“Originally it was Peter Jackson’s name, not Tolkien’s trilogy, that drew Sean Astin to the project.”
When the offer came for The Lord of the Rings, Astin didn’t hesitate. But originally it was Peter Jackson’s name, not Tolkien’s trilogy, that drew him to the project. He knew of, but hadn’t read, the books. Jackson, on the other hand, was known to him because he had directed his father John in The Frighteners. Astin had also been impressed by what he’d seen of Jackson’s spoof documentary, Forgotten Silver. “Dad showed me the `documentary’ and I was like, ‘Wow! We should be showing this to CNN and CBS. This is going to change history.’ Then Dad started laughing and I was like, “Oh no. This is a rouse. This is bull****. And then I thought: ‘This director is so talented.'”
From the outset, Astin was destined to play the part of Sam Gamgee. As soon as Jackson saw Astin’s audition, he felt the American actor was the embodiment of Tolkien’s good-hearted hobbit.
During one of the many debates Astin has with himself in the course of the conversation, he reaches the conclusion that a movie and its characters do not have to be pure or improving but should contain some grain of truth. He believes something contained within the film and the roles should be worth saying. Tolkien’s hobbit Sam and his whole intricately detailed fictional world hold numerous irrefutable truths that Astin came to as he read the trilogy.
“As I was reading the books, I was reading them with an eye towards Sam, but he’s just got such a warm, honest, pure good-hearted essence. And that’s his position in the films and in the book. It’s to be a kind of barometer against which all of the adventure and evil is measured. Sam has an unfaltering moral compass. He always knows who he is. As all the different characters, with all their different complexities, change and evolve and grow or fail, Sam just is… good. He has a level of experience at the end of the trilogy that he didn’t have at the beginning that informs his goodness. It makes his goodness that much more admirable. It’s easy to be naive and innocent and good but it’s another thing to have been embattled and, despite all of the trials and tribulations of an epic adventure, to remain good of heart.”
Although Astin’s a seasoned actor, filming The Lord of the Rings has still proved a novelty, both for the length of its shoot and for the phenomenal talents it has brought together. Astin’s characteristic vivacity gives way to a type of hushed appreciation as he discusses co-stars Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Sean Bean and Liv Tyler, to name but a few.
“Despite the immense talent of everybody, there’s a level of fun, a level of jocularity, among people whose work is so respectable you want to put your dinner jacket on and be on your best behaviour,” Astin laughs.
“I remember being up at the Pass of Caradhras and we’re all trapped by this snowstorm. There’s a blizzard and an avalanche and we’re all filming this scene and there was Ian McKellen and Sean Bean and Viggo and Elijah and me and we were working with all this fake snow, breathing it in and choking on it. And then we just had this fake snowball fight. I took a mental snapshot. I thought: ‘Here is a group of people whose work is admired the world over and we’re all as giddy as school children.'”
Looking at Astin, this scenario isn’t difficult to imagine. He exudes a boyish eagerness as he darts through memories of his time on the film and his fellow actors. He comments that Jackson did more than choose a cast that would do justice to the books, he chose a group of people that would mesh well.
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