Sean Astin is a boss. He fronted the legendary and truly timeless family actioner The Goonies. He stole the hearts of viewers in Rudy. He had us in fits of laughter during Encino Man, captivated in The Lord of The Rings trilogy and recently brought his darker edge to projects like Cabin Fever 3. The guy has done it all, including a strong stint on FX’s new hit, The Strain. We love the guy, so it was an honor to chat with the man and discuss some of his work.
Sean had a lot to say about his career as a whole, including, among many other things, his work with Guillermo del Toro, who he praises feely.
“Working with Guillermo is a unique experience for most people who are working on these shows, I would say one of the most exciting things about it is spending time with Guillermo. He’s just so full of life and creativity and his imagination and you always feel like he’s both incredibly well prepared and in the moment and able to be spontaneous, so that’s pretty great. And then I have not in my life been a vampire guy really except when I was 16 and I worked in a movie theatre where my friend Corey Feldman’s movie The Lost Boys premiered. That was probably the height of my vampire interest. I sort of missed the rest of the wave of Vampire Diaries and all the way through to the recent Twilight and everything else, so being like learning vampire lore was pretty cool for me, particularly in Guillermo’s—the cosmology of vampires in Guillermo’s mind is really cool.“
And if you happened to wonder just how Sean landed himself this role, well, that was del Toro’s doing.
“So the fact that Guillermo and Carlton Cuse came along with this new incarnation of a vampire world meant a new franchise,” states Astin.”I feel I’m grateful that Guillermo reached out and swept me up in it.”
One would imagine that getting that call would be a proud moment for any performer.
It’s nice to encounter a thespian with more than three decades in the business who is still completely aware and respectful of his equally talented peers. The movie biz is a tricky beast, and it can travel straight to the head. But Astin keeps things level, and emits a very everyman vibe. We love him for it.
But back to The Strain, which has ignited quite the wave of interest. It’s essentially a modern day reimagining of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with a whole hell of a lot of bells and whistles. Astin portrayed the role of Jim Kent, a rather intricate character that Sean assesses seamlessly, noting that “Jim is basically a morally compromised guy and I think he has the occasional quips that he has, comedic quips reveals some kind of personality that it might be fun to interact with, but his wife is suffering and so he’s a compromised guy basically the way I see him.”
He’s spot on. Jim is a compromised guy. Well, he was. For those who don’t follow the show religiously, let’s just say he doesn’t make it to see the finale of season one play out. But he’s got a great run, and even if he doesn’t necessarily find cement similarities to the character, he obviously finds a way to inject himself into the role of Jim Kent.
“I’m probably more like Jim Kent than I am Samwise Gamgee in as much as I have to make choices in my life that I’m not an ideal literary character because people always want to know if I was like Sam and I try and embody some of those traits that Samwise has, but for Jim, I guess my technique relies on trying to feel the emotions or the moments as the character would feel it in real time. That’s how I get the closest to manifesting something that’s authentic.
Having said that I don’t think I can help but bring a large part of myself to it. I just try not to draw one to one correlation between something in my life that I’ve experienced and something that it would evoke of an emotion that’s the same or similar to something that Jim would be feeling at that moment. I think that my empathy quotient is high enough that when I see he’s lied on behalf of his wife who’s got cancer or he’s trying to save people by plugging in a UV ray to maybe stave off some vampires or any of those feelings I find it very easy to be empathic for those feelings. And it’s easier for me because on take three and four and five and whatever as you reinvest in it, it might be harder for me to try and transplant emotions that I’ve had in my life a second time and a third time and a fourth time.”
Astin’s ability to bring something interesting to a character like that of Jim Kent likely stems from the man’s relentless assault on film. He’s a grinder. Prolific in his craft, the man doesn’t stop, he’s always working. Whether the small screen or the big, Sean is game.
“I’m pretty promiscuous when it comes to what I do as an actor. Often times it comes down to whether I feel I can do it. If there’s a part of—in an animated thing, there’s a rake. I don’t mean a rake like a guy, I mean like an actual garden rake and I’m like can I see myself as the rake. Can I be the rake? And so if I feel like there’s—like I can do it credibly then I’m most of the way to doing it and it becomes about “Am I available?
There are times when it’s clear that movies have been written and are getting made for reasons that are other than that are purely financial and people have figured out the formula. They figured out how to get money to make a movie. It’s really hard. I’m incredibly sympathetic to how hard it is to get things made, so there has to be an internal logic within the story. The dialogue has to be credible, but it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare for me to be willing to do it. I’m happy doing lower budget movies. I like doing big budget movies. It’s really just a question of if I’ve done a couple of really big things, things that have really scored, then I like the idea of scrounging around and finding low budget independent film where I can play a drug addict or where I can do something like that. If I’ve done a whole string of independent films that nobody has seen, then I find myself yearning to get back on the grid, so I think my career is very easy to interpret. It’s about working. I’m a working actor; that’s how I see myself.”
That mindset has paid major dividends for the son of Patty Duke and John Astin. So what’s in store for the fan favorite actor now that his work on the set of The Strain is over?
“I have an independent film that’s coming up called The Surface with me and Chris Mulkey. It’s a two-hander kind of a meditation on hopelessness and suicide, so there’s that. And then I also have a little animated film that I guess is being released independently called Ribbit about a poisonous tree frog, who believes he’s destined for something more than the life of a poisonous tree frog, so I play Ribbit. That’s coming out I think in September. I don’t know if it’s in wide release or not, but it’s on my radar.
And then I don’t know, I’ve been getting offered lots of fun things in the Sci-fi horror realm, which I haven’t grown too tired of yet, so as long as there’s something to play, I’m willing to keep thinking about that. And then I don’t know, looking for the next thing and the next thing to get excited about.”
It sounds as though Astin will indeed be revisiting the darker side of cinema soon. Keep your eyes peeled, if Sean is involved in a project, we’re interested in keeping you informed!