A Discussion with Sean Astin - Transcript and MP3 Download - Sam Gamgee Sits and Talks
Here is the fourth roundtable discussion in our series of interviews with the cast and crew of The Return of the King. Listen in as Sean discusses his role as Sam in LOTR.
Please pardon the quality of the file as well--the range on my iPod's microphone is a lot less than what I was hoping for... many many thanks to Etienne for taking the time to transcribe it all below!!!
Sean Astin: Um...well, since October of last year, I haven't stopped working, so it's - I think the business success of Lord of the Rings has made casting directors and producers willingness to sit with me and talk about me being their movie or TV show, a kind of exciting prospect for them, because there's some sense that they can engage, you know, build on the success of the movies or tap into it, or something like that. Or, I don't know how to characterize it, except to say that success in that way is appealing to people.
Question:: Do you think you've become [unclear] name?
Sean Astin: Well, I don't know if it's as clear cut as that. I mean, I think it is a little bit, like this movie I just did in South Africa, I'm sure that my, you know, I think every actor who's in a movie that comes out or has any kind of profile, so to speak, has a number of value attached to their name in terms of foreign pre-sales and the way that international film finance works, and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, I think being a part of Lord of the Rings shot all of our numbers in this film off the charts, so that's - I'm sort of referring to kind of the way that mainstream filmmakers and, uh - not filmmakers so much as producers and casting directors. When it comes to the directors themselves - interesting... I don't know if there's been an appreciable difference in my career so far...yeah, maybe it's about to start, the sense I'm getting, and then... Yeah, so... but it's definitely had - my bank account is better than it has been in a long time in my life.
Question:: You're a much stronger character of Sam in the movies than it is in the book. You know, that's been some of the buzz that's been going on - in the book more serving, and here actually telling Frodo what he should be doing. You take control and take charge. Did you develop that, did Peter develop that, how did that...did you recognize that? It's a great thing. You had the speech in part two, and in this one, I mean, the thing ends with your face. You become - you are the hero. That's actually a [unclear] going back 50 years, that Sam is actually the hero, and not Frodo, because he is the one who pushes Frodo on, who grabs the Ring when Frodo is dying, he's the one who it ends with. Yeah, we're telling you [laughter]...
Sean Astin: You know, I definitely - early in the first film, when there's some light comedic kind of interpretation...When I saw, when I was down in New Zealand and I was doing my research for the part, and watched the Ralph Bakshi animated version of it, and saw how the Hobbits were depicted as these bumbling, kind of oafy characters - "Oh no, gee, mister Frodo, I don't know!" - I was just terrified that that was what Peter might want, because actually, there is a - I think the Bakshi adaptation pushes it beyond a sort of fair interpretation, but there is a fair interpretation of the Hobbits as being a little bit more bumbling than I wanted to portray them. And yeah... I want to believe that I can be that strong, heroic character that you want to see in movies. And so I was willing to accept the mantle of being, you know, three feet six inches tall, and having big feet and big ears and long hair. I remember - maybe here's what you're getting at - we did the sword training with Bob Anderson, who's the world class sword master - I mean, he taught Errol Flynn, and Douglas Fairbanks, and he choreographed the sword fight between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi, and the Three Musketeers, all three versions of it, I think he was the sword master - and for six weeks, we had an hour a day of sword training with him. And I was getting good at it. And then we go to the set, to show Peter what we did, and Peter says "whoa, just in terms of physics, you are battling an Uruk-Hai, you just couldn't muster the strength, even if you were proficient with it, which you wouldn't be, because the Hobbits - and then I thought, well, why did we do all of this sword training then if we can't use it, for one, and two, I want to show how good I can be at this. So, somehow, I had to reconcile my own inner desire to have that strength, with a fair and accurate reading and interpretation of the character, based on the books, because the last thing you want to do is to fail to be truthful in your interpretation of a piece of classic literature that is loved by people all over the world, knowing that everyone is going to see it, and are either going to love it or hate it, so, yeah... I, I think Peter and I - I kind of resisted Peter a little bit, when he would want me to be a little bit more - I notice Dominic Monaghan's portrayal of Meriadoc Brandybuck is, I think, a sweeter, more faithful interpretation of Hobbits, than mine is with Sam.
Question:: Did Peter love your - I mean, it worked very well - [unclear] this job. Did Peter grow to love that? I mean, he evidently chose - he followed your direction.
Sean Astin: Well, I wouldn't say that. Peter got what he wanted out of it. I think when stuff is working he gravitates towards it, so with Merry, when Merry was doing his thing and it was working in his way, you know, Dom, they wrote more scenes for him, that allowed him to exemplify or typify a Hobbit in his way. And when I was doing what I was doing, they wrote towards that a little bit too. I think Peter took - you know, Andy Serkis, all of Gollum, especially with how the story opens, was an acknowledgement of Peter of how much intensity and creativity Andy Serkis was bringing to the interpretation of Gollum. So yeah, I think we all bought ourselves to it, and people grappled with it, and pushed all of us in different directions, and he certainly pushed me in different directions, and yeah, that speech at the end of the second film...I think they were responding to the kind of post September 11th global mood, and wanting to respond to it in the film, and of all the different themes they could pull out of the film, I think they were able to pay homage to the books, and to the nature of films, in a world where, you know, that's changing in such kind of complex ways. That speech was written in the summer of 2002, and we filmed it at the end of the summer of 2002, and then the movie came out at the end of 2002. That idea, that stories, the great tales, the ones that really mattered, like Lord of the Rings, cinema, that wasn't from the books. They wrote that, as a sort of, you know... And they gave it to me, I was so grateful they gave it to me. I think it was an acknowledgement of my capabilities. I remember they said afterwards, "We knew you could do it, and we're glad you did it." And it's funny, because a lot of times different speeches were given to different characters. Like, one character would do it, and they would see how it played, and they would give the exact same speech to another character, and it wasn't this feeling of `you didn't do it right', it's almost like they're searching for the right resonance, the right kind of, emotional engagement, and sometimes it just, for reasons that are beyond - well, if someone did a piece or dissertation on it, they might understand why it did work, but for Peter and Fran, it was really just about being true to their own artistic sensibilities and their own emotional relationship with what they were doing. And our job was just to keep, you know, when important to us, was just to stand up and blow our trumpet or play our line and try to do our part to help them.
Question:: Things about the Shire, struck a chord with me, and I've asked a couple of people already. It seems as though the Shire symbolizes a safe place to be - a moment in time when you were most happy.
Sean Astin: It's an ideal way of living, it's not just what it was, but it's what it could be and what might not be in the future. And that language, is so poetic, "Do you remember the Shire, and the strawberry...and they'll be sowing barley in the lower fields." There's something about barren landscape that's choking with smoke and ash, and you're thinking about vegetation, and you think about green, and you think about... you know, that's how we survive, that's our sustenance - it's about human survival, really.
Question:: What is the Shire for you? Like, when you have a low point in your life, what do you think of - a moment in time or a place that you would like to get back to?
Sean Astin: I don't think I've found it yet. I mean, I think I'm looking on the planet for the physical place, the space where my idea - I mean, at college, I studied history and literature, and all the great philosophers and all the great literary figures at some point talked about the simplicity and elegance of gardening as a kind of life - so, I fantasize often about gardens. So I think there's some ideal, platonic garden in my mind [laughter] I haven't invested the time to do it.
Question:: Where'd you grow up?
Sean Astin: Here.
Question:: In North Hollywood? Like, near Elijah? I mean, were you friends back then?
Sean Astin: No, we met for the first time at the Mandra Hotel...no the Hotel [unclear], we were meeting with Peter Owen who'd come from England to do head measurements for our wigs, we were being fitted for our wigs, so we both met that day for the first time. I was born in St. Johns in Santa Monica, and was raised, for the first year, just up the street from here, and for eight-, seventeen years after that, by UCLA. I would ride my bike through UCLA. There - maybe that's it. The hills, the gentle rolling hills of UCLA in west LA, by Veteran and Sunset. They're now all kind of architecture buildings, and science, so it's changed definitely.
Question:: Would you speak for a minute about your relationship with Elijah?
Sean Astin: Sure. The ten year age difference between the two of us...in some ways, Elijah has an emotional intelligence that's way beyond his years. Look, he's got a really powerful...aesthetic sensibility, artistic sensibility about his own work as an actor, and about music and movies and so on. I admire his voice, and I've learned a lot about how he's - I've learned a lot about myself by spending so much time with him. I'm grateful to him for that. Yeah, I think we really cared about each other a lot. It's time now we're all going to have to separate, not just as a function of coming to an end for all the publicity and responsibilities for the movies and everything else, but just in terms of how we're going to adjust our careers a lot. I think it's time that - he's moved to New York now, and he really needs to have his own space to do his thing, and I got to figure out what the hell I'm going to do with myself and my family. But I think there is a sense of permanence in how strongly we feel about each other so that... Well, he was in the hospital with an appendectomy early in the year, and as soon as I heard about it, I called him. On September 11th, he was like my fourth or fifth call after checking on my mom and my brother and my dad, I called to find out where Elijah was. It's a pretty great by-product of what has been an extraordinary experience, is the ability for us to have this incredibly close friendship.
Question:: The last gazes, when were those filmed?
Sean Astin: The last gazes?
Question:: At the end of the movie.
Sean Astin: Oh! We had that same level of emotional honesty with each other, and [unclear] since the first moment we met. I mean, I'm not ***ting you, we walked up to each other, and because we knew what we were about to embark on, we hugged each other and looked at each other, and there was a kind of excited enthusiasm, and I said "Are you ready for this?" And he said "Yeah. Yeah. Are you?" I said "I think so". I told him where he was gonna go, but... yeah.
Question:: When you were a kid, what kind of burden did you [unclear], and in that sense, will your kids have the same kind of feeling you had?
Sean Astin: I was never burdened by it in even the smallest way. I think there were other kinds of burdens, but I think with parents and kids, what the parents' desires for their own lives are, and particularly their unfulfilled desires, and their desires for you are what create a sense of burden. And I never got the sense that my parents were - I've been acting since I was young, I was in Goonies when I was twelve - before I was able to have a sense of what their thoughts or desires for me were, I was already performing or exceeding them, or creating new ones. I never had to suffer that particular phenomenon. I really worry a lot about my kids, and particularly my daughter Alexandra, who's got a pretty specific relationship to the whole phenomenon. She, when we were on the red carpet the other day, she hasn't been to any of the premieres over the last couple of years, but since she was two years old we've looked toward the world premier of the third film, when she would be seven years old, at the time when it would be OK to have - she doesn't like being in front of the cameras too much, because of the security things, and strangers being comfortable with who she is, and recognizing her - [unclear] not having enough money or power to be able to insulate her, protect her, still trying to figure out what those kind of issues are, we sort of wrestle with that a little bit. But her sort of, relationship with fans - I worry that she thinks it's more important than it really is, and I tell her all the time, literally on the red - you know there are a hundred and ten thousand people, roughly, in New Zealand, came out to watch this parade and be a part of it, and she was there on the red carpet - I'm being told we have one minute. I've done this bad- I've been very angry the last three times when I had to leave.
Question:: Just finish what you were saying - this is good.
Sean Astin: Any time there's a big moment like that, when I took her on one of the award shows with me and both before and after the little experience on camera with it, I'm a little bit worried about myself and about her, based on her comments, but then I also take a moment to look at her and say "You know this is temporary, this won't be like this next year, you know, that this isn't as important - I mean, there were thousands of people screaming "Oh Sean, sign this, sign this!" Screaming and yelling. And she was "Daddy, sign that persons' thing, or sign this persons' thing", or whatever, and I took her, and I sit down, and I looked her in the eye and I said "Ally, let's have a moment, this is not reality, this is temporary, and not as important as some - and she says "I know, I'm just gonna enjoy the moment while it's here." So she gives me this `Zen' kind of mantra [laughter.]
Question:: Has she seen the films?
Sean Astin: Yeah, she loves it. Particularly the third film.
Question:: There's been some questions, because the movies are marketed a lot towards kids, and they are rated PG-13, has there been any disconnect between you and your kids about seeing...?
Sean Astin: I think the whole discussion - I think Lord of the Rings is, to the extent that some parents in America need or want the designation by the Association - am I right, it's the Academy? Who does that?
Sean Astin: MPAA. To the extent that they want that, to be able to say to their children "No, we have a policy about it." I suppose it's fulfilling a valuable function in our society. I for one personally think Lord of the Rings is doesn't necessarily need to comply - I don't worry about anybody seeing it.
Question:: You think there have been worse PG-13 movies?
Sean Astin: I think the movies are worthy of people seeing it. I mean, I worry about if the kids are going to be too scared, or something like that, or if they are emotionally ready to handle some of the ideas, and really, no designation of lettering is gonna - it takes parents to be invested in their kids.
Question:: Knowing what movies they can't watch...
Sean Astin: Yeah, by themselves, and I think for our part as filmmakers and actors and the studio, we can be proud of the fact that we're putting something good out there, in the culture, that's worthy of it, of people's attention.
Question:: Thank you.
[Various thank you's and goodbyes.]