Sean Astin and Alan Lee a hit in San Francisco
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Celebriel writes: The first fans arrived at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books at 11am Friday morning for Sean Austin’s 7 pm appearance. They came from all over the Bay Area and from at least as far as Seattle.

Events Manager Wendy Sheanin, who introduced Sean, had wanted him to appear since she first heard about the book. “People have been calling for weeks,” she said, adding “the book is doing really well.” About 200 fans attended, with the seating area and adjacent aisles completely filled.

Sean impresses fans as sincere, patient, enthusiastic, generous, and caring, pretty much like his character San Gamgee. He loves connecting with fans and sharing with them his experiences as a central figure in the “Lord of the Rings” films and the cultural phenomenon they have become. Some fans were very nervous and tongue-tied when they got to speak to him, but Sean always tried to get them to relax and give them a little extra time to ask a question. He also loved talking to children, shaking their hands and offering them encouragement.

He started by thanking the bookstore, noting that the name was the title of a Hemingway story, and talked enthusiastically about the intimate setting of the store and how nice it is to know staff members who will track down books for you. He remarked there is a Barnes and Noble near his home in Los Angeles, which generated some hisses. (The host book store is an independent and its loyal customers view B&N rather the way Merry would view The Witch King.)

Sean then introduced his wife Christine, daughters Alexandra and Elizabeth, and a special visitor, his middle school English teacher, Ms. Gilbert, saying he still remembered a class trip to Williamsburg, VA he took as a kid and how hard it was to be away from his family. He has stayed friends with her over the years since eighth grade.

Turning to “There and Back Again,” he said, “I felt I really had a book in me,” and kept pitching the idea to his agent. His partner on the book, Joe Layden, was “not a Lord of the Rings guy” but Sean only had to read about fifteen pages of his work before deciding to work with him.(Layden has written about the Grateful Dead and a large number of sports celebrities including Kobe Bryant, Monica Seles, Sammy Sosa, Tonya Harding and Steve Young.) He was eager to get started, not to miss what he called “the window of interest,” noting that for each of the last three years there has been a new “Lord of the Rings” film at year end. “This year there’s only the Extended Edition. It’s kind of sad. A lot of people are bummed out,” he observed, indicating that “There and Back Again” offers fans something else with history and insight into the project.

He knew the book tour would be “edifying personally” but didn’t imagine “all the things I would learn.” Sean laughingly admitted he liked “the sound of my own voice” and could talk for many hours. He placed his watch on the podium to keep track of time and asked daughter Alexandra to remind him it was there.

Sean first asked how people had learned of the event. Not surprisingly, many were regulars at The One or A few people found out about the event from his local appearances earlier Friday on KRON and KGO radio in SF.

Sean’s ongoing appearances at Sci Fi and Fantasy conventions are also connected to “There And Back Again.” At the conventions he observed “working class families willing to pay $35 to meet a celebrity in the flesh and get an autograph.” He felt, “I had so much more to offer, much more than a moment.” From meeting fans at conventions and other events he realized “People would talk to me as if they were part of our experience.” It was “a cool, weird way to relate to millions of people.”

As an actor, Sean explained he felt he had two responsibilities when representing a film. The first is to be “an ambassador for the studio.” This means putting the best face on the experience, and keeping in mind all the people who worked hard on the film and have a stake in its success. He described it as “an open house for millions of people,” noting he was “constantly trying to frame everything I would say with confidence.” Over time, he began to feel that “the way I felt inside was different than the public persona,” and this too fueled his desire to write a book in which he could tell more of the story in his own words. He described “Lord of the Rings” as “the most incredible thing I’ve done in my life,” but also the hardest and most painful – “painful in a good way.”

At that point, his wife Christine interrupted him to say he actually has three responsibilities, and one of them was to “answer questions from all these people.”

Thursday night Sean and his family had been at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, OR. About 700 people came, but he only had an hour and a half for the talk and book signing since his flight had been moved up because of a fog alert in San Francisco. He talked about how bad he felt because of the insufficient time to meet everyone.

An actor’s second responsibility he described as “honoring the audience,” understanding who the audience was for each TV, radio, or magazine appearance and sharing with fans more of the “Lord of the Rings” story.

Sean talked for just over half an hour. With all of his stories, there was time for only two questions. One man asked if it was hard to stay in character, given that the total time spent filming was nearly five years while in the books only 13 months passes.

“My work as an actor is fueled by an honest approach based on what is happening in my life,” Sean explained. “You get to experience how art imitates life and life imitates art.” He recalled the first camera tests at the start of filming. “The costume, ears, wig and feet gave me the character.” This was after six weeks of on site work that included fight classes, working in water, and dialect training. Sean commented it took him a long time to get comfortable with the Gloucestershire-inspired Hobbiton accent, but the dialect coaches were always there to help.

At one point a “one hundred year flood” destroyed several sets in Queenstown, NZ, so the production moved on to other scenes. On a hotel squash court workers built the rock face used in the stair climbing scenes at Cirith Ungol, which take place well into Return of the King. He said of himself and Elijah Wood, “We panicked. We hadn’t finished [reading] the books yet.” They talked to Peter Jackson and he assured them they’d be fine. Sam’s close-ups were shot first. Then the weather improved and the production did not resume filming on those scenes for ten months. “In that ten months I had found Sam,” he said. Sean considered having the close-ups reshot so they would better communicate Sam’s character, but Peter Jackson showed him some original dailies and said there was no need to reshoot them.

The pace quickened as the release date for the first film approached. Publicity for “Lord of the Rings” started at the Cannes Film Festival seven months before the December 2001 opening of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The first film wasn’t finished yet.. “We still had pickups and reshoots to do,” he said. Press coverage began to build after Cannes, and by June the cast had “its first inkling that the film was going to be big.” Sean even appeared on the cover of Pipe and Tobacco magazine as Sam, holding his pipe.

Going back into filming, he explained, the challenge was “how do you push the white noise out to get back into character?” In preparing for the Shelob scenes, for example, Sean found that looking at Shelob artwork by Alan Lee and John Howe always helped.

A second fan asked “How do you prepare yourself for multiple takes, especially of very emotional scenes?” Sean responded that this process is different in each work and for each actor. “I never developed a technique or craft,” he explained. “Peter Jackson designed the project and New Line allowed him space unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of.” Often he was spent and exhausted from crying after an emotional scene but the director would want more. Sean mentioned filming one emotional scene only to learn that he had been wearing the wrong vest, and the scene would need to be redone. In retrospect, “Lord of the Rings” taught him that “what human beings are capable of doing is amazing.” Going forward, he said he will never accept that some emotional expression is not possible for an actor. It’s important to “honor the spirit of excellence from Peter Jackson,” adding, “My father would have liked me to say, ‘you just go to your technique’.”

Sean’s special guest, Ms.Gilbert, whom he calls “Ms. G,” currently teaches in Palo Alto, CA. Middle school is her specialization – she has been teaching for 31 years. Ms. Gilbert worked with Sean at St. Paul the Apostle Middle School in Westwood, CA. She described him as “a very special young man, bright, witty, sensitive,” noting “he’s worked hard for his success.” Sean still meets with Ms. G’s students each year on their class trip to Los Angeles. “He spends quality time with them,” and observes them acting scenes and monologues from Shakespeare. She added, “I loved when he played Rudy,” explaining that in 7th grade Sean’s mother told him he could choose drama or football as an extracurricular activity but not both. He surprised everyone by choosing football.

In a brief chat, Christine Astin said the family had been in Calgary recently where Sean is filming the western “Into the West,” which will air on television in 2005. Despite the title, the film has nothing to do with “Lord of the Rings.”

Fans attending the event were diverse but united in their passion for “Lord of the Rings.” Most has seen the films more times than they could count. Helen from San Lorenzo, CA, took the day off to be at the bookstore by 11am. She has a large “Lord of the Rings” tattoo on her left leg. A group of four friends, Ivie, Taylor, Hollis and Genevieve, also arrived at 11 am. Ivie and Taylor explained they arrived early because their Christmas break from UC-Santa Cruz had just started and they had nothing else to do.

Ivie stayed in the bookstore reading most of the day. Taylor forced her parents to name her younger sister Sam. She helped organize a line party in Sacramento, CA, and started a “Lord of the Rings” club in high school. She and several friends have bought trees in support of Dominic Monaghan’s environmental project. She is attending the ORC convention in Pasadena. Her father began to read the trilogy to her when she was seven, and she’s been a fan of Sean since “Toy Soldiers.” Taylor & Genevieve went to Los Angeles for the unveiling of Patty Duke Astin’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and met Sean and his family for the first time. “It’s definitely exciting to see him for a second time,” she said.

Annette and Lance were up at 2 am for a flight from Seattle and got to the bookstore at 3 pm. They’ve stopped counting how many times they’ve seen the films. Annette and her coworkers at a bank purchased a DVD player and watch the films on their lunch break. This was their first live event with a cast member, though they attended the Lord of the Rings Symphony in Seattle. They are also attending ORC.

Marleena and her Mom Nancy from San Rafael, CA have been fans together since the films came out, having seen them more than ten times. Marleena is a big fan of Dominic, Elijah and Sean, while her Mom is partial to Viggo Mortensen.

Linda and Robert arrived from Antioch CA at 4:30 pm. Robert arranged to take a few hours off his night shift job so he could attend. Both have been fans for many years. Linda first read the books in high school nearly forty years ago, and now is an avid collector for her “Ring Room, which holds her swords, autographed posters, Treebeard, Sauron, and Gandalf statues, and the talking Gollum her husband won from a radio station. Their three children and five grandchildren are also big fans, and the family has seen the films “multiple, multiple times.”

Sean patiently greeted each fan, signing their book and chatting briefly. His family sat a few feet away, behind the signing table. When the signing was done just after 8:30, Wendy led him off to another area to sign more books for fans who could not attend in person. Fans who had met at the bookstore exchanged email addresses and phone numbers and many promised to meet up again in Pasadena in January.



Sean Astin and Alan Lee both had large crowds on hand for their respective book signings in San Francisco tonight. Unfortunately, they both had an event at the same time in different areas of the city. But even then, there was a record crowd for both!

Mr. Lee not only discussed his long involvement with the works of JRR Tolkien, he had a stunning visual presentation including a slide show and a display of a dozen original illustrations. Booksmith (bookstore) sponsored the event at the local library and had many books on hand including “The Art of the Lord of the Rings” Booksmith also gave away free posters, buttons and Alan Lee trading cards.

Mr. Astin’s booksigning was a pleasant surprise. Not only did he come with his entire family, but his middle school drama teacher (Mrs. G). He spoke for a limited time and took a few questions. His generousity in sharing himself with the large crowd at A Clean Well-lighted Place for Books could not be surpassed.

He shared many stories of his time filming the movies with Peter Jackson and Elijah Wood. One charming story was about continuity and how he and Elijah Wood were told about a scene they’d be doing in a few days time (Stairs of Cirith Ungol) and how they thought it wouldn’t happen. Well, it did happen and they both panicked a little. They weren’t ready to do the scene! They tried to talk PJ out of doing the scene, but Mr. Jackson told them they’d be fine. They ended up doing the scene working on the closeups of Sean. Unfortunately, the 100 Year Rains came in and they ended up finishing the scene (and finally Elijah’s closeups) 10 months later!

His time spent sharing stories were really something else and I’m glad I brought my daughter and her friend with me. It’s nice to see a celebrity who is not only kind, but humble and generous with his stories he had probably shared with thousands of other people in the other many cities he has already been. I watched him as he signed his book, he tried to make a connection with each person he signed a book for. Considering how many cities he and his family have visited, you could really tell that he appreciated us by making each story new to us and not a rehashing of the same story he has already told many times.

We were lucky, since we arrived early to have Mr. Astin sign our books we went to the Alan Lee signing and got to meet him as well!



There was a standing room only crowd for the event which had an added surprise. Fans had an abundance of riches to choose from since Sean Astin was also doing a signing across town at the same time tonight. Alan’s fans discovered that Sean had been by the bookstore this morning and autographed copies of his new book were also available at Alan’s signing, as well as copies of the brand new Art of Lord of the Rings book which just came out two days ago!

Alan arrived about 20 minutes early and signed until it was time to talk. He gave an excellent talk, illustrated with slides. Most were of his pencil sketches, but there were some watercolour paintings and a few photos that he had taken of the crew and models.

Some of the things he talked about: the process of designing Middle Earth for the camera, his favorite set (Rivendell), and the collaboration between the Art Dept. and Weta Workshop. We were told that getting Alan’s autograph was quite something since he does not sign his work, not wanting its artistic quality to be compromised by writing on it!

He was very kind to all the fans, signing everything from the Sideshow/Weta Edoras Model to books he had done in the years before LOTR and even the collectable author photocards issued by the bookstore. He spent some time with each person and seemed genuinely happy to meet everyone.



Alan Lee was due at 6pm, so I arrived at about 4pm. We were supposed to take tickets for our numbers in line, mine was 35. About 100 people ended up coming, so it was a pretty good place in line. At just about 6pm a worker came out and said Alan Lee had arrived, and would be out in two minutes. I started to freak out. I am a huge Alan Lee fan, and one of the youngest people there. I watched the door, and finally he came out. I was really excited, and he recieved a huge round of applause from everyone.

He started off by showing a slide show of some of his finished paintings, pencil sketches and actual photographs. He was incharge of the slides, but the machine kept changing them. Confused by the slide machine he said, “I don’t know why it is doing that! I didn’t change it!…….Oh, it’s on automatic. Can someone fix that?” So we went back to the beginning of the slideshow and with each picture he gave a short explanation. After the slides ended, he told us that he had brought about ten more, but then decided we should get to the Q and A.

I was about the fourth person to get their question answered, so I asked, “If Peter Jackson makes The Hobbit into a movie, do you think you will go back to work on it?” So he looked straight at me to answer my question, but I was so, um, surprised, by the fact that I was actually talking to Alan Lee that I didn’t actually comprehend alot of what he said. I did hear, “Well I sure hope so.” In effect the rest of what he answered was that he would like to. He also told me that he had just recently gone to do a little bit of work on Peter Jackson’s film in progress, “King Kong”, as well. After the majority of the questions had been answered, someone came over to tell him that he should begin the signing.

You were allowed to have him sign anything, and he would even personalize it. Lucky for me, because I wanted him to sign some of the seven posters I had with me, not to mention my mom’s book she bought that day by Alan Lee, Faeries, and my little sister’s poster. We were also allowed pictures with him, which was really cool.

So I waited in line for maybe 30-45 minutes, because each person had a bit of time with him getting everything personalized. So finally it was my turn, and I was shaking quite a bit, I mean, it’s Alan Lee!! So first he signed my sister’s poster, then my mom’s book, and then he signed my posters. I gave him the first one and he asked if I wanted it personalized, or just his name. I said he could just put his name because there were so many other things I wanted signed, not to mention a picture. So he signed his name, and then I handed him the posters I wanted personalized. In line, someone came around with Post It notes to stick on everything you wanted personalized. Alan Lee signed the first poster, then accidentally signed the wrong one, and asked if I just wanted him to sign the other one as well. Of course I did, an extra signed poster from Alan Lee! So after he signed everything, I asked if I could get a picture. He said sure, so he got up and my sister and I stood next to him. He put his arm around me for the picture. My mom went to take the picture, but instead of pushing the flash button, snapped a picture of, um, I dunno, Alan’s shoes? So then a kind man said if my mom wanted to get in the picture too, he would take the picture. So we all got in the picture!!!! I can’t wait to have them developed. After the picture was taken, he sat back at his signing table, told us to have a great Christmas, and we left. I was really sad to leave. So we went and looked at the Christmas lights across the street, and decided to go back to Border’s one more time before we went home. Alan Lee saw us and looked up at us and smiled, and then went back to signing whatever he was signing. Over all it was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had!