Astin at Origins

Kathleen writes:

I’m pleased to say that the Origins games convention was overrun with ORCs…members of the Ohio Ring Council [] fan club, that is! The convention, held this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio, attracted over 10,000 people (the majority of gamers seem to be men, actually) from around the world.

We Lord of the Rings fans were drawn by the chance to meet Sean Astin, the award-winning actor who brought Samwise Gamgee to life in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy. Here are some excerpts from his 10:00 a.m. Q&A session.

On the Stump

Sean spent about a third of the session talking about politics, even going so far as to say what he’d do as Mayor of Los Angeles or Governor of California. At one point asked the audience to identify their party affiliations. (I was surprised that there were more self-identified Independents than Democrats in the room.) I raised my hand when Sean asked who was registered with a third party. He asked me “which party,” and I said “Libertarian.” Then he asked me who the LP’s Presidential candidate is, and I blanked out—aaaack! (The Libertarian convention had just been a couple of weeks before, and my candidate hadn’t won the nomination.) I was mortified when the audience laughed at me! (For the record, it’s Michael Badnarik, a computer programmer from Austin, Texas. Sorry, Mr. Badnarik!)

Lucky in cards…?

[Edited transcript]
We went down and had a training session with the poker expert [Phil Gordon]. I was so good at it! He was giving us these incredible betting strategies. He was trying to improve the quality of the show by improving the quality of our game, but we only had like a half-hour. He gave us his book on tips, and I was racing through the book, and it’s great! It’s really great. But there’s like a lot going on [before the show].

That poker champ, based on our practice session, made a side bet with his friend that I was gonna win. [groans from the audience] Because, he said, ‘this kid’s sharp, he gets it.’ I was tired but I wanted to really concentrate, so I think I had a kind of serious poker demeanor, so everything about me seemed like ‘winner’ to him.

You’re playing with their money, you know. I didn’t even know what the numerical value of the chips was. It didn’t mean anything to me. Thinking quickly about numbers is not my particular pattern.

The first hand comes to me, I get a King, Nine…a good hand, likely to pull a straight or at least high pair. So I go in. Chris Masterson, who’s won two or three hands, matches it. Everybody else folds. Now I can either fold, call or raise. I was trying to remember the formula that [Phil Gordon] told me. I knew the formula was written down on the stool beside me, but I didn’t want to look like I was going to the cheat book! It occurs to me that I’m taking too long. It was probably only five seconds but it felt like five minutes. I decide that I’m going to call him or maybe even raise him, and somebody yells out “Luck of the Irish” and I just go all in.

And Masterson rightly calls the bluff, which was a bad bluff. I wasn’t thinking “bluff,” I was just thinking “do something dramatic.” It was dramatic, right? ‘Go to the losers lounge.’ So what I’ve been telling people is ‘You know, now everybody thinks I’m really bad at poker, so the side games I play, I rook ’em!’

A Goonies Sequel

“I saw Joey Pantoliano and Joey Pants is like, ‘let’s do a sequel! I gotta put an addition on the house!’”

Apparently Sean had heard that Richard Donner, who directed “Goonies,” didn’t want to direct the sequel. So Sean told Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News that he wanted to direct the Goonies sequel if Dick didn’t want to. And then Sean got a “very snippy” message from Dick that said something like, “Hey kid, get your facts straight!”

So Sean wrote back to Donner, “the guy who gave me my first professional directing job that got me into the Directors Guild of America, which was my dream…the guy who chose me and made me a star at 12 years old. The guy who has been my standard-bearer, the guy who gave me the most precious wrap gift for The Goonies…this towering figure in my life. So I wrote back to him, reminding him that when I went to his office and asked him about the sequel to the Goonies when I was 17, he told me ‘there’s no money in it, kid!’” The two finally got each other on the phone when Sean was directing an episode of Jeremiah. Sean says, “Dick, are you saying you WANT to direct it? Cuz I’m happy to tell people that. You just gotta be clear….” Dick Donner says he wants to direct it. And Sean replies, ’I’m proud to tell everyone that you want to direct it, and I would be grateful to work for you, and if you change your mind I’d be happy to direct it in your absence.’ “I hope it happens, “ says Sean. “Maybe someday it will.”

Extended Edition DVD

“I have not seen it yet….I hope there’s a scene in there, climbing up the stairs of Cirith Ungol…it’s Sam at his most intense and vicious and strong.”

Who’s On First

“Dom and Billy are supposedly writing a moving together. And I told them I hope they’d write something for me to do in it.” Asked if he will direct it, he replies “I don’t think that’s appropriate for me to even think about. I just keep telling them that they are the modern equivalent of Abbott and Costello and it’s an absolute crime against comedy for those two guys to not be in some contemporary setting riffing off each other. I’ve told them that a thousand times. They should be on television together.”

Working with Rings alumni

“I’m happy to work with any combination…there isn’t one human being involved with Lord of the Rings in any position, in front of or behind the camera, who I wouldn’t it an honor and privilege to work with again.”

How not to run a con

It was great to have the opportunity to hear Sean’s views on many topics—you can tell that politics is in his future. Unfortunately, Sean’s appearance was marred by the Origin staff’s handling of the event.

An Origins representative had contacted the Ohio Ring Council at MARCON, a sci-fi/fantasy convention held a few weeks earlier at the same facility. ORC had an impressive, well-organized booth at the con, and had won “Best In Show” and “Best Workmanship” for our musical number “One Ringular Sensation,” presented during the MARCON Masquerade.

Based on our great showing at MARCON, an Origins representative recruited the Ohio Ring Council to provide logistical support and crowd control for all of his appearances. The offer was sweetened when we were told that Sean would spend about 20 minutes with us before his first event and that we’d each get an autograph from him, free of charge (the general public had to pay $25 per signature). We were also told that Sean was in the habit of taking his volunteer staff out to lunch with him, and we should be prepared for that possibility. We were told that Sean would be “all ours” all day, and it would be our responsibility to manage all of his events. Needless to say, we were all thrilled to have been invited to help out.

So about 15 ORCs reported to the Convention Center at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday for our volunteer orientation. The club has members all over Ohio, so many of us had driven in the night before (one die-hard member had driven 6 hours from Canada!).

It soon became apparent that something was wrong—we were stood up by the Origins staff, and at 7:30 a.m. we had to call someone and get them out of bed to lead our orientation! Unfortunately, this kind of thing happened throughout the day, leading to a series of disappointments that left the Ohio Ring Council quite disillusioned with the management of the convention. While the ORCs did get a chance to meet Sean, he was whisked away after only a couple of minutes. We only had time to present him with a souvenir scrapbook about the club and a Polo shirt embroidered with our club logo and “Sean Astin, Honorary Ohio Ring Council Member.” (We were thrilled, however, that he loved the shirt.) Most disheartening of all, the Origins staff reneged on their promise of free autographs for the ORC volunteers. After we had worked the first event we were told we would have to pay $25 each for an autograph, just like the general public.

Sean’s handlers kept him on a tight leash throughout the day. Far from having a lot of “up close and personal” contact with Sean, we had virtually no contact at all, unless we paid for the privilege. We showed up to work the 2:00 p.m. autograph session and discovered that Origins staff had replaced us with other volunteers, so we were left with nothing to do for the rest of the day. A few of us who could afford it decided to bite the bullet and pay for an autograph. As always, Sean was lovely to talk to, and a complete gentleman. He even remembered meeting me in the press line at the TORn’s Two Towers Oscar Party—and he remembered the question I asked him (!). In the small amount of time we had with him, he was kind and gracious to the ORCs in attendance. (I’m sure he and his management knew nothing about the promises that had been made to induce us to give Origins hours of free labor.)

Yes, many ORCses were angry and very disappointed about the way we had been treated by the Origins staff. But I have to say that the ORC contingent had a fabulous time at the con, because we always have a fabulous time together–that’s one of the best things about our club. We made the best of a bad situation by retiring to the open gaming area for some Euchre, Trivial Pursuit for Dummies, and Apples to Apples. We discovered that any game is more fun when played with a bad French accent. We made some new friends, recruited several new ORCs, and some of us ponied up the cash to get a nice souvenir from Sean. We took a lot of great photos. And we had a great learning experience—we learned how NOT to run a celebrity appearance and how NOT to treat volunteers or the media! So, a few years from now we’ll be all set when we launch our own Ohio Ring Con.



I had a wonderful time seeing Sean Astin at Origins on Saturday. He did an hour-long Q&A session, and then several autograph sessions.

The time of the Q&A had been changed, so it appeared wrong in the convention program book, which may explain why only about 75 people were there when Sean arrived. Another 75 or so came in while he was talking, including a stormtrooper and a Nazgul (complete with black bunny ears). Sean came in unannounced, through the main door, and just walked up to the front, hopped up on stage and sat down Indian-style and called out, ‘Hello!’ Throughout the talk, he was very familiar and personable and utterly enjoyable.

He started out by asking the audience whether they’d rather go straight to Q&A or have him talk for awhile. Show of hands overwhelmingly showed ‘talk for awhile,’ so he launched into about 25 minutes of stream-of-consciousness rambling about his life, which despite the jumbled way it was presented, was quite interesting. He started by saying that he hadn’t slept at all the night before, and instead had taken advantage of being alone to stay up and think about his life and career and family and where he is going. On the flight over, he had talked for all four hours to the man sitting beside him, an investment banker, and said most of his night-thinking sprang out of that discussion. Also on the plane, Sean said he went back into coach and shook hands and greeted people, including some children who were big fans.

Sean talked a little about his Web site and started involving the audience (he really was into the ‘show of hands’ bit), asking them if they’d looked at it recently and how they liked the improvements. He seemed amazed how many people had been to his site, and then asked how many people were at the convention specifically to see Sean. Every person in the audience raised their hand. Then he asked who was just going to see Sean and do nothing else at the convention. About 80 percent of the people raised their hands. (Just an aside about the audience — while all ages were represented, it was overwhelmingly adult women, I’d say most of them at least over 30. We were seated beside a brother and sister, both in their late 20s or early 30s, in front of a teen-aged brother and sister with their mother, and three women in their mid-20s. All were there just for Sean, as were my sister and I.)

The talk moved to politics when someone gave Sean a John Kerry dog tag for his pet, and someone asked him if he would run for vice-president. Sean pointed out that he’s not old enough (he’s 33 and a VP must be at least 35). Someone then asked what his platform would be if he ran for mayor of California. After pointing out that he could run for mayor of Los Angeles or governor of California, but never mayor of California, Sean said his platform if he ran for mayor of LA would be to build a monorail to provide safe, clean, affordable and convenient public transportation in the city. Then he said his platform if he ran for governor of California would be to pay every teacher in the state a salary $100,000. He talked for a bit about the logistical problems of that proposal, but was adamant that those types of salaries are the key to having good teachers and good public education. Sean also said that the assistant provided to him by the White House for being on the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation is a Republican. Apparently, Sean likes to use this to humiliate poor Republican Jeff, for when he recently met President and Mrs. Carter, after introducing his family, he introduced Jeff, told the President he was a native of Georgia, and a Republican. Sean giggled with evil glee while telling this story.

Sean’s book on the filming of LOTR, There and Back Again, is done, he told us, and should be out in October. He said he anticipates it being his first book, and listed other books he’d like to write as a children’s book, a motivational book, an interview book about child actors and directors who work with them, and another LOTR book ‘that really services the fans.’ He described this book as more anecdotal and playful than the book coming out in October.

Sean took questions from the audience then, and his first question was on why he did what he did on Celebrity Poker. I didn’t see the episode, but apparently on his first hand, he bet everything and lost. Sean said he had done fantastic in the practice session, but when he got on camera, he was suddenly very aware of the camera and of being on television time and feeling the pressure of that. He said he had finally decided to raise the bet, but wanted to do something dramatic, and to his own surprise, just put everything in. He seemed to have enjoyed the experience and not be bothered by losing.

Someone asked what the holidays will be like this year without an LOTR premiere, and Sean said one of the reasons he wanted his book to come out later in the year is to honor that tradition of celebrating LOTR around that time. He also said there is talk of the Fellowship getting together during the holiday season, and that Dom in particular is adamant that if they all don’t get together in the first year there isn’t a premiere, it will make getting together in years to come even more difficult.

There was a question about the possibilities of The Goonies II, something Sean said he would love to see happen. He spoke about The Goonies several times during the Q&A, always with great fondness. He said he’s thought about writing the script for The Goonies II himself, and has talked to Stephen Spielberg about the possibility. Mr. Spielberg recommended he get his thoughts on paper and then bring them to him. In fact, Sean said he mentioned this to Mr. Spielberg on Oscar night this year, and that his response was that the movie Sean had starred in had just swept the Oscars and Sean should take the night to enjoy that moment! He said he also saw Joey Pants (Joe Pantoliano, one of the Fratelli brothers in The Goonies) on Oscar night, and Joey asked about The Goonies II and said they needed to get working on it because he needs to put an addition on his house.

Sean also talked about telling Ain’t It Cool News that he would be interested in directing The Goonies II and getting a sharp message from The Goonies director Richard Donner about it. Sean wrote to Mr. Donner in response, reminding him that they had talked several times over the years about the sequel, and Mr. Donner’s response had always been, ‘There’s no money in it!’ Mr. Donner called Sean about it later and said he’d love to do The Goonies II, and Sean said he’d love to see him do it, and would only put forth that he was interested in directing it himself if Mr. Donner had already turned it down. Mr. Donner then asked what was up with the project, what the ideas were, and after Sean filled him in, gave Sean a kind of Ehhh, we’ll see response. At any rate, Sean said they were cleared up on that (he called Mr. Donner — whom he referred to as ‘Dick’ — his mentor, and said they had been close for years) and it remains to be seen what will happen with The Goonies II.

Someone else asked if Sean was away of The Goonies showing at ’80s film festivals, and Sean said he’d gone to one of those and been amazed by the audience reaction. He said people were saying the lines along with the characters and the theater was packed. Also, during his initial talk at the beginning, Sean had mentioned occasionally using lines from movies during speeches, and said his favorite was ‘This is our time.’ People always recognized and loved it, and Sean said he loved that speech and expected to be using it for the rest of his life.

Someone else asked if Elijah had ever called Sean after the MTV Movie Awards, and Sean laughed quite hard and said his daughter kept asking the same thing. Sean then said he hadn’t talked to Elijah recently because he was filming, somewhere in Eastern Europe. Several people in the audience yelled out, ‘Prague!’ and Sean make a scary face and said, ‘Creeeeeppppyyy.’

Sean said he has not yet seen the ROTK Extended Edition, but he anticipates about 40 extra minutes. He said there is a scene between Sam and Gollum on the stairs to Cirith Ungol that he’d really like to see in, where Sam says to Gollum that ‘if a hair on his (Frodo’s) head is missing’ Gollum would regret it. He said it is ‘Sam at his most intense and vicious and strong,’ and he really liked the scene.

Someone asked about Sean filming other movies with the other hobbit-actors, and he mentioned the script Dom and Billy are writing and said he has told them several times that he would love it if they would put in a small part for him. Someone asked if he’d like to direct that movie, and he said it wasn’t appropriate for him to even be thinking about that. He then called Dom and Billy a ‘modern Abbott and Costello,’ and said it would be a ‘crime against comedy for those two guys not to be in a contemporary movie together riffing on each other.’ He added that it would be an honor to work again with anyone who worked on LOTR, in front of or behind the camera.

And then we were out of time! It didn’t feel like an hour to me, but we got our full promised hour with Sean. I’ve posted some more personal thoughts about the signing and my experience at Origins elsewhere, but I’d like to say here that it was well worth the drive and I was glad I went. Sean was very down-to-earth and real — I felt like this was a guy who knows how much a gallon of milk costs and what his kid is studying in school at any given time. He just exuded warmth and sincerity, and truly seemed to enjoy being with the fans.