Friday, July 8, 2011

Sean Astin Interview

As promised, here is the first installment of the new interview series.  As long as there are readers and I’m continuing to enjoy the process, I’ll endeavor to keep the interviews coming along.  New interviews are already underway for future months.  (Two interviewee initial hints are: RA and LR.)  As I mentioned last time, if there are new public followers of the blog, I will donate a copy of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars to one randomly-selected follower.  We may also donate a signed copy of Tristan’s Travels.  The cutoff for the giveaway is 5pm (Pacific) on Monday.
Again, a big, big thank you to Sean Astin for answering all of my questions--in record time, too.  So, turn up the Return of the King soundtrack and get ready...

1.  After reading There and Back Again, An Actor’s Tale, it seems to that you have a healthy caution or ambivalence towards success.  What does true success mean to you?

I love success absolutely, in all of its myriad definitions, applications and relative doses. I think the ambivalence you infer, comes from my antipathy for the anxiety laden stress that comes from depending on other people’s decisions. In large measure, it is that anxiety that pushes success further away. I also think that it is unhelpful for actors to organize their thoughts along ‘success’ paradigms... While being inspired by others and studying their careers is critical to success, there is a languid quality that runs throughout ‘the actor’ tradition, a pointless but familiar wallowing, that actors, heck everybody has to some greater or lesser extent... It’s natural but should be kept in it’s rightful place...

2.  In your book, you talk about Christine’s faith, but you don’t really share many details concerning your own faith.  Did your faith strengthen and sustain you through the hard years of filming Lord of the Rings?  Do you consider yourself a Catholic?
Big question. I’m either an honorary Catholic or a Catholic with a lot of time owed in purgatory. I’m getting more comfortable talking about my spiritual life in public and in writing. I think I’m developing a vocabulary that is useful. I leaned on my wife a lot during LOTR. I think in our marriage we take turns being the dominant  believer in the house. Doubts and frustration and pain bring out such truth in our character...Christine and I have relied heavily on each other to reinforce our relationship with God. Oh, and then there’s the kids :-) 

3.  How do you top your Lord of the Rings performance as an actor?
Can’t. As Helen Mirren one said to me, ‘gotta just keep slogging on.’

4.  In your own experience, what’s a characteristic of most celebrities that might surprise readers?

Celebrities are the most Generous and Petty people. When observing a celebrity in their natural habitat, be prepared to give swag or receive gifts :-)

5.  I happen to be a BIG Peter Sellars fan, so please excuse this question...  When I think of your adoptive father, John Astin, I’m also reminded of other great comedic stars such as Peter Sellers.  Actors like this are not “settling” for comedy, but possess such a depth of talent that they can successfully act within a comedy or drama.  Did John Astin perhaps know Peter Sellers?  If so, can you share a thought or anecdote on Sellers--or their interactions?

I think a lot of people get them confused actually. They have a very similar pathos...big eyes probably. I would bet a nickel that they knew and liked each other a well as admire each other’s work.  I’ll ask my Dad the next time I see him. Being There is in my top ten...

6.  How did you feel about LTR character Tom Bombadil not being included in the Fellowship of the Ring movie? 

Relieved. The best part about Tom Bombadil is reading out loud and trying to come up with a fun melody for all of those wonderful and sometimes tortured poems. But, I was worried that the Hobbits my come off too silly, like in the cartoon...axing Tom Bombadil from the trilogy was a great thing.

7.  Is it true that you will not be starring in The Hobbit in any capacity?

True. I’m asked a lot, but no I’m not in the Hobbit adaptation. I’m rooting for its success and will watch it when it hits the big screen.

8.  As an actor, director, or writer, which role do you prefer?  Does the ability to switch from acting to writing, for example, help to avoid "burn-out" at times as a performer?

Listen, if I’m gainfully employed of a given week I thrilled. I probably prefer directing, it suits my controlling personality. And yes, it is always nice to have a change of pace. Acting has made me who I am and directing allows me to strive for who I want to be. Or vice versa.

9.  What captured your attention first about Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars and its young protagonist, Annemarie Johansen?

Christine and I were searching for a family film to make. I wanted it to be important. The Newbery books were the obvious place to look and our Daughter Ali had read it in school. Lois’ story was a perfect fit for us. If I had to pick one thing, it would be the idea of citizenship. Annemarie and her family were simple, simply doing the right thing. When neighbors do that, block by block, before you know it, you have an entire Nation that can hold its’ head up high. I could go on for hours. I’m grateful we’ve been able to spend a couple of years with it so far and more to come!

10.  When do you plan to begin filming, and when should we watch for the movie to be released?

I don’t know. We are raising the money now and it is a long process. I’m praying for a Fall 2012 release.

11.  Do you plan to film in Denmark?


12.  In the Hitchcockian tradition, should we watch for you in the background of an NTS scene or two, or will you also be acting a role within this movie?

Good question :-)

13.  Has LTR piqued your interest concerning the other writings of Tolkien, or any of the other “Inkling” writers--e.g. C.S. Lewis?  What do you think of Lewis' writings?

Mere Christianity was important in my life. Sister Mary Imelda sent it to me after the Fellowship came out. I wish I could have been an Inkling... I’m sure I would have said things like, ‘Wow’ ‘Really?’ and ‘Come on!’

14.  Are screenplay adaptations of books usually best carried out by professional screenwriters--as opposed to the author?  It seems that the greater objectivity of the professional screenwriter might be helpful in the success of the project.  (Question edited slightly post interview.)

Historically, I think so. William Goldman did alright with Princess Bride, but...if a studio is paying for a screenwriter, you know you are in the game... If you feel yourself wondering most of the time how someone else might treat may be a good idea to find the right person and let them do it. Even if you do it yourself, I am certain you will often wish that you’d let someone else do it as you move on to fresh new stuff.

Updated December 2016:

As if the 2016 election wasn't divisive enough, I seem to have lost my friendship with Sean over his loyalty to Hillary Clinton.   It's sad that politics can come between friends, but that's the way of it.  Next time you hear Sean talking about the importance of dialogue or respectful disagreement, bear in mind he silences those with whom he disagrees.

An open letter to Samwise.

So, you’ve shut me off on account of political disagreement?  That’s certainly within your right.   I ask you, though, every time you hear something negative about your candidate will you shoot each messenger bearing those unhappy words to your ear?  If Vox Populi, which I played a minuscule part in funding through Kickstarter as I recall, meant anything it meant dialogue between those of differing opinions.  To disagree respectfully has always been the aim of civilized society, but…are you desiring those of Wormtongue’s ilk now—those whose words drip with fawning insincerity and a lack of truth?  If you silence those voices that honestly and respectfully disagree with you…is it your goal to be surrounded only by those exactly like yourself—yes men?  It certainly would yield more Facebook likes, I suppose.

No matter who wins the election the day after tomorrow, we’re all the losers.  We’re losers because the way this election is separating and alienating friends, family members, and colleagues from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  What’s more disheartening to see than an alienation between men, however, is to see the ever widening chasm between God and man.  Of particular concern…the quiet genocide taking place in mother’s wombs ever-championed by your candidate.  I pray that you will not turn your back on your faith... 

I ran an honest campaign for the Oregon House of Representatives.  I was respectful to everyone, and I didn’t lie to promote myself or my causes.  Even though it would have helped my campaign, I refused to go along with those blindly calling for mass deportations and the like.  I told the truth.  Your candidate lies with the ease of breathing.  Yes, she’s a woman, so…I guess that makes it okay now?

It was enjoyable to get to know you, but I guess, in the end, you weren’t the kind of class act I took you to be.  You’re just like everyone else we hear about in the motion picture industry: a bundle of insecurities orbiting an artificial core: a fleeting shadow.  Do you even know yourself?


Karl Bjorn Erickson
Monmouth, Oregon
November 6, 2016


  1. Enjoyed the interview. I could have stood even more of the discussion...fascinating! Susann

  2. Glad you liked it, Susann. More coming before too long!

  3. Im a BIG LTR fan and it was very interesting to hear Sean's view on various talking points. Thank you for the interview which was a joy to read.

  4. Love Sean, love LOTR, love this interview! THANKS, Charlotte O.