Denver Comic Con – Spotlight on Sean Astin

If you can believe it, I have seen exactly none of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. So after moderator Ron Bostwick (associated with the Boulder International Film Festival) announced Sean Astin to the stage, I could only think, “Hey, that’s the son of Patty Duke and Gomez!”

I know, that dates me terribly.

Astin recounted the moment when he learned he got the role of Samwise Gamgee: “The phone turned red hot, I dropped to my knees, and thanked God.” But, aware of the director’s early films (e.g., Bad Taste, Dead Alive), he was a bit unsure about Peter Jackson: “This guy. Tolkien. How’s it going to look?” Well, it’s clear he didn’t need to fear anything about the outcome. He went on to say that there was no way to prepare for Lord of the Rings, neither in its breadth of production nor the worldwide acclaim that ensued.


Sean Astin. Photo by Philip Chang.

Astin apparently tried not to allow that renown inflate his ego. When New Zealand issued stamps commemorating LOTR, there was a typo on his: “Sean Austin.” He did not make a big deal about it, finding the error not really worth complaining about. But his friends informed him that such a blasé attitude made him look like a dismissive douchebag. He still seems unfazed by the incident (and even the coin set that came out later): perhaps, he speculated, everyone will get 15 minutes of stamp fame. He also said that his favorite person to work with was John Rhys-Davies. For some perverse uncontrollable reason, Astin kept quoting lines from Raiders of the Lost Ark under his breath, until Rhys-Davies politely asked him to stop.

LOTR was the role of a lifetime that brought Astin and his castmates an eternal fandom. But I saw an odd twist that I’ve never contemplated. An audience member asked about a most memorable moment during filming, and Astin cited the incident when he cut his foot on a shard of glass after running into a lake. Since it’s reported in the special features of the DVD of one of the movies (and IMDB), he was rather diffident about it, and asked for a show of hands from those who already knew the story. Bostwick called the response a goodly number, but Astin was noticeably surprised, seeing the result as rather low. The LOTR movies are coming up on 15 years, so perhaps fandom fades as an actor’s career progresses?

But, of course, LOTR is not the only notable achievement in Astin’s career. His favorite role was Twoflower in the adapation of Terry Pratchett’s The Color of Magic. And sometimes parents approach him and tell their kids, “This is Raphael” (of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Of course it’s confusing to them seeing a human being and not a turtle. Astin’s correction is that he can sound like Raphael, whereupon he treated us to a few of Raphael’s exclamations. (As for Goonies, at another panel he discussed the still-nebulous state of a sequel: “It will be, 100 percent…maybe not in my lifetime.”)

Astin pursues movie productions of his own. “I’m a control freak so I like directing, too,” he said. As a scion of Hollywood mainstays, he managed, at the age of 18, to schedule a few hours to edit one of his movies in Steven Spielberg’s own editing suite. When Astin lifted the reel from its canister, the cardboard hub fell out, and the film unspooled from the center. Since he couldn’t do anything with a tangled mass of celluloid, he gathered it all up and left. He mentioned his later film, Kangaroo Court, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1995.

Someone asked for his book recommendations. Astin first said Voltaire’s Candide, and then included Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. He did so to balance out the different reading levels required for each title (but in way, they have a common theme: how to make or understand how the world can be better). Returning to LOTR, he finds that re-reading it is always new, surprising, and confusing.

Near the close, someone asked whether he thought Rudy Ruettiger could’ve brought the Ring to Mount Doom. In a funny mash-up, Astin proudly replied, “I believe he did, bro.”