THERE AND BACK AGAIN: AN ACTOR’S TALE by Sean Astin
|You don’t have to know me very long to discover my great love for Lord of the Rings, both book and films. I never tire of hearing the stories surrounding the history-making production of the movies, and I seek out all behind-the-scenes information that I can find, specifically when related to the cast of the trilogy. It brings me great joy, and it is a touchpoint in my lifelong passion for film and celebrities. Sean Astin’s book, while essentially an autobiography of a Hollywood child’s life, simply enhanced my attachment to the larger passion.
The chief complaint I’ve heard regarding this book is that Astin speaks entirely too much about himself and entirely too little about Lord of the Rings. I think this is the fault of using a well-known title to describe his own life, a title that will immediately conjure images of hobbits and elves and lead you to believe that the book is about nothing more than the making of the films. I fell victim to this assumption, myself, but I was eventually able to find Astin’s rhythm in telling his own life story and how it led him to (and through) the Tolkien experience. I can’t say I was always interested in his personal journey, especially during his early adult years when he was working to build a production company and acting mostly for the sake of a paycheck, but his story is a unique perspective of a child actor who has known nothing but a life surrounded by Hollywood. And for any true film buff, this book is simple reference material. Once Astin did begin to speak more thoroughly about his New Zealand experiences and his relationships with cast and crew, the narrative flowed freely and quickly. And I was enraptured.
This is not a book I will return to again and again as I might with other Hollywood biographies, but I did find myself flipping back to paragraphs relating to specific actors or events. And my favorite passage actually came in Astin’s first impressions of actor Billy Boyd. Boyd has emerged as my favorite “hobbit”, though this did not occur until I saw many interviews with him and Dominic Monaghan and realized how enchanting is Billy Boyd. What Astin describes in one simple paragraph is exactly the same feeling I had upon “discovering” Boyd. I love that my impressions, so often skewed by Hollywood media, were right on target with the real-life Boyd. And sharing that endearment with Sean Astin helped me form an appreciation for the man who was once so beloved to me in The Goonies. There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale was certainly time well spent.
I met Billy Boyd (aka Pippin) in those early days, too. My first impression of Billy was magical. I was totally enamoured of him, in no small part because of his voice. I loved listening to Billy, and even though I could barely understand a word he said through his thick Scottish brogue, I got the feeling (borne out over the course of the production) that he was a really appealing, sweet kind of guy — the sort of man with whom you wanted to be friends. He was gentle and very cool, very comfortable in his own skin. Funny, too. Both Billy and Dominic Monaghan (Merry) have a natural grace when it comes to performing humorous scenes, or when improvising for the amusement of cast and crew. The friendship that developed between Dom and Billy transcends description in any book I could ever write. They are unique human beings with exceptional talent. Living in close proximity to them over the years of making and promoting The Lord of the Rings taught me a lot about myself. There are cultural differences between us, to be sure. I think they were much better prepared emotionally to become global cult figures than I was despite the fact that I’d grown up in Hollywood. Their sense of personal style and comfort with themselves were qualities I occasionally found in short supply in myself. But the connection we formed was real and permanent.