The folks from elanor.bitofearth.net have sent along the MP3 file and transcript from their interview with Sean Astin (Sam). Take a look (and listen)!
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Orangeblossom Brambleburr (OB): I’m talking to Sean Astin, the actor and director who played Sam Gamgee in Lord of the Rings. Sean has offered to talk to us tonight about Project Elanor and thank you very much for talking to us tonight.
Sean Astin (SA): My pleasure.
OB: How long have you been involved in children’s literacy?
SA:How long have I been involved in children’s literacy? Well, since I was a child.
SA:I mean, my mother used to read me…but what does it mean to be involved in children’s literacy, really? I mean, the fact is, my Mom read me books when I was a kid, and I’m a huge reader. I love reading. I love reading to my kids, and I just finished reading Judy Blume’s Superfudge to my daughter over the phone. Actually, I have three pages left.
OB: Oh, cool.
SA: Hold on just for a moment, I’m sorry again.
OB: It’s all right.
SA: Is this gonna go on a radio show, or is this…?
OB No, this is just website soundbites.
SA: All right, can you just hang for a sec?
[Pause…pounding and rattling, voice says “All right, Michael”]
Okay. So…so, you know, I’m just now finalizing my relationship with a major telecommunications company to be a literacy champion for them, and we’re partnering up with the National Center for Family Literacy.
OB: Oh, how cool.
SA: Yeah, and I’m really excited. I’m really excited about using some of the popularity that’s come to me through my association with Lord of the Rings and Rudy and…
Hang on a sec…[muttering] I’m doing some things for some important friends while I’m doing this interview.
OB: That’s all right.
SA: No, no, that’s okay, I’m just trying to multi-task. Um, so yeah, I’m excited for using that in service of trying to help get…I think illiteracy is one of the scourges on the face of the earth. I mean, I think that all problems on the face of the earth stem from human being’s inability to figure out a good solution to the problem. So everything from overpopulation to global warming to the violence that exists because people fail to learn how to communicate with each other. Stems from the fact that people aren’t as smart as they could be, and they’d be a lot smarter if they learned how to read at a younger age. And I just know what a joy it can be, what a privilege it can be, what a pleasure it can be…and also how important it is just in terms of enriching the quality of our minds and the quality of our lives. So starting young is the first and best way to go about it. So I love the fact that I’m going to be front and center on literacy issues. Now, I was recently appointed to the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation…
OB:That’s actually my next question, it was to ask about the Council.
SA:Yeah, the mission of the Council is to promote volunteerism in America, and I want…well, I just had a conversation with Gerald Green, who’s the chairman of our Council. I was just telling him that literacy is what I want to focus my energy on, and he was totally fired up about it. So, I mean, I think that I’m starting to figure out how to use my sort of mind and acumen here, and understanding of the way that bureaucracy and politics works to really try and have a positive and lasting and as broad an impact on helping people learn how to…or at least sharing my viewpoint on the importance of reading and education and literacy.
SA: Yeah, so when I was approached in Washington to do the thing about coming to do the BitofEarth thing, I instantly got what symbolically was trying to be achieved with the garden and I understood the connection because of the character I played, and it just seemed and felt like exactly the right thing for me to do.
OB: Well, you could not be giving me better segues, because my next question is that Sam was taught to read in a world where that was less common, especially for his class, and how did you think that affected him as a character?
SA: Well, I think the entire journey affects the character of Sam, and that I think one of the things that’s so admirable about him as a character is his willingness to learn and grow, even though he doesn’t have the innate skill or talent, or the society isn’t organized in a way to facilitate that. But the fact that Sam goes on to become the Mayor of Hobbiton, you know, he couldn’t do that if he didn’t know how to read, he couldn’t study the history of the shire and read about that. So you know, I think Sam is such a richly drawn character…
SA: …and his willingness to have Mr. Frodo teach him his letters…it’s a pretty great metaphor for the kind of interactions that people can have and the kind of impact people can have on each other’s lives, and I love it.
OB: I think so too. Now, we’ve had a couple questions come from our website, one of which…since Sam is a gardener, several people have asked if you do any gardening?
SA: Well, I want to. I haven’t done very much gardening in my life, but I’ve studied a lot of the great literary figures and philosophers and one of my favorite quotes – the one I’m putting on the stone out there – is from Voltaire, you know, that to cultivate your own garden from Candide, and it’s something that I know, to put your hands in the soil, and to be able to raise…you know, my grandfather grew vegetables in his garden…he was a successful scientist, he worked within several administrations, and he understood the importance of having and cultivating his own garden. And so, you know, my wife and I are very interested in having a place, in having some earth that is…in having a bit of earth!
OB:(laughs) And another one of the questions from the site was: if you were reading to a young person – like one of your daughters – out in the garden, what books would you choose? I guess this is a question that’s going to keep us here for a while, though.
SA:Uh, well, it could, but you know, it’s impossible to choose any one thing. I suppose…for a while, it was frustrating, because the books my daughter wanted me to read to her were more popular books for a very young age, and I was a little disappointed because I wanted her to get to the age where I can start reading and discovering all the literature that I missed, that classic literature that I missed as a kid. You know, I want to go through all the classics reading them out loud to her, everything from the Chronicles of Narnia to all the classics! I mean, Dick Donner gave me a series of classic books, I mean, Isaac Asimov and Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, and I can’t wait to read all those to my daughter! I know she’ll love them once her vocabulary gets strong enough to be able to appreciate it. And now we’re like, you know, The Phantom Tollbooth is a book I want to read her…
OB: Oh yeah…
SA: …and I just have been reading her Judy Blume now, so, you know, there’s just not enough time on planet Earth to read all the great stuff there is to read.
OB: This is true.
SA: But there’s enough time to get started, anyway.
SA: The Hobbit! The Lorax! The Lorax! Oh, I love that, I love reading her The Lorax…my brother Tom reminded me a few years ago about the importance of that book, and so…”I speak for the trees!”
OB: What we were actually hoping is that during the dedication ceremony that you’d be willing to read the first chapter of The Hobbit to a group of children.
SA: Yeah, I’m sure that will be fine.
OB: We were only able to accept 50 volunteers, but we had over 75 people…people have been offering help from all over the world, we have someone flying in from Brazil for this, a couple people from Chicago, so is there anything brief you’d like to say to them casually, before the event?
SA: See you there!
OB: That’s brief enough! And to anyone else who’s offering support? We have people making offers you wouldn’t believe, there’s people making donations out of their own pocket, it’s just amazing…
SA: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing the place, and seeing how the event goes, but my hunch is that it’s a good idea.
OB: Well, thank you.
SA: It’s my pleasure. I’m really looking forward to it.