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Authors: Sean Astin with Joe Layden

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BOOK: There and Back Again
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Anyway, as far as my pedigree is concerned, the only time I felt frustrated was when I couldn't figure out how to effectively leverage my lineage and experience. My parents didn't make a habit of introducing me to famous people. In other words, they didn't sit down with us before the big New Year's party, and say, “Here's who's coming to dinner, kids. He's an important director, producer, writer, star…” They didn't do any of that. They just had a party. We'd go down and help direct the parking, and people we engaged in conversation were just the people who were the friendliest. Generally speaking, I had no idea who they were. I knew only that I thought my mother and father had pretty cool jobs, that they were creative, interesting people, and that I wanted to be like them.

What I did not understand until much later was the combination of luck, talent, and dogged determination required to succeed in show business, especially if one aspires to be something more than a mere cog in the system. And I began to understand the meaning of the word “compromise.”

Which brings us back to
Encino Man.

“They've got a revision on the script,” I was told. “They want to fax it to you.”

“Fine. Go ahead.”

“And they've got a guy named Pauly Shore to play the lead. Do you know Pauly?”

“No, I don't know Pauly.”

“Well, they want to send you some of his work, too. I think they really want you for the lead in this movie, Sean.”

There were admittedly some aspects to the project that were appealing. It was a major studio film, and one of my costars would be Brendan Fraser, who was already generating buzz for his work as a prep-school student battling anti-Semitism in
School Ties
(which was released in 1992, the same year as
Encino Man
). The studio knew that in Brendan they had a young actor who was destined for stardom, and they had him playing against type as a caveman in a completely goofy movie. In Pauly Shore, as I would soon learn, they had a cartoonish surfer dude of a comic who was building a big audience with the MTV crowd. I was exactly who they wanted to play the third lead in the movie: a solid, serious, best-buddy kind of actor. They had liked my work in
Toy Soldiers
, and they thought I'd be perfect for
Encino Man

But I didn't want to do it, especially after I got to a hotel in London, opened the FedEx package, and looked at some tapes of Pauly Shore hamming it up on MTV, drawling, “Hey, Buddddddy!” and giggling and staggering around like a stoner. All I could think was,
Oh, it's going to be hard to spend time with that guy
. Then I read the script—again—and of course it was still a piece of shit; they really hadn't done anything to improve it. I fretted for a while, tried to figure out how I could gracefully turn down the project a second time, and then agreed to talk with Ricardo Mesterez. I had no intention of taking the job—until he made his sales pitch.

He began by apologizing and, as he put it, failing to recognize my “value in the marketplace.” It occurred to me then that the balance of power, at least as it pertained to this little negotiation, had shifted. But I wasn't really prepared for what came next.

“Number one,” he said, “we're gonna double your quote. Number two, we'll give you complete creative control over your character. Number three” (I wasn't sure a number three was necessary, but I wasn't about to interrupt), “we'll offer you a short film to direct. If we like the film, you'll have a three-picture deal with us.”

I realized then that it's true that every man has his price, because mine had just been reached. My response, in effect, was, “Sold!”

Well, the devil is in the details, isn't it? It wasn't really a three-picture deal. It was a three-
deal. And they had the option. In other words, if I directed the first film, and it won an Academy Award or earned a hundred million dollars, they owned me on the second film, at whatever fee they chose, right down to the minimum established by the Directors Guild of America. When I read the fine print on the contract, I asked my agents, “What are you doing?”

Their response? “That's a high-class problem. Deal with it if and when it happens.”

So I did. I cut our trip short and returned to Los Angeles for a meeting with Pauly Shore, for whom
Encino Man
was quickly being designed as a star vehicle. I had a sense that it wasn't really a meeting, but rather an audition, even though my agents had assured me otherwise. It was, they said, simply a casual get-together between actors about to embark on a journey.

Wrong. I walked into Team Disney, right under Dopey's armpit (it's actually kind of cool, architecturally speaking—the dwarves appear to be holding up the entrance), and took a seat in a meeting room, where I was introduced to, among others, Les Mayfield, the director. I sensed right away that Les wasn't particularly happy with me, which was understandable, really. After all, I had passed on his movie, which he probably interpreted as not only a stupid business decision on my part, but a personal affront to him as well. There was personal history, too, some of it based on reasonable assumptions, some of it based on pettiness. Les was a USC graduate, and in my mind USC was where they churned out corporate titans, as opposed to UCLA, where they specialized in the care and feeding of real artists. At the time, I wasn't into being a corporate titan. I wanted to be an artist, and didn't understand that it was possible to blend the two, in that artist-industrialist sort of way. I knew only that when I was approached by aspiring filmmakers from UCLA, they usually wanted to show me their storyboards; aspiring filmmakers from USC usually said something like, “Hey, I've got some investors lined up if you're interested in talking.” Then they'd drive away in their Porsches or BMWs.

So there was that between us. Then, too, I was undeniably envious of his success. Les had produced the critically acclaimed documentary
Hearts of Darkness,
the story of the making of
Apocalypse Now,
but his directorial experience was limited to a documentary on the making of
The Goonies.
And yet here he was, directing a Hollywood studio movie. Les had advanced under the tutelage of Spielberg, and while I didn't exactly resent him for that, I did recognize that he had played a smarter game and elbowed his way in and set up shop. In my eyes, he was a rich kid out to have a good time. Not a bad guy, just someone who wanted to do fun things—appropriate enough, since
Encino Man
was supposed to be a funny movie. (Postscript: A couple years later, Les directed a remake of
Miracle on 34th Street
, which has the distinction of being the only movie in Disney history where they offered a refund if you didn't like the movie at all, and people actually took them up on it. More recently, I called Les and practically begged him for a job when I found out he was remaking a movie called
Flying Tigers
. I said, “Les, this is a serious project, and I'd like to be a part of it.” He wasn't exactly receptive. In fact, while he was reasonably polite in brushing me off, his tone conveyed the following message:
You shit on me your whole career, and now you want me to help you just because I've found something smart to do? Fuck you!
I had it coming.)

I surmised that it would be easy to work for Les, but it was going to be challenging to live with Pauly Shore, who entered the room on that first day and promptly announced to everyone, “I know comedy!” Just in case we doubted him. Pauly had some serious clout at that time, and would for the next three or four years, and he didn't mind flexing his muscle. I don't blame him for that, and I don't mean to come down too hard on him. He had earned the right to wield a bit of power and deserved some of the success he had, even if his taste in comedy was sort of lowbrow and appealed to the lowest common denominator. Although Pauly is a bit of a dog and loves the idea that he's slept his way through a lot of people's daughters on a lot of college campuses, there is an undeniable sweetness to him, a genuine humanity and pathos that I connected with while we were working together.

But he absolutely hated me. He thought I was just an idiot, perhaps because he sensed that I was not only envious of his success, but dumbfounded by it. Slacker persona notwithstanding, Pauly was a total professional. He worked with a personal trainer to keep himself in good physical shape. He ate right and made sure that he looked good on camera. Most important of all, of course, Pauly was a pretty smart guy who knew his audience and delivered precisely what that audience wanted and expected from him. But I was not part of that audience, and while I kept working hard to find something to appreciate about him, it was a struggle for me. Only in retrospect did I come to understand what he brought to the table. I regret now that I was too young and immature to appreciate the value that he brought to the project; his message was so antithetical to what I was trying to do with my own life that I just couldn't see it—or didn't want to. I was trying to be a “serious” person. I was (and still am) interested in news, literature, global geopolitics, and those sorts of things, and it didn't occur to me that you could have those interests and still be viewed as a formidable man and artist if you worked in movies like
Encino Man
alongside an actor like Pauly Shore.

I was torn about the project. I had read the script, but maybe not thoroughly enough to understand what the movie was supposed to be. If the director had pulled me aside and said, “Let me tell you what we're trying to do here,” I might have liked it better. With so many talented people attached, there had to be something I was missing. Instead, I felt like I was struggling along, trying to figure it out on my own, making the transition from “drug addict/serious actor” mode, into “front man on a mainstream, high-concept Disney comedy” mode. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. I was taking myself way too seriously for my own good. I looked at it as a means to an end and nothing more. Rather than feeling excited about the opportunity or proud of the work I was doing, I felt like nothing so much as a sellout. This was going to be the biggest paycheck of my life ($250,000), coupled with the promise of directing a short film and then a feature (or two or three). I rationalized it, in part, by telling myself that I'd be able to use the money to put both myself and Christine through college, which I did. (This is no knock against my parents. My father made it clear that he would have been happy to pay for my education—if I had pursued it in a more traditional manner by going to college directly from high school and focusing exclusively on academics. And I'm sure that my mother would have helped.) The movie would open doors. And yet, my attitude just sucked. When I walked out of the meeting, the first thing I did was call my agent.

“How did it go?” he asked.

“Oh, great. It was an audition for Pauly Shore, just like I figured.”

“Well, you can always walk away from it.”

“I can?”


The studio had planned a promotional photo shoot the next day at the famous Pink Car Wash on Ventura Boulevard. The plan was for Pauly and me to ham it up, act like the best buddies we were supposed to portray in
Encino Man.
He was into it, of course, because he understood the value of what he was doing, and because that's the kind of person he is, but I felt like a complete fool. For one thing, physiologically, I was a mess. I had shocked my system by losing so much weight so quickly, and then I had stopped working out while Christine and I traveled around Europe, so my weight had ballooned to 175 pounds. I didn't like the way I looked or felt. But mostly I just resented the fact that Pauly was being goofy, and I didn't know what to do. It was like I'd run off to join the circus without having an act to put on display. I was embarrassed. I didn't understand the character or the movie; I was totally out of my element but wasn't smart enough to ask anyone for guidance or help, because I was so focused on the business element of things. I wasn't thinking the way I should have been thinking: as an actor.
Be natural, concentrate on each scene … do the job!
I was completely lost, and yet here I was, before filming even began, before a single rehearsal, having my picture taken so that my image could be made into a poster with Pauly fucking Shore! Meanwhile, I was thinking,
Oh God, what have I gotten myself into?

A couple of days later, after I had challenged my agent and accused him of withholding information about potential jobs, I was called into the offices of CAA to be publicly rebuked. My anger stemmed in part from a conversation with a friend. Will Wheaton—a contemporary who had played one of the lead characters in
Stand by Me
and who would later become a regular on
Star Trek: The Next Generation
—had called to ask me why I wasn't interested in a particular project to which he had been attached. I told him I wasn't even aware of it.

“Oh,” Will said, “well, your agency got the call.”

I blew up and accused my representation of lying to me and, worse, of trying to make me feel bad about accusing them of lying. (In fact, they had lied, but they hadn't thought anything of it, because lying is considered by many people to be acceptable behavior in Hollywood.) I was venting some of my frustrations and trying to figure out exactly where I was going with my career, and whether my management team had any specific plan for getting me there. I didn't understand then that it was all up to me, that I had to be in control of my own destiny. So I had to make a decision. I could say,
The hell with you people. I don't want to be here, in your agency, because you lied to me and you're treating me badly.
But that wasn't me. I put my head down, stuck my tail between my legs, apologized for my behavior, and that was that. Then, as I walked out of the office, I ran into Josh Lieberman in the hallway. Josh was a young cub who wanted to represent me, so we drove together, along with my manager, to the Palm Restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard, one of those great movie-industry places where deals are made and broken, and where the famous and the almost famous routinely stop by for lunch or dinner.

BOOK: There and Back Again
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