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Authors: Sean Astin with Joe Layden

There and Back Again (7 page)

BOOK: There and Back Again
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I had just made $250,000 on
Encino Man,
so I was surprised when they offered me roughly half that amount to play Rudy. After all, I'd be carrying the movie. Now, I realize that while it had major studio backing,
was designed as a small, personal film, one that would tug at the audience's heart rather than grab it by the jugular. Those types of movies don't necessarily become blockbusters. But the budget for
was at least double the budget for
Encino Man. Hoosiers
grossed $60 million domestically, while
Encino Man
grossed nearly $40 million. So it wasn't a stretch to believe that
could perform just as well. At the least, small movies can be successful; otherwise the studios wouldn't produce them. They can win awards, satisfy audiences, and make money, too. Although probably not as much money. Personally, I didn't really care. I was told the offer was what it was, and it wouldn't go any higher. The job was almost mine to accept or reject. If I played hardball, they'd make a deal with Chris O'Donnell.

Now, I'm not sure how much most people care about the art of the deal in these situations, but I'm happy to share a level of detail about my experiences because I think folks can learn from it. Obviously, we're not talking about chicken feed here—$125,000 is a lot of dough. Never mind that we pay half our salary to the government and ten percent to an agent, ten percent to a manager, and a little more to a publicist, business manager/accountant, physical trainer, etc. It's still a lot of money. But that's not how you think in these situations. Showbiz is one of the only fields I can think of where what you've made previously can prove to be only a minor factor in determining what you might/maybe/should/ought to/probably will get paid this time. How much they want you relative to how much they want someone else, while factoring in everyone's availability and the risk of possibly losing you or your competition, means much more to the bottom line than does past salary.

Christine and I were fresh back from our honeymoon, in love and feeling great. I was in excellent physical condition, running four miles a day and thinking pretty clearly all of the time. It was summer, so I could usually be found in our pool pondering business and creative issues. The head of production at Tri-Star then was Marc Platt, an extremely intelligent and proud family man. He was also a shrewd executive. I knew, or at least believed, that Kevin Mischer, the junior executive who was “covering” or championing
, was in my corner. Kevin was a good friend of my agent, Josh Lieberman (I probably would not have played Rudy if I had stayed at the smaller agency at that point in my career). Kevin was an executive I had worked with on
Toy Soldiers,
and he would go on to have a very bright career—despite having worked with me twice!

I'm half kidding, but I'm pretty sure that's how folks think:
These movies grossed X number of dollars; therefore, nobody wants to see Sean carrying a picture.
Of course, everything can change with a hit. All things being equal, I'd rather feel that a studio executive sees me as a good-luck charm for his career, rather than a two-strike stink bomb that.

To the best of my recollection, the way it was presented to me was this:
Everyone wants you but Marc Platt. He insists that you “test,” and he swears he's not budging off the $125,000.

I was in no mood to risk a game of poker, so I settled for it. Actually, that's not quite accurate, for I didn't consider it to be “settling.” I wanted the part. I
it. Some jobs you take for your wallet; others you take for your soul.
fell into the second category. And as Dominic Monaghan would admonish me years later during the making of
The Lord of the Rings,
sometimes you have to have a little perspective. Dom, who played the part of Merry, wears his hardscrabble Manchester (England) roots on his sleeve, and more than once he rather wisely pointed out to me, “You know what people earn in the real world, man? We are so fucking lucky!”

Absolutely right. We are lucky. But as with any line of work, it's not what you earn that counts; it's what you keep. I figure if I'm going to take the time to write a book, I might as well be honest about aspects of the movie industry that aren't ordinarily discussed candidly, such as compensation and representation. The numbers I've mentioned are not insignificant; to most people, $125,000 sounds like a lot of money—and it is. But playing Rudy was now clearly not a decision about money. It was about my destiny. Thoughts flickered through my mind about old Hollywood screen tests and the building of stars from within the studio system. I envisioned my house in an earlier time, surrounded by orange groves, with crop dusters or biplanes flying overhead rather than private jets. I calculated that Marc Platt could rest comfortably knowing that if he didn't get his first choice, Chris, he would at least have saved the studio a pretty penny. I felt emboldened by knowing the creative auspices supported me, and so, the gauntlet having been thrown down, I accepted the challenge.

At a certain point, of course, it really doesn't matter. It all becomes Monopoly money. But at that stage of my career, I hadn't accomplished anything remotely close to this. I'd never had this kind of opportunity. I was constantly trying to make enough money to carry me through the next six months—to bankroll a film I wanted to direct, or to put myself through college. And to simply pay the mortgage. In this case, though, there was no debating about whether to fight for the role, or to hold out for more money. This was a defining moment in my career. I felt like the universe was conspiring to make it happen. I was meant to play Rudy—it was as simple as that.

Accepting the financial terms of the deal was only part of the process. I also had to agree again to change my body for the part. I was simultaneously nervous and emboldened by this stipulation, since by my estimation I was pretty fit. Christine and I had gotten married, and I'd run off all the weight I'd gained during
Encino Man
so that I'd look reasonably attractive while standing next to my beautiful wife in the wedding photos. When I did my screen test for
, I weighed 135 pounds, and the studio executives were less than thrilled with my newly svelte appearance. They offered me the role on the condition that I gain ten to fifteen pounds of muscle before the start of principal photography. In their opinion I was too skinny, too waiflike, to ever be believable as a football player at Notre Dame—even a famously small football player who made the team as a walk-on.

It seemed to me an ironic turn of events, since I'd been so fat in
Encino Man
that Disney didn't even want to put me on the promotional poster. Talk about embarrassing! That movie cost six or seven million dollars to make and grossed forty million. But my focus wasn't on using the forty-million-dollar success story of
Encino Man
to get the next acting job. Instead, I had turned my focus to directing the short film I'd been promised, and on building my own production company. Cashing in on the success of
Encino Man
, with all of the emotional baggage I carried from that movie, failed to appeal to me. So instead of hiring a personal trainer and trying to sculpt my body in the way that Hollywood demands, I was satisfied with just getting skinny in time for the wedding.

Now, though, I was ready and willing to do whatever was asked of me. I agreed to put on the weight, and pretty soon I was working out daily at the Sony gym, pounding weights, pushing myself harder than ever. Interestingly, I was there at the same time that Tom Hanks was losing the weight he'd gained to play a paunchy baseball coach in
A League of Their Own,
in preparation for his Oscar-winning role in
I'd make jokes as I passed him on my way out of the gym to my third or fourth high-protein meal of the day: “Hey, Tom, want me to pick up a burger for you?”

His response? Something along these lines: “Screw you!”

In so many ways, acting is an intensely weird, narcissistic endeavor. It requires immense self-involvement, the belief that people want to watch you perform,
It's like athletics without the competition. And as in sports, there is an assumption, a pact between performer and spectator, that the actor not only will give his best, but also, in most cases, will
his best. It seems part of the contract. While it may sound silly and shallow to suggest that most folks don't go to the movies to watch unattractive people, it's also probably true. At five-foot-seven with a body that does not naturally lend itself to washboard abs, and a face that is more cherubic than chiseled, I know I am not the classic Hollywood leading man. But there is a certain level of fitness and attractiveness that I can attain, and that I suppose a studio has a right to expect its stars to have. (For me,
The Lord of the Rings
is the rare exception to the rule. In those films Peter Jackson's expectation, based on Tolkien's writing, was that I look
like a leading man, not more; thus, Samwise Gamgee's portly appearance.)

Obviously, I haven't always lived up to Hollywood's expectations,
Encino Man
being just one example. I remember Dan Petrie Jr., my friend, my mentor, my trusted ally, coming up to me at my wedding and saying, “Sean, you look good; don't ever get fat like that again.”

I laughed, shook his hand, and didn't really say anything other than, “I understand.”

“No, man, I'm serious,” he added, his eyes almost pleading with me. “For your career. Don't let it happen.”

I knew he meant it. I'd heard it before. In fact, when I showed up on the set of
Toy Soldiers
a couple years earlier, Mark Berg, the film's producer, fairly blanched at my softness in the midsection: “Come on, Sean. Get to the gym!”

I sort of resented it, because I thought I looked sufficiently heroic the way I was. But I was wrong. I wasn't disciplined enough to take care of my body, which should be among an actor's most important responsibilities. That's not to say that an actor should be excessively concerned with superficiality. Of course not. Actors come in all shapes and sizes. But an actor's instrument is in part his physical body. Sure, the mind, the spirit, general knowledge, and technical training are critical factors in being a solid, well-rounded actor, but the body is the vessel through which you communicate the ideas of the script. And I didn't want to play tuba parts at that point in my life. I wanted to be able to do a drum solo or be the first violin. On
Toy Soldiers
I knew the genre. It was an action picture, a smart pubescent thriller—and I was the mini Bruce Willis. I can see Dan cringing while reading this, because he wrote a very sensitive character and I'm reducing poor Billy Tepper to a Slim-Fast cautionary tale. But I'm making a different point.

I needed to be told what to do, which is sad. I'd had no trouble working out when I played organized sports as a kid, or when I was training to run 10K races or even marathons, but I hadn't yet reached the point where I was willing to accept it as part of my job. I felt I needed a reason. The obvious logic—it's good to be fit—just wasn't enough motivation. For better or worse, my life has been one of extremes, and that extends to my commitment, or lack thereof, to physical conditioning. Make it part of my daily regimen? Nah. I'm not a granola guy. Although I admire granola guys, I happen to love greasy food. Always have, probably always will.

The other obvious logic is that I needed to be fit and attractive for my career, but that didn't resonate with me as being righteous. To be good-looking for the sake of being good-looking, well, that just bothered me. I wasn't ever “turn-heads-on-the-street” good-looking, and never would be. Once, many years ago, I had a great photo session when I was in the best shape of my life. I was waterskiing a lot, running, and lifting weights, and my metabolism was still roaring in the way that it does when you're almost out of your teens. By twisting and turning my body, and lighting the set just right, the photographer managed to transform me into someone I barely recognized. Someone with a solid, square jaw, and if not a six-pack, at least a two-pack. I look at those photos now and almost laugh about how good I look. But sustaining that? No chance. I was more concerned with the entrepreneurial part of my career, even if I understood on some level the importance of just simply looking good. It makes sense from a business standpoint to focus on the basics of being a movie star, and part of that is being in great shape. It just didn't interest me to focus on it consistently.

, however, I was willing to accept almost anything the role required, and that meant not only getting fit, but staying fit during filming. We began shooting in the fall, just as the leaves were changing in South Bend. Only months earlier I had married a Hoosier whose family lived a scant twenty miles down the road, so everything about the project felt right. On the first day of filming, the mayor of South Bend showed up on the set and welcomed everyone to the city.

He had a special message for me: “I don't know what your political aspirations are, but there's a little history here, you know? The last person who starred in a movie filmed at Notre Dame went on to become president of the United States.”

He was referring, of course, to Ronald Reagan, who had portrayed the heroic but doomed Notre Dame running back George Gipp in
The Knute Rockne Story
. (Yes, I know, Reagan wasn't really the star. It was Pat O'Brien who played the titular character.) It was a nice thing for the mayor to say, and I kind of chuckled and tried to be appropriately gracious. This was a nonpartisan event, so I didn't make a big deal out of the fact that Reagan was famously Republican and I was a Democrat. And while I wasn't yet famous, I did (and still do) have political aspirations of my own. Never mind that the press conference was being held during our lunch hour and I hadn't had time to change out of the football uniform I had been wearing. I felt at best unworthy, and at worst a little fraudulent sitting there pretending to be a bona fide, hard-core Domer! The appropriate thing to do was to keep my mouth shut, focus on the work, and try to honor the integrity of the movie.

BOOK: There and Back Again
7.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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