Sean Astin is one of those actors you just have to love. Whether it was his turn as Mikey in The Goonies, Rudy in Rudy, Sam in The Lord of the Rings, or even Bob in Stranger Things 2, Astin’s kindness, determination and earnestness make him a true fan favourite.
Astin’s next project is out today. He’s the narrator of Dreamworks' The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants on Netflix, and we used that occasion to talk to the actor about some of his iconic fantasy properties of the past.
“I just have this instinct,” Astin told us. “If people love something as much as they love Captain Underpants and have allowed it to become a kind of a huge franchise, there’s something worthy in it. So my little game as I go into something like that, [is] try to figure out if I can connect with the thing in it that everybody who loves it loves.”
Astin, like many of us, still has strong connections to some of his most famous works.
In 1985, Sean Astin played Mikey Walsh in the Steven Spielberg-produced, Chris Columbus-penned, Richard Donner-directed The Goonies. It was his first major starring role, and the actor recalled how he felt as it was happening.
“I remember that we’d show up at the Warner Bros. lot, my guardian would bring me to work, they’d roll down the window, and the guard would look at us and say, ‘Hey Sean.’ He knew my name. I’d say ‘Hey’ and he’d open the gate,” Astin recalled.
“I’d see the big water tower with ‘Warner Brothers’ and we’d pull up to one of the big stages and outside they’d have these dressing rooms, like miniature houses, and there was one with my name on it. You knew it was big. You knew you were right in the centre of all that is good and holy in the moviemaking galaxy.”
Astin, who was roughly 13 at the time, said the other memory that stood out from production on the film was hanging out at Amblin on the Universal lot and racing golf carts with his co-stars.
“We’d take the golf carts and go racing all over the back lot,” he said. “Then the police would come up and say, ‘Hey what are you doing?’ And they’d see us and go, ‘Oh hey guys.’ They knew us from the movie so we could continue to do the wrong thing and we got away with it.”
The actor admits, at the time, he had no idea the movie would be a hit or the impact it would have decades later. In fact, when it came out, he almost had the opposite feeling.
“I remember driving down Sunset Boulevard and seeing one of the big billboards with all of us on it and being able to see my face recognisably,” Astin said. “[I remember] pulling over, looking at it and being like, ‘I’m a star.’
“Then I remember going back to St Paul the Apostle for my eighth-grade year and running for student body president. And I didn’t make the runoff. Me [and two other kids] ran and I didn’t make the runoff. [The other kids] went against each other. So as popular as you were being in a Steven Spielberg movie, it didn’t mean anything when you got back.”
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
About 15 years after the release of The Goonies, Astin had another timeless run-in with Hollywood. He was cast as the hobbit Samwise Gamgee in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Looking back, Astin thinks his father, actor John Astin, played a big role in his wanting to do the film.
“My dad was in The Frighteners, which was Peter’s fifth movie. He played the Judge,” Astin said.
“And he came back from New Zealand and had all these pictures of him going through the prosthetic makeup process. Just watching him describe everything, and listening to it and seeing the pictures of it, I remember thinking, ‘I hope I get to go down there at some point and work on this.’ Then, a couple years later, here comes Lord Of The Rings.”
Once again, there was no way Astin and his co-stars could have foreseen how popular those films would be. But, this time, there was at least an inkling of potential.
“I think when you took a look at the costumes and the sets and the swords and you saw the scope of it, I don’t think there was ever any doubt that what we’re making was spectacular and really special and important,” Astin said.
“What you didn’t know was whether or not it would be a box office success. And, in a very important way, the success of the first film allowed them to go and make huge adjustments to the second and third film like that. So if the first film had come out and not performed, the second and third films would have been totally different movies.”
Stranger Things 2
Recently, Astin’s career kind of came full circle as he was cast as the lovable, heroic Bob in season two of Netflix’s ‘80s nostalgia feast, Stranger Things. The series is highly influenced by films such as The Goonies, and Astin was happy to regale the set with tales of the past.
“There’s a thing where [the cast and crew] would be respectful and kind of ask a little question or two. But when I realised that was a thing to do, I just started unloading story after story after story,” Astin said.
“Finn [Wolfhard] and I had a lot to do together and there were many days where it was just the two of us sitting in the cast chairs waiting to be called to set. And I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s my job to download everything that ever happened to me. Everything I’ve learned so this kid could have it.’
“And of course, he was so cool. Some of the kids are so much cooler than me. That’s the moral of the story. But I had a good time unfurling my Goonies and Lord of the Rings flag in the Stranger Things base camp.”
Of course, those aren’t the only big genre properties Astin has had a hand in. He was on Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain, he does the voice of Shazam on Justice League Action, and is Raphael’s voice on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
He believes that his new show, The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants, could one day be said in the same breath as those other projects. And even if it isn’t, no one can ever take away the impact he’s had on so many lives.
“This is just an incredible age of television and something like Captain Underpants, I think, fits right in,” he said.
“It belongs there. When I say ‘It belongs there’ I mean the quality of the show is worthy of the time... It’s another one like Lord of the Rings, where I was like, ‘I get to be a part of that?’ I look over my shoulder at some points and am like, ‘Are they going to take that away from me?’”
The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants and Stranger Things 2 are now on Netflix.