phone number (cheers, one audience member yells ‘we don’t want it!’) it would really piss him off. (laughter)
Moderator: One last round of applause for John Rhys-Davies (loud cheers and applause)
SA: John used to always say, when he’d be introduced to someone, ‘Hello, my name is John. I live in the Isle of Man, otherwise known as 10,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock in the middle of the Irish Sea. (laughter) He’ s so beautiful. Hey, is it too loud? Sometimes I speak and it’s too loud (audience members say ‘no’).
Moderator: And same rules apply, folks.if you have a question please come back here and stand in line and we’ll get to you in due order. So uh, welcome Sean Astin. (cheers and applause)
SA: I’m just gonna keep doing John Rhys-Davies for the next hour. (laughter) Cool, so how long do we have together?
Moderator: I think it’s an hour.
Audience member: As long as you want, Sean!
[Transcriber’s note: at this point a young woman in the audience, on her way to the microphone to ask a question, tripped and fell.]
SA: Are you all right? Are you all right? OK. Don’t be embarrassed; we all want you not hurt. OK, now we can start.
Moderator: Is this your first GenCon?
SA, to young woman: Are you OK? Gimme a thumbs-up if you’re OK. (young woman gives Sean a thumbs-up) (applause) OK, as long as I want, huh? Well, it’s so funny because you sort of .you know, sometimes I sign autographs for free and sometimes they charge for them, so it’s kinda funny. But hello, everybody; I’m gonna sit down for a minute, OK? Oh, that’s a line of people wanting to ask a question. First question?
Question: Sean, when I got my autograph from you, you said to remind you and you would show me your tattoo.
SA: Oh, right, of course (takes off right shoe and sock) That do it? (applause. A few cameras flash). Oh, no pictures! (laughter) That was our deal; we agreed not to take pictures. (audience member asks to see his scar) Well, you can’t see it anymore; it’s healed up too well. (cheers) Thank you. (to person who asked question) Thanks for reminding me.
Question: Hi. I was wondering, do you have like one favorite moment during the time you filmed?
SA: One favorite moment. Well, be more specific, like what kinda moment, like just one moment where I realized that the universe is an incredible place?
Question: I don’t know; maybe just something funny that happened.
SA: Something funny that happened. A big Elfin loom fell on my head. (laughter) Pfft.knocked me out cold. (laughter) It wasn’t funny until LATER. (laughter) Um, let’s see. Moments. Acting moments.pure acting moments.being on the volcano, on Mt. Ruapehu volcano in the ending of the third film, which will be coming out.(audience member says ‘December 17′) No.(in funny voice) December 17, in a theatre near you. (laughter) John used to say, when we’d do publicity (in JRD voice) ‘better than Star Wars!’ (laughter) We’re like ‘John, shh.don’t say that.’ (laughter) So anyway, so favorite moments. Well, I cut my foot, and uh then I got to get in a helicopter to be sort of whisked away ’cause we were at this alpine lake on this gravely road that it would take 45 minutes to drive to and my daughter Alexandra was on my lap, or right next to me, while we were in the little helicopter being flown by a pilot who had flown for Jacques Cousteau. I thought that was a pretty cool moment. I don’t know how funny it was; I was bleeding at the time (laughter.) It’s impossible to pick out one moment. It was a year and a half collection of brilliant and hard moments and just an amazing experience.
Moderator: What’s it been like balancing your fatherhood with your successes in film and TV?
SA: Well, it’s been, uh.I don’t think I’m doing it as well as my parents did it. I mean, I’m trying, but thank God I have my wife, ’cause she’s. so good. It’s hard. It’s hard. My daughter is so funny though, my oldest daughter, she’s so kind of sophisticated about it and she sort of understands now the sort of currency of emotionality that is kind of being a sort of movie star, or a celebrity or something like that, so.I can’t remember where we were a little while ago.I think it was like at a car show or something and there was this family and she came up and she’s like “Dad, why don’t you just take your picture with them; they’ll be so happy.” (audience awwwws) And I was like ‘all right!’ (laughter) It’s been hard for her; she’s kind of gone from different extremes from really being annoyed by the whole thing to kinda thinking ‘Wow, Dad, you’re cool!’ and then it’s kinda like “all right, already’. So, um, balancing has been hard it’s been really hard.
Moderator: Were they very aware of the whole Lord of the Rings thing? Did that impact them at all? Did they start getting interested in it too?
SA: Well, you know, I always love when you hear people who sort of have new fame or superstardom.whether it’s in sports or music or whatever and a sort of big compliment that gets paid to them is “oh, it hasn’t changed them at all’. I’m sort of like, well how does it not change you? I mean, everything changes a little bit. But I think they just mean the goodness that is them or the ability to look someone in the eye and have an honest interaction or something like that.
So, yeah, I mean totally. It’s changed how much we travel; it’s changed where we live, we’ve had to think about where we live based on, you know, the success of the films and not wanting to be too kind of vulnerable.I always love the kind of politicians who would live in a house, like a little old house in the middle of town and no matter how famous they got as a public leader everybody could just go up and knock on their door and have a conversation with them, but I’m not sorta there. We’re kind of like, we’ve got a gated house. Well, maybe when I get older it’ll be you know, easier. But we’re finding the balance there. They’re learning how to assimilate the energy that’s come because of the Lord of the Rings and still kind of we’re creating a normalcy, such as it is, to the best of our ability.
Question: What was it like growing up with the original Gomez Addams and has he influenced your comedy roles in your movies?
SA: Good question. Yeah, I think he did. What was it like growing up with him? My dad is awesome; he’s an amazing man; he’s a wonderful man. (applause) I did a movie.I’m not sure that anybody here.and don’t applaud if you haven’t seen it just to try to make me feel better, but has anybody seen ‘Boy Meets Girl’? (about a dozen audience members cheer) Cool; I figured that. That’s a little more that I thought would’ve seen it. There’s a part in that movie where I am sitting on the floor with a cigar in my hand and I had the globe up. And when I did that scene, I absolutely thought ‘Oh my God, I’m doing my dad now. This is me being my dad. You know, “Adventure!” It sounded like something Gomez would say. It was cool to have Gomez as a baseball coach. (laughter) Yeah. He didn’t ever blow up trains or anything at our house, but um we’d have like a 16mm projector and the old kind of pull-the-screen-up, what do they call them, movie screens or whatever? (audience member says ‘projection screen’) Yeah, projection screen. So, yeah, it’d be kinda blue with the (makes staticy noise). So we would watch 16mm episodes of the Addams Family, and when they were over, we’d watch ‘em backwards. (laughter) ‘Oh, there Gomez is crashing into the thing, and there he is coming out of the thing!’ So yeah, it was great. I remember visiting the set when they did a Addams family reunion episode for Halloween one year, because most of the TV show was done before I was born. So yeah, anyway, it was great. He’s my emotional, my creative, my sort of philosophical.he’s my touchstone. He really is. He’s the reason I went to college was because of him; I wanted to live up to his expectations. He’s a great man; he teaches now at Johns-Hopkins, he’s a classically-trained Shakespearean actor and he has a one-man show about Edgar Allen Poe that if you go onto astin-poe.com you can see his work there. It’s just.this chapter of his life in particular is just so exciting to watch ’cause he’s really figured out-I think my wife might be calling me. (laughter) (takes out cell phone) Hello? Hello? They’ll call back. (laughter) I’ve been conventioning all day; it’s so much fun. So anyway, yeah. My dad is.my dad rocks. Gomez rocks.
Question: I drove over with my kids just to see you and I wanted to thank you for signing their autographs, but they forgot to ask a question so I’d like to ask it now if I may, and that is: I’d like to hear about your mother, Patty Duke.
SA: Okay. I remember you and I remember your daughter? Two daughters?
Question: Son and a daughter.
SA: Son and a daughter. Right. I remember there were two. OK, so thank you very much, it was my privilege to sign the autographs. So thank you for saying ‘thank you’ and thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. (laughter.) So, my mom. I just left her in Idaho yesterday, or two days ago and she’s doing really well. She’s doing really well. She’s strong; you know she’s had a couple of physical challenges lately and she was on Broadway doing ‘Oklahoma’ earlier in the year. So she was rediscovered; not rediscovered she’s discovered kinda late in life.she’ll be 57 this year, she ‘s singing and dancing and performing on stage in that way. So she did a couple of years ago or I think a year and a half ago the Follies in LA. And it was amazing to see this kind of sunflower blossom with her talent and getting a sense of confidence in her voice and in her dance and in her performance so that was great, to watch her in those Follies; maybe a little uncomfortable too; it was kinda one of those sultry roles, you know? At first I was like, ‘oh, geez!’ (laughter) And then she did ‘Oklahoma’ and she was awesome and she was so good and the show was so good and I took my daughter and we watched it on Broadway it was just great. And it was bone-chillingly cold in New York so they stopped that run a little early; people weren’t coming out as much to the theatre.
And so she’s really proud of me, you know.she got one of these catalogs and saw the high-end collectibles that WETA the special effects company that actually we, the actors, helped them get the licensing agreement from New Line. New Line I don’t think was as open to the idea of the people on the film doing high-end collectibles and we all campaigned for them and I was sort of spearheading so I’m very proud about that (applause). So anyway my mom got the catalog and bought the statue of Sam with Bill the Pony (laughter) and she had it sent to her house in Idaho. So I go there, and she ‘s got like this big 100-acre spread full of horses and llamas and goats and sheep and 10 dogs and you know it’s just all about the farm there and to see kind of me with Bill the Pony in her home, and there’s something that she’s proud of; there’s a kind of really good feeling that’s created there. She’s doing great.
Question: I was wondering, of all the roles that you’ve portrayed throughout the years, which do you feel is closest to your own personality, which is farthest from your own personality and which has been your favorite?
SA: Well, the quickest, the easiest one is the one farthest from my personality. I would say that the drug addict I played in ‘Where the Day Takes You’ was the farthest from my own personal experience; I’ve just never gone there. I’ve always had parents and people around me who were nurturing and loving and all that and that character didn’t. You know, he had to run away from home to find a family kind of thing; I never had to do that. I’ve always been blessed with kind of an overabundance of love around me. His obsessiveness I suppose is not too far from me; I kind of when I get into something I really get into it. But I think that’s the most obvious in terms of farthest from me. The closest to me is a little bit harder; probably Rudy is the closest to me (loud applause), I would think because of my own kind of.I feel like I have a working-class heart even though I was raised in a kind of privilege. But we always identify with people who kind of pull up by their bootstraps kind of thing, ’cause I think that was my mom’s background, you know, her experience, you know.she wasn’t born into fame or wealth or prosperity and she sort of forged it for herself, so that much comes down through her. Yeah, so Rudy, I guess. Sam, I’d like to believe is the closest to me because he’s probably the purest of heart, of motive. Not that Rudy isn’t pure, he’s just so driven; but there’s something about the qualities of loyalty and bravery. You know, Rudy was brave, he was really brave to go and put himself in that sort of .you know, be a tackling dummy, but he wanted to do that, whereas Sam gets ripped away from his.well, not ripped away, but you know, it’s very far from his experience. So, I always tell people that Sam is better than me; he just is; he’s better than anybody. Let ‘s just say that Sam is my favorite. I’ve been blessed, I mean I’ve really enjoyed playing so many different kinds of characters. Mikey was pretty fun too. (cheers and applause)
Question: That was definitely where it started; the fandom started. I just wanted to thank you for coming and spending all this time with us. (applause)
SA: It’s my great privilege; thank you.
Question: Hi. There’s two movies that I care about very much, but for quite different reasons. One is “Evil Roy Slade.”
SA: Oh, that’s my dad’s best movie ever! Has anybody seen “Evil Roy Slade”? (a few people applaud) (sings) Evil Roy Slade.was the baddest in the land.” It’s just great! (Western accent) Mah gun! I need mah gun! (laughter)
Question: We have an annual event where we watch it all together.
SA: Do you really? I’m gonna tell my dad that; that’s awesome!
Question: And then the other one that I like, and for a very different reason, is “Harrison Bergeron”. I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about that.
SA: Yeah. Sure, “Harrison Bergeron” is a Kurt Vonnegut short story that’s included in his book, the “Welcome to the Monkey House” book; it’s a collection of his short stories. And I had never actually read Kurt Vonnegut when the offer came through. Showtime was going to do an adaptation of that one short story. It was like a seven-page short story and they were gonna do a 90-minute movie for Showtime. The offer came through for me to play the title character and as soon as I heard Kurt Vonnegut’s name, I instantly said I’d do it. I mean, I didn’t even have to read it. But I’d never really read Kurt Vonnegut. I just knew that my dad and my brother Mackenzie were kind of avid Kurt Vonnegut fans. So I accepted the role and then went and got every Kurt Vonnegut book that I could get my hands on and just started powering through them. I wasn’t even sort of reading it for pleasure; I was just attacking the books because I sort of had this hunch that I might get to meet him. And so we did the movie and I’m very proud of the movie and I think some of the ideas that are imbedded in the movie were really kind of timely and important in this day and age maybe more so than when we made it, eight or nine years ago or something like that. I guess we made it in 95 or 96.end of 95, beginning of 96. I just remember I took my last final with my wife at UCLA and literally jumped up.you know, I went straight from the class at UCLA to the airport and went to Toronto to make the movie. But yeah, it was great. Christopher Plummer was cool. It was fun to work with him; he’s such a great man. His publicist said ‘Now, don’t mention “The Sound of Music – at all.” He didn’t want to hear about it. So I didn’t, until the very end and then I was like “Huh.we’re not supposed to say the Sound of Music,” “aahhhhhh.” I remember he paid me a compliment too; he said “You know, I was looking at the rushes, Sean and you’re delightfully subtle’ . I started thinking, ‘does that mean I’m not big enough? Do I need to be bigger?’ But anyway, yeah, I enjoyed it a lot.
Question: I was wondering if you’ve kept up the surfing since coming back from New Zealand and are you a long-boarder or are you a short-boarder:
SA: I was the fat hobbit who couldn’t surf too well. (laughter)
Question: Well, look at me, and I can surf, so.
SA: Well, I could learn from you, probably.
Question: Well come on down! (laughter)
SA: Well, I had surfed years ago before Lord of the Rings and before I put on all that weight. I surfed in Hawaii on a long-board and I was able to stand up pretty easily and in New Zealand I knew it was harder to surf on a shorter board and I kinda wanted to get really good and be able to cut back and everything, you know and I wasn’t really accepting the reality of my size (laughter). Kind of a Weeble-wobble on a toothpick sorta thing (loud laughter). So I was – it’s not THAT funny (laughter.) So yeah, so I bought a short board in New Zealand and I really wasn’t very good at ALL, and then since having come back I haven’t really been surfing. I spent six weeks in Hawaii with my wife and kids acting in a movie with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore called “Fifty First Kisses” which will be out sometime probably after the first of the year but I didn’t surf at all. I did a lot of other stuff but not surfing. I sorta have to reclaim my sense of adventure for things you can do where you might get hurt. (laughter)
Question: Well, hope to see you back out on the water.
SA: I’ll see you out there. As long as you’re not a shark. (laughter)
Moderator: You seem to have been getting into independent films a whole lot and I’m wondering if the success of Lord of the Rings is causing a sort of strange dynamic of demand for being an actor and desire for pursuing directing.
SA: Hmm. I have a multiplicity of interests. Like, Lord of the Rings has no doubt made it so that my name on the lists that get generated in Hollywood it jumps off the list now, where it might not have before Lord of the Rings. So I find that there’s no real casting director that I can’t meet with and no film-maker that I can’t audition for if I want to audition. I’ve gotten a bunch of offers for smaller movies. The directing thing, I find it interesting, I’ve been offered to act in a couple of movies, smaller movies, that once I’ve met with them, it sort of became an offer to direct, you know, based on the way that I was asking questions and talking about the material and people would do a little bit of research about me before the meeting and then they’d kind of realize that I have this desire or skills set or whatever. So it’s kind of morphed.now I’m finding that a lot of the conversations that I’m having have to do with whether or not I should direct AND act in this smaller picture. So that’s an interesting thing. But you know, it’s a quirky business; it just depends on which filmmakers have seen and enjoyed your work. Martin Scorcese for example, I was told by the casting director, or my people were told by the casting director, hadn’t seen Lord of the Rings, which I couldn’t really believe. And then I talked to Peter Jackson, and he said that, no, Marty told him that he had liked it. So I didn’t know if the casting director didn’t know, or if that was just something she said, or whatever, but I had to audition for him. I wanted to sort of put myself on tape for him, he’s doing a movie about Howard Hughes and Leonardo DiCaprio is gonna play Howard Hughes, and there is a great part for his sort of chief mechanic, and I WANTED that part really badly; I went out as soon as I heard about it and got two Howard Hughes biographies and was powering through those, so anyway I went in and auditioned for it, and you know, it’s one of those things where you do the audition for the casting director and then they look at the tape and he said, oh, I’m not the right type for it. So, you know, that still happens; it’s not like oh, OK, you’re in Lord of the Rings, now the world is your oyster.
(pause) I’m also not Orlando Bloom (laughter and awwws). They invited me to the premiere.I LOVE Orlando and I knew the second I laid eyes on this guy that he was gonna be a huge star; everybody did; I mean he’s just so gorgeous. So I would find myself sort of giving him unsolicited advice throughout the making of the film. And I don’t know; the last couple of times I’ve seen him he just looks so comfortable and at ease with his newfound success; he’s sort of enjoying the ride, so I’m very proud of him and I’m happy for him and everything – but. They invited me to go to the premiere of “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disneyland (applause). I was raised in Los Angeles and I used to go to Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland all the time.that was where when I was seven years old, I wanted to have my birthday party and I just thought ‘I will die of envy if I go to this thing. I will be in there and I won’t be enjoying it, and I will just be like PURPLE with envy, I’ll be so envious. But anyway, it’s an exciting time where I’m hoping that over the next year and a half when the DVDs start coming out and the third movies comes out and we see how people respond to that.um, I know that a lot of opportunities are gonna come my way, and I’m gonna try my best to not get so infatuated with the convention circuit that spend all my time doing that (laughter). I can see that.
But you know, try to build a smart career from this point.to include directing like episodic television, which is something I really enjoy. I did an episode of ‘Angel’ (applause and cheers) which I really enjoyed directing and then I went and acted in a TV show called “Jeremiah”; I did 13 out of 15 episodes of the second season, and so I directed one of those. So you know, there’s so much to do. What’s that Elton John song from the Lion King? (sings) “More to do than can ever be done. More to see than can ever– ” Oh hey. Hi.
Question: First of all, you need to know that we think you’re much cuter than Orlando Bloom (cheers and applause)
SA: Really?! I’ll tell him you said that. (laughter)
Question: You had touched on briefly that one of your favorite moments as far as acting goes was Sam and Frodo on the top of the mountain, and I had read in an interview that you actually used the words “sacred acting experience” and that really intrigued me, and I wondered if you could expand on that.
SA: Sure. Yeah, it was, it really was a sacred moment; it was.I remember when I was doing the very first thing I ever did.the first professional acting I did; I was eight years old, and it was in a TV Afterschool Special and it was called “Please Don’t Hit Me, Mom”. My mom was in it and she told them she’d only do it if her son could be in it and if they saw it. And so we had an audition and we prepared an audition and we did it, you know. And I remember, I tell the story that it was like the first acting lesson I ever had. And there was this scene where she’s beating me up (demonstrates) and I ‘m laughing. (laughter) I’m nervous and uncomfortable because it’s kind of like a little too close to home, or you know, there’s people around and so I ‘m giggling. And my mom takes me over to the side and she says “How dare you! I took a chance on you! This my career and you’re gonna ruin it.” And I ‘m like (sobs) and I start crying and they’re like ‘Rolling camera! Rolling camera! Here we go.’ And then we get the scene and she’s beating me up and I ‘m crying you know and it’s over and I’m like (sobs) and she’s just saying ‘Congratulations, honey, that’s acting!’ (laughter) And I was like (stifling sobs) ‘Oh, good, OK. Oh, it’s acting. Cool, can I have some more hot chocolate?’ So that was like the first crying I did.
And then I did a scene directed by Milton Katselas, who’s sort of a world-famous acting teacher with Elizabeth Montgomery and Elliot Gould, there was a mini-series called “The Rules of Marriage” that I did when I was like 10. The audition scene was when the dad, when Elliot comes out and he tells his son that he’s leaving, that they’re getting a divorce and he’s going to go stay in the city now and the little boy is crying and saying ‘oh please don’t leave’ and all this stuff and ‘I love you, daddy’ and all this. So, in the audition.I remember being nervous about the audition; I didn’t really know what it was and Milton was just kind of working with me and he said something and I remember having that moment of starting to cry and I went up and hugged him and it was such a real, powerful moment of crying and I got the part. And then when we were shooting it, the light was going down, Elliot was kind of in a bad mood that day, he was nervous and self-conscious about this crying scene, I think. I don’t know exactly what was going on but I just remember being kind of .it was just a really hard experience for me. All of a sudden, the mechanics of making movies or a television show, or the kind of nuts and bolts of where the camera goes and how the crew is doing, it just kind of, I don’t know, it had a negative impact on me in terms of being an actor and being able to really feel honestly and openly and be in that moment. And so we did it and we sort of got through it and I remember seeing the tear-blower come out for Elliot and then for me just to sort of trigger this emotional thing or whatever. I hope Elliot doesn’t hate me for telling this story.
Anyway, so from that moment at 10 years old, every time I had to cry in movies it was always.I don’t know, it was always hard; I was always self-conscious; I was always sort of nervous and uncomfortable and I would dread. not dread doing it but.it was a nerve-wrecking experience building up to it and then we’d do it. And I had a kind of epiphany when we were doing Rudy and we were doing the scene where Rudy finally gets the last letter where he’s finally accepted to the University of Notre Dame. And I’m sitting on the bench at Holy Cross across from the St. Joseph River, looking at the Golden Dome, and they’ve got this elaborate boom crane, and David Anspaugh, the director had said, you know, sit off by yourself for like three hours; you’re not allowed to talk to anybody. So I sat there, I read the script and then I was bored and then I would meditate and then I would think about it and whatever. So we did it, and after the first two takes I wasn’t gonna fake it. I had gotten to a place of confidence; I’m the star of this big Tri-Star movie and I wasn’t nervous, it just didn’t feel right.
And I remember David coming up to me, you know, in between the first and second takes and kind of locating his directorial comments like, every time the pitcher goes out during a big game of the World Series or the coach goes out, the pitching coach or the manager goes out to talk to the pitcher, or starts a fight with the umpire to settle the pitcher down, and you always wonder, what is the kernel of the thing that the manager says to get the pitcher to be able to strike somebody out when the bases are loaded and the World Series is on the line. What is that nugget that the manager says, you know, and it’s private; it’s private between the manager and the pitcher or the catcher if the catcher is allowed out there or something.
Well, I looked at David Anspaugh’s eyes and he was doing that; and maybe I was a little self-conscious, but I was aware of the fact that he was the director coming up with the right thing to say and I was the actor needing to feel this moment. And I just kind of looked at him and it just wasn’t there. And finally, after about the third take, and the sun is just at the perfect magic golden hour, and the Notre Dame brass that has allowed us to make this film is over there; Roger is the guy who was working there, and the producers are there and it was just this moment and it’s like ‘we’re gonna miss it; we’re gonna miss it.” We’ve got this incredible shot that starts with me in the foreground at Holy Cross, comes up and I start crying and opening the thing and it goes around and you see the reveal of the Notre Dame Dome so it was an elaborate thing that took several minutes to set back up and if we didn’t get it in the next take or two, that was it; we weren’t gonna get it. And I remember David just got this panicked kind of look in his eyes and he didn’t know what to say and finally out of what I perceived as kind of sheer exasperation, he just looks at me and he says, “What are you afraid of?” And man, I was like, OH! And I started bawling. I started.I mean, there was no control, there was no art, there was no craft. There was just “Oh my God, I have been afraid to cry for 15 years, 12 years, whatever it was.” And again it was like “OK, rolling again, rolling again!” (laughter) So they do it and the whole success of that moment in Rudy was me trying not to cry while the camera got close and then being allowed to just .and then I run down the hill and off to the side and they say “cut” and I was bawling for like an hour and a half (laughter) They’re like “Is he gonna be all right?” “Yeah, he’ll be all right.”
So, now go to the top of the mountain in Lord of the Rings. And it’s years later and I’ve done lots of movies and I’ve gone to college and I’ve been nominated for an Oscar for my short film and I’ve had a kid and we’ve experienced death in our family and we’ve traveled the world over and it’s like I’m a different human being at this point. Not to mention, having put on all this weight and having worked harder than I could ever possibly imagine having to work in a movie in my entire life. Just in terms of the hours and getting the feet and the ears and the hair on every day at four in the morning and just at the tops of the mountains and working with such incredible people and the miniatures and the science of it and everything else.
Well, now we arrive in this moment where we’ve been in a kind of drudging mode of getting the movie made and right before we go back up to the top of the volcano, after lunch, I get the new pages for the language, because they were constantly rewriting all the time, and I look at the pages, and it’s the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever read.I mean, I’ve read the books three times at this point and somehow every time I read the books, I don’t know if I’m just reading it for the plot but every time I read it I get the feeling like ‘this wasn’t in here the first time I read it; I don’t remember any of this.’ And then different things are meaningful based on where I’m at in my life or something like that; well, here’s this poetry that I didn’t even remember from the books that I read three times, and it is just gorgeous.
So I’m working with Elijah and with the dialect coaches and with the WETA people.and I just remember this little chateau kind of off to the side and I ‘m memorizing this stuff and I’m learning it and I’m just doing it over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, you know, this poem, this dialogue.And Elijah and I are doing it back and forth and finally, I mean, we did it probably 150 times and then we’re walking in our big feet and our green robes along this muddy path and then up in the vehicles and then up another path and climbing up a thing, and you know, it’ s a trek to get up there and again, here we are and the sun is starting to go down and we do the scene and everything else, and I’ve got Elijah cradled in my arms and we start doing it and it’s just…there was a level of .technique or sophistication with me, knowing my own kind of emotional instrument. It was like I had graduated; it was like this was my graduate school moment as an actor where I had total command, like I DIDN’T have when I did Rudy, of myself.
And the language.there’s something about being on that volcano which was like a.it was a sacred space; it was a God moment; it was something that you can’t.it was transcendent. And we did the scene and I am so.I’m crying but I ‘m owning it and it was a moment of coalescence for the character and everything else and Peter comes over to give a note, and Peter’s been very stoic up to this point with me. I mean, very reserved and matter-of-fact and let’s do this and let’s do that and he doesn’t lose his cool, but also doesn’t seem to.you know, he gets kind of excited if you’re talking about World War II movies or zombies or something like that (laughter) but you know. So he comes over to give us a note and there are tears streaming down his face and he’s sobbing and I look at that and I got this combination of like a lightning bolt hitting my soul where it just started making me cry, and then also this sense of kind of confidence that I’ve done it, I’ve gotten through to this guy, and then we just kept doing it; and we did it like 15, 20 more times and every time we did it, we could’ve kept doing it all night long ’cause it was just so much fun (laughter). It was!
And I remember I had been so kind of morose or somber or bummed out in the days leading up to that when we were working, just because we were in the drudgery of it, and I just remember going down to this parking lot afterwards with the sun setting just behind the volcano and just like jumping up and down and cheering and everyone was like ‘wow, you had a good time today, huh?’ (laughter) It was like “Yeah! It rocked!’ It was so good. So it was a once-in-a-lifetime, never forget that moment kind of experience and it was, in a word, sacred. (loud applause and cheers)
Question: That’s such a great segue to my question, and there are so many questions that I wanted to ask.
SA: No, I won’t give you Orlando Bloom’s phone number. (laughter)
Question: I don’t want it!
SA: I’m just kidding! It’s a joke, it’s a joke. (laughter)
Question: Um, in addition to just being a silly fangirl, I’m also a pastor and I’m really interested in people’s personal spirituality and their spiritual center, whatever tradition that comes from. And you’ve always kind of struck me as someone who’s sort of very spiritually centered. And I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit?
SA: Sure. Sure. You wrote me a letter, didn’t you?
SA: I read your letter.
Question: Thank you!
SA: I enjoyed it very much. Um, I think I always have been a kind of spiritually-centered [person], but it’s kind of counter-intuitive to me, because I keep having these kind of epiphanies or spiritual awakenings beyond.I mean, I always felt fine beforehand but then there’s like a new level of awareness that you reach sometimes, like when you have children, for example, and you look in their eyes and they’re being born and you’re just sort of like ‘wow!’ If you don’t believe in something greater than yourself at that moment, it may not ever happen. (laughs)
Yeah, you know, so I have a very eclectic kind of upbringing in regards to religiosity or religion. You know, my mom was sort of a Catholic and then a lapsed Catholic and then an ex-communicated Catholic and then a brought-back-into-the-fold Catholic and then a kind of Shirley Maclaine New Age kind of something-or-other (laughter). And then my dad was very secular, raised by a school-teacher as a mom and a scientist as a father and then I was in Catholic school for three years as a kid; there was a confirmation process and I wanted to be confirmed, I had never been baptized. And so I asked if I could be baptized and he said no, not until I was 18. And then he discovered Buddhism a few years later and he wanted me to be a Buddhist, and so I kinda practiced Buddhism for a little while, and my older brother was sort of a swinging singles guy who discovered a guy named Swami Vivekananda and like shaved his head and went to India when I was like 10 or 11. And he was someone who I always admired, so I kind of got to see that strain. My biological father is Jewish and I never really knew him until I was 25 but then I did so he’s kind of an interesting and wonderful man who I’ve gotten to know over the last few years, so there’s kind of that strand.
I think in terms of the moral fabric of who I am, I would say that my dad, John Astin, who adopted me from the time that I was very young and raised me as his own, really worked very hard to instill in me a sense of right and wrong and he would always say, you know, put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. And that’s an amazing gift to give a kid, to teach them about other people’s perspective. In fact, I finally got to a place when I was older where I was mostly putting myself in other people’s shoes and he finally said, “OK, what do YOU want to do?” I’m like, “I dunno; whatever I’m supposed to do.” “No, what do you WANT to do?” “I don’t know.” I never thought about it like that.
So, um, yeah. I spent 10 or 11 hours in a convent a couple of days ago in Idaho. My sister, one of my two sisters, died in a car accident three years ago when she was like 23, and I met one of the nuns – they call them the Blue Nuns, from St. Michael’s in Spokane, and they were there at – well, I think they were at my sister’s funeral but they said they were at my step-grandfather’s funeral but anyway, either way, I started a lovely correspondence with Sister Mary Melba, so I really enjoy that interaction.
You know, you can’t travel around the world as much as I do and see so many sunsets and meet so many different kinds of people and have healthy children and not have a sense of communion with the world and the universe. So, I am committed to learning and growing and evolving my sense of spirituality. So yeah, I guess that answers that. Cool. (applause)
SA: Hi there! Wait, don’t tell me. (holds hand out in a ‘stop’ position and leans his head back, thinking hard). Wait.wait, don’t tell me.Rachel! (pointing at person asking question).
Question: Yeah, I’m the girl who fell.
SA: But Rachel, right?
SA: Yeah, I remember you. Cool!
Question: I know that all of the actors have read the Lord of the Rings before, but I’m wondering if you’ve ever read the other books that Tolkien did, like the Silmarillion and The History of Middle Earth, um [inaudible] which is actually brilliant, and also I really think that they should do a movie of ‘Beren and Luthien’ it’s like my personal crusade.
SA: Wait wait wait.say that again, it went too fast?
Question: I really think they should do a movie of ‘Beren and Luthien'; I think it’s really good and I think it should be made.
SA: Well, maybe it will.
Question: It’s just sort of brilliant.
SA: (laughs) Cool!
I’ve read the first two pages of Silmarillion three times. (loud laughter and applause) I think after the five-year sojourn of doing this movie and communing with fans and kind of learning more about it, I’ll try again. I mean, I read the Hobbit; that’s what finally opened the world up for me – go ahead.
Question: Try to read the History of Middle Earth, actually the rough draft.um, when Tolkien was writing the History of Middle Earth he made like nine zillion rough drafts, one of which actually ended up with Sam [inaudible] with the ring. So, read them!
SA: Wow. Cool. I own most of them. I did read Tolkien’s letters.
Question: I have 16.
SA: Sixteen Tolkien books?
SA: Cool! You should end up teaching one of those.you know, there are different courses that you can take.
Question: I’m not that good.
SA: Well, you could get that good.
Moderator: Next question, please.
SA: Nice to meet you.
Question: Uh, this is an advice question. What is your advice to someone who is a beginning.notice I didn’t say ‘young’ filmmaker who is thinking about going to film school and directing?
SA: (pause) It’s good to think. (laughter)
SA: Thinkin’ ain’t what gets it done, though. (laughter)
So, if you really believe in yourself and you have a reason for wanting to make films, then go for it. Film school is a great place to train. I actually applied to the graduate school of Theatre Arts and Film at UCLA and I wasn’t accepted. If I would’ve been accepted I might not have done Lord of the Rings, so maybe everything happens for a reason.
Why did I want to study? Well, because at that point I didn’t know kinda what I wanted to be when I grew up; I knew that I loved movies, so.I was also struggling with the idea of like, where is my place in the history of the business. I mean, I’m a second-generation actor, and my parents, you know, my mom had an incredibly brilliant start to her career on Broadway and as Helen Keller and winning an Oscar, and they both had extremely successful television shows in the 60s and were kind of pop cultural icons and then my mom moved on and made an impact in so many other ways and I really just didn ‘t know where to put myself in film history. I didn’t know what am I gonna do; what’s gonna be my contribution to the history of this media; it’s only been around for 100 years, the history of film, really. Maybe a little longer, you know, but too very much. [inaudible] or something. It’s still like young, I mean I guess there are so many movies now.
So film school; that’s what I wanted to get out of it; I wanted to have the professors choose the syllabi, because I didn’t.I mean, you could just go to the library, I suppose; you don’t need to get a film school degree in order to learn. I mean, there’s like 10,000 books, you could go to any Barnes & Noble or Borders or whatever and look in the film section, and you can buy interview books with filmmakers. But what I wanted .what I kind of liked the idea of was having an experience, a couple years’ experience .I also like the idea of credits like if I do it and I get credit for it then I’ll have.I mean, I’ll have the piece of paper, the badge that says that I’ve done this, which I think kind of gives you a kind of validity when you’re looking for some other sort of work, so there’s validity to that. And also, being part of a community of other people, it seemed like something that would be meaningful to me. And also, being able to.the idea of just going and reading on my own at that point seemed kind of a lonely experience, but you know, having a professor assign the work, reading it and then sharing what it is that I’ve been reading with other people who were working on it too just seemed like a good thing to do.
Also, in terms of making movies, and this is less true now because technology is getting so good that for not too much money you can get a hold of incredible digital video equipment and digital video editing equipment and you can be practicing putting images and sound and telling a story on the screen without having to do that. I would just encourage you to know yourself, know what it is that you’re hoping to get out of your experience and don’t be daunted if you don’t get in and if you do get in make the most out of it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with applying to a couple of different schools to see if you can get it. I mean, just the process of writing your statement of purpose is an incredibly edifying one kind of in terms of just forcing you to sort of say out loud to yourself why it is that you’re doing what it is that you think you want to be doing. And I’m a big one for school and for kind of organized learning, so I wish you luck with your career.
Question: Thank you; that’s what I was kind of getting at, because I’ve had people tell me, ‘take your money and don’t go to school; go make a movie.’
SA: Which you can do too; I’ve done that, and you know what? It’s an incredible learning experience but you’ve gotta look at it as an education though, because the odds of you, first time out, getting any of that money back in any way, shape or form ain’t gonna – at least in terms of the amount of years before you start getting work? Like, I get work now; I get paid the Directors’ Guild minimum to direct an episode of ‘Angel’ or to direct an episode of ‘Jeremiah’. I want to do ‘Smallville’ this year and I want to do ‘NYPD Blue’ (applause) but it’s taken years, I mean, to the IRS, it was a ‘hobby,’ this amount of money I was investing in my film school education on paying for my own short films. So you have to be really careful and you have to be willing to look at the expenditure of money as an investment in your own education, but I wouldn’t discourage you from doing that either if you’ve got the money and you’ve got the passion to do it. But don’t ever let anyone pooh-pooh a particular scholastic experience, because.oh, I’ve got this great quote from John Dewey.didn’t he come up with the decimal system or something? But anyway, it’s that “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” I’ve got that on a little cup/holder on my desk. I believe that.
Moderator: We are unfortunately coming towards the end of this so we’ll get as many questions as we can.
SA: Cool, I’ll try to have snappier answers. (laughter)
Question: Hi; you probably don’t know me ’cause I didn’t get an autograph from you. I would have, but I, you know.
SA: I’ll be back tomorrow.
Question: First of all, it’s an honor to actually just be talking to you because you’re the first celebrity I’ve ever had the time to be talking to.
SA: The honor is mine.
Question: Thank you! Um, I’ve been trying to do something like write, because I’ve always been a very visual person and my writing skills have been .um.uh.
SA: With room for improvement.
Question: Yes. And um, you know, it’s kind of like a voyage or mission, because I want to write a series of books that you could really could put right up there next to Tolkien’s stuff. And I know it seems like, you know, everyone would say, ‘no, that’s impossible; there’s only one Tolkien and no one’s ever gonna match up.’ So what is your particular thoughts on that?
SA: Well, they’d be wrong. You can do whatever you want to do. And if you believe in yourself and you work hard, you absolutely could write a book or a series of books that could be up on that shelf next to Tolkien. There’s no question in my mind. (applause)
Question: thank you.
Question: I was just wondering, when you did Rudy, how did it feel when you were suited up in the pads out on the field at Notre Dame stadium?
SA: It was awesome. It. Was. Awesome. Yeah, that was one of those moments where I was lined up as defensive end and I was looking and there are 58,000 screaming Irish fans and I glanced over to my wife, who was on the sidelines and her brother, and I just thought, this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. And just, as you’re running toward the quarterback and you hear the swell of the crowd and when you SACK the quarterback, the kind of EXPLOSION of screaming from the fans.that was, uh.better than waiting in line for an autograph, I’ll bet. (laughter)
Question: Um, first I wanted to say, Goonies never say die.
SA: No, they don’t. (applause and a few cheers) [inaudible]
Question: And the other thing is, watching ‘White Water Summer,’ why are you younger during some parts and older when you’re telling the narrative.
SA: It took a long time to get the movie made, for a number of reasons, and the amount of time that it took to get the movie made was in the sweet spot of my puberty. (laughter) I started it at like 13 or 14 and then we finished the movie and there was a change of studio heads; David Putnam was the head of Columbia and he left as head of Columbia and then somebody else came in and the new regime at Columbia didn’t know what they wanted to do with the movie. And the movie had some problems and then we went back like six months later to shoot some scenes and they STILL couldn’t figure out what to do with it so we went back six months after that; we went down to New Zealand, did some white-water sequences, then we went back like three months after that AGAIN and then like a year later they called me and said ‘listen, we just want to shoot some on-camera narration. So, I was like 13 when we started and 16 or 17 when we did the narration and.yeah. So, that’s why.
Moderator: Well, it has been a distinct pleasure to have you here at GenCon and I’m glad that you’re gonna be at a queue not today but signing autographs tomorrow, so keep that in mind, folks and thanks again. Big round of applause for Sean Astin.
SA: Thanks everybody; I loved being here. (loud applause and cheers) (SA takes off his hat and bows to the audience) Thanks everybody. I’ll see you tomorrow.Posted in Old Special Reports on August 1, 2003 by xoanon