Thursday, January 23, 2003

'Rings' a 'wow' moment in life

Special role of sidekick Sam still pulls at Sean Astin

By Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Until The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sean Astin's most famous role was in Rudy, as an undersized athlete who beat the odds to play football at Notre Dame.

His role as Sam Gamgee, Frodo's faithful hobbit friend, made him a star to millions of fans around the world. With the final Ring film due out in December, he describes the 15-month production (when all three movies were filmed) as "a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will never be equaled on any level."

[photo] Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin, left) comforts Frodo (Elijah Wood) in a scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final film in the triology, coming in December.
(New Line Cinema)
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Now 31, and the father of two girls, ages 6 years and 5 months, the son of actors Patty Duke and John Astin is back to work on more earth-bound fare, such as the new Showtime series Jeremiah he is making in Vancouver with Luke Perry and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, while hunting for a starring role in a movie as a "good-looking hero character."

Question: We know Sam is more important in the third part of the story.

Answer: Yeah, the more Frodo has that ring and the more kind of disabled he becomes or the more tortured he becomes, the more Sam is forced to - well, the more he's allowed to demonstrate his value to the story, let me put it that way.

Q: Do you think Sam knows he's a hero?

A: No, I don't think Sam would talk about himself in those terms at all. ... He's about the business of living and surviving and being who he is.

Q: Physically, what was the toughest part for you?

A: Carrying the extra weight. I put on 35 pounds for the part. It made my back sore, my neck and my knees, and when you add the prosthetic feet, which are not designed for support or comfort, then you put the big heavy pack on day in and day out slogging up and down hills, that was a bit of a physical challenge for me.

Q: The second movie looks very different from the first.

A: It's more of a serious war picture, whereas the first one is kind of an adventure fantasy picture.

Q: What will the third be like?

A: There's so much about third film that I don't know, it will be a very new experience for me when I see it. I certainly know that the Frodo-Gollum-Sam story in the third film gets pretty harrowing. I think it actually is more of a swashbuckler, a little bit more of a magical fantasy thing than the second film. There's Shelob the big spider, there are some fights with some Orcs, and some disguising. I think there's a little more comedic elements. At the climax, it's pretty intense, it's pretty grave.

Q: You're an exception to the rule among the "Ring" actors, who were known as these fun-loving bachelors running around New Zealand.

A: I've been married for 10 years. They were nefarious ne'er-do-wells, and I was the kind of responsible married guy.

Q: Would it be going too far to call you guys the Rat Pack of Middle-earth?

A: I kind of like that, actually. (Director) Peter Jackson said to me, "If the hobbits were the Beatles, you'd be Ringo."

Q: When the premieres come along, things seem to pick right up where they left off.

A: It's tidal. We have one more huge storm surge we can count on next December, then who knows what will happen beyond that, as everybody goes their own way. ... My hunch is that we are all inexorably linked, irrevocably linked for the rest of our lives.

Q: Has your life changed?

A: It's definitely changed. You get your game head on when you're doing the publicity. Each of the three times, I've lost my mind, I'm sure to a clinical certainty. I try to remember my priority is my wife and kids, but you forget what city you're in, the sound of your own voice. You're telling the same story over and over; you just start thinking in shapes and tones. Then it's over, you wake up and go "I gotta get a job. What am I doing? Who am I? What do I want to be when I grow up?"

Q: Do people recognize you?

A: I sign a lot of autographs now, everywhere we go. We've taken to joking about it, like "Hey, I'm famous, I don't have to take out the trash" kind of thing.

Q: What do you miss most about the experience?

A: There's a very special feeling, I knew it was fleeting and ephemeral. It was a feeling of excitement, exhilaration, with a mixture of pride and gratitude and almost anxiety because you knew it was going to end. The sun would be coming up early in the morning and we'd be out in the middle of some Alpine nowhere landscape with my daughter. I was getting her a little hot chocolate for the morning, and you'd look out and go, "Wow, this is a moment." I had that over and over again.

New Zealand, there's something special about the place. When you're on the volcano, and you smell the fresh air, and you look out at the seawater, and you just think "This is a like a sacred time, this is a sacred place." If I could capture that feeling and put it in a bottle and have a sip of it on special occasions, that would make me really happy.


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