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Authors: Sean Astin with Joe Layden

There and Back Again

BOOK: There and Back Again
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Title Page

Copyright Notice


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen





The making of the
Lord of the Rings
film trilogy was the greatest personal and professional experience of my life. This book is dedicated to Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and the entire cast and crew. Without their courage, creativity, and professionalism, I would never have been able to learn so much about myself. The thoughts and experiences related in this book are from my heart and try to answer, in as thoughtful a way as possible, the many questions that people have asked me over these past few years. I will forever be grateful to my wife, Christine, as well as to my daughters, Alexandra and Elizabeth, for their enduring love and support.
The road goes ever on.…


I sensed from the very beginning that
The Lord of the Rings
had the potential to be something extraordinary. Not merely extraordinary in the way that, say,
Raiders of the Lost Ark
was extraordinary—as pure, cinematic adventure, a thrill-ride of the highest order—but as something even more. I'm talking about epic filmmaking not seen since the days of David Lean or John Ford. I knew that the director, Peter Jackson, was a man of prodigious talent and vision, an artist capable of creating a film that might one day be mentioned in the same breath as Lean's desert classic
Lawrence of Arabia. The Lord of the Rings,
I thought—I hoped—could be like that: Oscar-caliber art on par with the best films ever made.

How did I know this? Well, sometimes you just get a gut feeling. It's as simple as that. As a journeyman actor I've survived by seeing an opportunity pop up on the radar screen, guessing kind of intuitively what the odds are of success, and then determining whether I want to be part of that project. Sometimes, for practical, real-world reasons, I've made decisions knowing full well what the cycle would be, and that my association with a given film might even have a minor negative impact on my image or marketability. As in any field, you calculate the odds and make a choice, and then you live with it. You can only wait so long for Martin Scorcese to call; sometimes you have to take the best available offer. I've done any number of low-budget movies in which my participation was based primarily on the following logic:

All right, it's a week out of my life or six weeks out of my life, the money is pretty good, and I don't have to audition. Let me take a look at the script. Does my character have a banana sticking out of his ass? No? No banana? Well, then, how bad can it be? It's a third-tier knockoff of a
Die Hard
movie, but the morality is reasonably intact; the violence is kind of sophomoric, but not gratuitous, and for the most part everyone keeps their clothes on. Most important of all, is anybody in the business ever going to see it? Not likely. Okay … where do I sign?

Ah, but old movies never really die, do they? Not anymore. Thanks to video and DVD, the Internet, and late-night cable television, they live on forever, seeping inevitably into the public consciousness whether they deserve to or not. Case in point: a cold winter day on the south island of New Zealand, back in 1999. One of many days on the set of
The Lord of the Rings
when things weren't going quite as planned. The kind of day where the scene called for filming six hundred horses on the top of a windswept deer park, so the crew was furiously washing away snow with fire hoses to make it look like it wasn't wintertime—resulting, of course, in a veritable sea of mud. In New Zealand we traveled almost everywhere in four-wheel-drive vehicles, so thick and persistent was the slop. At times it felt like what I have read about soldiers fighting in the trenches in World War I. We couldn't go anywhere without getting muck splattered all over us. On our shoes, our clothes … our capes. (We were hobbits, remember?) No hyperbole or disrespect intended, but there were times when it almost felt as though we were part of a military operation. It was that rugged, that spartan, that precise. Mountainside locations looked almost like battlefields, dotted with tents and armies of workers. The general, of course, was Peter Jackson.

Well, on this one particular morning I saw Peter sitting in his tent with a bemused look on his face. Now, protocol on movie sets often dictates that directors, even those as approachable and thoughtful as Peter, be given space in the morning hours—it's a time for preparation, not long conversations. But, as I approached, planning to offer no more than a cheery “Good morning,” Peter began to nod ever so slightly. With his unruly hair, stout frame, and generally disheveled appearance, Peter has often been described as “hobbit-like,” and certainly the impish grin coming to his face now supported that notion.

“Sean,” he said dryly. “Guess what I saw last night?”



Oh, boy …

was the rather benign result of one of those “business” decisions I just mentioned. Some two years earlier I had accepted what most people would consider to be a princely sum of money (sixty thousand dollars) for roughly two weeks of work. I had a good time making
which was filmed at Killington Ski Resort in Vermont. While there, I dined at a couple of nice restaurants, discovered a lovely antique bookshop, and made a few good friends. Peter Beckwith, the producer, and David Giancola, the director, are genuinely nice men who treated me well. One of my costars was the incomparable Bruce Campbell, regarded as perhaps the king of B-movie stars. If you've seen
The Evil Dead
or any of its sequels, you've seen Bruce. You know his work and his ability to bring a certain campy grace to almost any project. I wasn't really familiar with Bruce's work at the time, but most of the people I worked with were, and they said things like, “Oh, man, you have no idea how cool it is to work with this guy.” In truth, Bruce was pretty cool. And a total pro, I might add. I had fun working with him.

Everything about my experience in Vermont was pleasant, if ultimately forgettable. But let's be honest here: the movie is a piece of shit.
Sorry, Dave. Sorry, Peter. But you know it's a piece of shit, too. By that, I mean, it isn't socially edifying, and it doesn't aspire to be artistic or even particularly clever. It's just mindless, harmless entertainment. (Check out the movie's promotional poster, featuring yours truly with a pair of ski goggles perched on his forehead, a revolver in his hand, and a look on his face that fairly screams, “Mess with me, and I'll kick your ass!”) But we all got along well and had a pleasant enough time, and while we were there we took our work as seriously as possible.

For me—for all of us, really—it was a smart business decision to do
These guys figured out a formula: how to package and presell the movie, how to raise the money, how to film the thing, and how to have fun doing it. So more power to them. And, frankly, I needed the work and the cash that came with it. Little did I know that two years later I'd be on location in New Zealand, working on one of the most ambitious projects in the history of movies, a $270 million version of
The Lord of the Rings
trilogy, and that I'd be standing face-to-face with Peter Jackson, one of the rising stars of the business. Peter, it turns out, is not just a filmmaker, but a fan of films, all films, with a massive private collection that keeps his garage screening room humming day and night, and a penchant for channel surfing in the wee hours that makes it virtually impossible to hide anything from him.


“Very nice,” Peter said, and left it at that, because nothing else needed to be said. It wasn't an insult, nor was it meant to embarrass me (well, maybe a little). It was just an acknowledgment of where I'd been and where I was. Most actors (and most directors, too) have such things on their résumés, and part of the obligation of the fraternity is to remind you of that every once in a while. It's healthy for the ego, if you know what I mean. But in this setting no one else had any idea what Peter was talking about. The cast and crew seemed unfamiliar with
but they understood that the director was gently busting the balls of one of his actors, and that was sufficient, especially since that actor was a bit of an outsider.

You see, on the set of
The Lord of the Rings
I think I was sometimes perceived as the Hollywood guy (which is not necessarily the same as a movie star). The director and the vast majority of his crew were native Kiwis, and most of the actors were from the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Even more so than Elijah Wood, who as Frodo was ostensibly the film's star, I got the sense that I was the
actor. I was the kid who had grown up in Hollywood. I had been raised by a pair of pop culture icons, Patty Duke and John Astin. On a production that had been quite vocal and public in its reluctance to hire American actors (not out of any overt jingoism, but merely as a way to demonstrate faithfulness to Tolkien's vision), I was the most visible exception to the rule. I was
for God's sake. You don't get any more American than that. Rudy was the underdog. And I guess, in a way, so was I.

*   *   *

Let me say something about the purpose of
There and Back Again
. Forests have been felled and more ink spilled about
The Lord of the Rings
than for almost any other film franchise in recent memory. I have talked extensively about how positive my experience in New Zealand was, about the family bonds that were created, and the love and passion and dedication that everyone involved brought to their work. My intent here is absolutely
to disavow any of that sentiment; rather, I want to amplify and explore some of the other kinds of emotions and dynamics that I felt. Furthermore, I want to explain how a lot of my early experiences as a professional actor informed my thinking and attitudes during much of the filming. So …

To get an idea of how my career has advanced—and sometimes stalled—we should really go back to 1989. Shortly after graduating from high school, I traveled to England to work on a World War II ensemble film called
Memphis Belle
. It was a good role in a major Hollywood movie, starring a handful of talented young actors, among them Eric Stolz and Matthew Modine, and it figured to help me regain some of the momentum I'd achieved a few years earlier, when I'd starred in
The Goonies.
I was serious about my life and career, although admittedly lacking focus and direction. I wanted to go to college, but I also wanted to be a movie star and a filmmaker.

It was an exciting time in my life. I was eighteen years old, had just graduated from high school, and was traveling at my own expense to take part in a Warner Bros. movie. The producer, David Putnam, was one of my heroes. I greatly admired his films and had followed his career as an executive; in short, I wanted to emulate him in some way. I'll never forget the day that he gathered the American actors together at the Atheneum Hotel in London and told us about his belief in the power of cinema. His words confirmed a lifetime of instincts and crystallized my imagination. We were about to embark on a filmmaking experience of real significance. The story dealt with an important moment in American and world history, and we all wanted to get it right. I loved the idea that I was becoming a global citizen and that I was likely to travel all over the world experiencing new cultures and meeting people completely different from myself. I sensed that I was destined to become a star and that my dream of becoming a filmmaker was about to come true. It had been a long time since
The Goonies
, but now it seemed as though my career was ready to take off, and I would be able to accomplish the loftiest of my goals. How? I really had no idea.

BOOK: There and Back Again
3.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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