There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale

There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale

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There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale by Sean Astin, Joe Layden

The Lord of the Rings is one of the most successful film franchises in cinematic history. Breaking box office records worldwide, capturing numerous Academy Awards, the trilogy is a breathtaking cinematic achievement and beloved by fans everywhere.

For Sean Astin, the call from his agent about the role of Samwise Gamgee couldn't have come at a better time. His career was at a low point and choice roles were hard to come by. But his 18-month experience in New Zealand with director Peter Jackson and the cast and crew of The Lord of the Rings films would be more than simply a dream-come-true--it would prove to be the challenge of a lifetime.

Though much has been written about the making of the films, the real story of what took place on the set, the harrowing ordeals of the actors and the unspoken controversy and backstage dealings have never been told. More than a companion guide to the Rings films, There and Back Again is filled with stories from the set and of the actors involved that have never before been revealed--an eye-opening look at the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the making of one of the most ambitious films of all time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312331474
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/01/2005
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.08(w) x 9.16(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

Sean Astin has appeared in over thiry films including The Goonies, Bulworth, Toy Soldiers, Courage Under Fire, 50 First Dates and the title role in Rudy. He starred as the hobbit Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and was nominated for an Academy Award for his short film Kangaroo Court. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Joe Layden is an award-winning journalist and author of numerous books, including the #1 New York Times bestseller The Rock Says. He lives in upstate New York.

Read an Excerpt


I sensed from the very beginning that The Lord of the Rings had the potential to be something extraordinary. Not merely extraordinary in the way that, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark was extraordinary-as pure, cinematic adventure, a thrill ride of the highest order but as something even more. I'm talking about epic filmmaking not seen since the clays of David Lean or John Ford. I knew that the director, Peter Jackson, was a man of prodigious talent and vision, an artist capable of creating a film that might one day be mentioned in the same breath as Lean's desert classic Lawrence of Arabia. The Lord of the Rings, I thought-I hoped could be like that: Oscar caliber art on par with the best films ever made.

How did I know this? Well, sometimes you just get a gut feeling. It's as simple as that. As a journeyman actor I've survived by seeing an opportunity pop up on the radar screen, guessing kind of intuitively what the odds are of success, and then determining whether I want to be part of that project. Sometimes, for practical, real world reasons, I've made decisions knowing full well what the cycle would be, and that my association with a given film might even have a minor negative impact on my image or marketability. As in any field, you calculate the odds and make a choice, and then you live with it. You can only wait so long for Martin Scorcese to call; sometimes you have to take the best available offer. I've done any number of low budget movies in which my participation was based primarily on the following logic:

All right, it's a week out of my life or six weeks out of my life, the money is pretty good, and I don'thave to audition. Let me take a look at the script. Does my character have a banana sticking out of his ass? No? No banana? Well, then, how bad can it be? It's a third tier knockoff of a Die Hard movie, but the morality is reasonably intact; the violence is kind of sophomoric, but not gratuitous, and for the most part everyone keeps their clothes on. Most important of all, is anybody in the business ever going to see it? Not likely. Okay ... where do I sign?

Ah, but old movies never really die, do they? Not anymore. Thanks to video and DVD, the Internet, and late night cable television, they live on forever, seeping inevitably into the public consciousness whether they deserve to or not. Case in point: a cold winter day on the south island of New Zealand, back in 1999. One of many days on the set of The Lord of the Kings when things weren't going quite as planned. The kind of day where the scene called for filming six hundred horses on the top of a windswept deer park, so the crew was furiously washing away snow with fire hoses to make it look like it wasn't wintertime resulting, of course, in a veritable sea of mud. In New Zealand we traveled almost everywhere in four wheel drive vehicles, so thick and persistent was the slop. At times it felt like what I have read about soldiers fighting in the trenches in World War I. We couldn't go anywhere without getting muck splattered all over us. On our shoes, our clothes...our capes. (We were hobbits, remember?) No hyperbole or disrespect intended, but there were times when it almost felt as though we were part of a military operation. It was that rugged, that spartan, that precise. Mountainside locations looked almost like battlefields, dotted with tents and armies of workers. The general, of course, was Peter Jackson.

Well, on this one particular morning I saw Peter sitting in his tent with a bemused look on his face. Now, protocol on movie sets often dictates that directors, even those as approachable and thoughtful as Peter, be given space in the morning hours it's a time for preparation, not long conversations. But, as I approached, planning to offer no more than a cheery "Good morning:' Peter began to nod ever so slightly. With his unruly hair, stout frame, and generally disheveled appearance, Peter has often been described as "hobbit like:' and certainly the impish grin coming to his face now supported that notion.

"Sean:' he said dryly. "Guess what I saw last night?"



Ob, boy ...

Icebreaker was the rather benign result of one of those "business" decisions I just mentioned. Some two years earlier I had accepted what most people would consider to be a princely sum of money (sixty thousand dollars) for roughly two weeks of work. I had a good time making Icebreaker, which was filmed at Killington Ski Resort in Vermont. While there, I dined at a couple of nice restaurants, discovered a lovely antique bookshop, and made a few good friends. Peter Beckwith, the producer, and David Giancola, the director, are genuinely nice men who treated me well. One of my costars was die incomparable Bruce Campbell, regarded as perhaps the king of B movie stars. If you've seen The Evil Dead or any of its sequels, you've seen Bruce. You know his work and h1i s ability to bring a certain campy grace to almost any project. I wasn't really familiar with Bruce's work at the time, but most of the people I worked with were, and they said things like, "Oh, man, you have no idea how cool it is to work with this guy." In truth, Bruce was pretty cool. And a total pro, I might add. I had fun working with him.

Everything about my experience in Vermont was pleasant, if ultimately forgettable. But let's be honest here: the movie is a piece of shit.(1) Sorry, Dave. Sorry, Peter. But you know it's a piece of shit, too. By that, I mean, it isn't socially edifying, and it doesn't aspire to be artistic or even particularly clever. It's just mindless, harmless entertainment. (Check out the movie's promotional poster, featuring yours truly with a pair of ski goggles perched on his forehead, a revolver in his hand, and a look on his face that fairly screams, "Mess with me, and I'll kick your ass!") But we all got along well and had a pleasant enough time, and while we were there we took our work as seriously as possible.

For me for all of us, really-it was a smart business decision to do Icebreaker. These guys figured out a formula: how to package and presell the movie, how to raise the money, how to film the thing, and how to have fun doing it. So more power to them. And, frankly, I needed the work and the cash that came with it. Little did I know that two years later I'd be on location in New Zealand, working on one of the most ambitious projects in the history of movies, a $270 million version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and that I'd be standing face to-face with Peter Jackson, one of the rising stars of the business. Peter, it turns out, is not just a filmmaker, but a fan of films, all films, with a massive private collection that keeps his garage screening room humming day and night, and a penchant for channel surfing in the wee hours that makes it virtually impossible to hide anything from him.

Including Icebreaker.

Copyright 2004 by Sean Astin

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There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Torchlight_Reviews More than 1 year ago
With this novel, Sean Astin chronicles his journey to become an actor portraying Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Astin gives readers a rare glimpse behind the scenes and into the world of acting, in all its gritty, sumptuous glory. It is from this personal account that readers discover that the Helm's Deep filming took "eleven weeks of night shooting", and that Astin had to wear a wig. Where else would you get interesting details like that? Astin takes on a down-to-earth, conversational tone with his writing, reminiscent of the style of Samwise Gamgee. The photos in the middle of the book are a delightful treat. Also, Sean Astin manages to write thoughtful and descriptive portrayals on his fellow actors, and this lended to my enjoyment of the text.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just awesome
Jenevieve_Montague More than 1 year ago
I am sad to see such bad reviews for this book when I enjoyed it it so well! I AM a LOTR fan, (and am addicted to movies in general)and after reading this book, respect Sean Astin for his accomplishments. I, like most people, expected this book to be mainly about Astins experience with LOTR. However, I very much enjoyed reading about his life as a whole, and his life leading up to the role of Samewise. I did not find any part of the book boring, and found his actors history inspireing. It got me to watch the movie Rudy, which is great movie if you haven't seen it! I suppose if you enjoy reading Biographies, expecially ones pertaining to actors, you will enjoy this book. If you are looking for a book that only talks about LOTR, then you might want to think twice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There and Back Again is a book you will either love or hate. _ You will love it if: 1. You are a Sean Astin fan, or if you are interested in the actor and his life beyond the LOTR experience. 2. You are aware that this is an autobiography, where it is natural for the author to talk mainly about himself. 3. You can appreciate ultimate honesty, especially from someone who has every reason not to be honest. 4. You are able to read between the lines and see that Sean Astin is actually a good guy. _ You will hate it if: 1. You are interested solely in the making of the LOTR trilogy. 2. You expect an objective account of the making of the LOTR trilogy. 3. You are offended by a strong word here and there -- to me the language is not really offensive, but well, I'm European. _ After reading this book, I feel like I know Sean Astin. He describes the events and his emotions so vividly I could almost feel his joy and pain, both closely intertwined throughout the book. About the most debated issue, my conclusion is that it is not Sean's intention to belittle his co-actors, but is just bluntly honest about the feelings he had during the filming, even though he is often ashamed of them and regrets them. Sean is human, with his share of shortcomings, but also a good deal of positive traits. Writing this book was a kind of psychotherapy for him and publishing it was a courageous decision, but I'm glad he did it. In just over 300 pages he slowly but steadily grows on you. _ The only thing slightly wrong with the book is the title, which gives a misleading message what this book is about. It probably attracted many young LOTR fans, whereas this is not a book for children. _ I absolutely loved this book. I liked the story as well as Sean's way of expressing himself. I vote for a sequel, if not before, a good oportunity would be when Sean wins an Oscar -- which he is more than capable of. I'm really interested to read how the story goes on!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just got done with the book and I enjoyed it, but maybe thats because I am a Sean Astin Fan and not someone looking for info about LOTR's and am upset that :gasp: he wrote about his entire life! If you are a Sean Astin fan 'and more then just what he has done in the last 7 years', then pick up this book and enjoy. For those of you who are so upset because it wasn't more dirty tales of LOTR, I guess the old saying is always true, Don't judge a book by it's Cover.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a really interesting book to read and I learned alot about what it took for this actor to get the role and make the film. Well written and interesting I recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If any of those RPs start, I will join them! :D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this out of a bargain bin while stuck in a weather layover a couple of months back and found it to be a pleasantly pleasing little book. I am a Lord of the Rings nerd, not at the speaking Elvish level, but a nerd none the less who was smiling throughout this book. Sean tells of his own journey from a young Hollywood actor, with famous parents, through the LOTR movies and all that came after their success. He does tend to drone on, in an honest self-serving kind of way at times, but is completely honest and open about his foot-in-mouth transgressions and occasionally self-engrossed shortcomings. The only thing you can fault him for after reading this book is being a bit too Hollywood. I guess when you see him on the screen in movies such as Rudy, Goonies, and as Sam, you unrealistically expect a good natured underdog always willing to sacrifice himself for others while never hesitating to do good. The other reviewers who gave this book negative reviews based on his personality seemed to not realize that Sean is human, does work in a tremendously (at times) contemptuous business, where your value is based solely on your popularity. So those reviews are both unfair and naïve. I would suggest this book for any LOTR fans who would live to hear the stories of what it was like backstage, during tapings, rewrites, filming (pre and post)... of the movies. It is also an honest little autobiography into Sean Astin.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I disagree--I think that Sean, and not only him, but his father, John, are marvelous actors and I don't think Sean is really that stuck-up as his book portrays him to be. However, I've never read this book and am planning to purchase it this weekend. I also believe that John Astin's attempt to come back into the public eye is both a valiant and highly noble attempt, even if he never made it to being Gandalf. Rock On, Astins!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge fan of Sean Astin and actually have this book signed (this happened before I read it). First of all if you saw the Lord of the Rings special features in the DVD there is no point in reading this except it's more boring. Astin tells us nothing we already don't know about his 'life changing' experience with the cast and crew and adds pictures we've already seen a myriad of times in the special features of the DVD. The first 6 chapters are slow, boring, and very poorly written. Don't waste your time or money.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed it quite a bit. The review from Publishers Weekly above was on the money.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If I had spent $25.00 on this book (it was a gift and signed by Astin himself) I would demand my money back. I found it to be a total turn off by his constant whining and it only took one chapter to pick up on that; I felt he degraded his fellow actors and then tried to back-peddle to kiss up. As much as I loved his performance as 'Sam' in TLOR, this book put a crimp on even that admiration. I found nothing at all worth recommending in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have no problem that Sean Astin decided to vent big time and get it all off his chest. Publishing may have been a mistake. It would have been a lot wiser to put it in a desk drawer and not looked at it for 6 months or a year, and then reread it, thought about what to do with it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just read There and Back Again by Sean Astin, and MY Opinion is: he is a hard-working, articulate young man who inherited talent, and the book is, obviously and rightly, about HIM. If others want to know more about LOTR the movie, let them go find the book about the movie, and quit barking about Sean. His language is rarely obscene, if at all (I've heard worse at the supermarket)and he doesn't really come across as a whiny back-biter as some have pegged him. The book was well worth the $25.00, and as in ALL things: YOU CAN'T PLEASE EVERYBODY. I highly recommend this book for those who want to know the PRE-Lord of the Rings Astin. It was a great read, as stated by a truly picky literature lover. Sean, you did a good job.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book really surprised me as far as, I had no idea how opinionated Sean was. I loved it. How blunt! and also, how bold! I give this book snaps. It's an enjoyable book and I would recommend it to anyone. Great job Sean.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well, if you've read the other reviews, yes its true that Sean does a lot of whining in this book. But then again, its his book; he can say what he wants. Personally, I found some of his early career mildly interesting, but it was a bore most of the time. When he started talking about LOTR, I got a little more excited, but I'm very surprised at how much of a baby he was(and, maybe, still is). How can you be invovled in a production as amazing as that in a place amazing as that, and feel underappreciated and jealous all the time?? I don't know, I got sick of his whining. Also, I don't appreciate how he cusses all the time. I don't like having a dirty mouth, in that sense, so I didn't enjoy some of his rhetoric. But I'll give him this:he knows how to write. He found interesting ways of expressing himself and I was intrigued by that. But honestly, you're not missing that much if you don't buy it. I'm still a fan of the movie, and of his spectacular performance, but not of this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As I was walking thorough the aisles of Barnes&Noble I saw this book I began to read a little bit and I thought that this was going to be a cool book about him and his experience in the trilogy of 'LOTR'as i read it I liked it very much I still haven't finished it but it is an enjoyable book to read about his personal life and experience in lord of the rings.....
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so not worth the 26 dollars! I was anticipating it because I wanted to find out all sorts of inside information about LOTR. Instead half the book was filled with Astin's personal career and there was so much profanity. Maybe some people don't find that offensive, but as a teen LOTR fan, I do. It could have been a fascinating book, but instead I opted to return it
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a fan of Sean Astin and The Lord of the Rings films, there was little doubt I would like this book, and I did. I rationed it out so I wouldn't read it too fast. The insights into the actor, the film industry, and the LOTR franchise are engaging. Sean Astin's career before LOTR is covered more than I anticipated. The book rambles a bit and strays off on tangents (managing to come back to the intended point), but after hearing Sean Astin talk about his experiences, it seems to represent him well. For that aspect, reading this book feels like having a chat with Sean Astin.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is such a wonderful and powerful story Sean Astin delivers a stong and complexed image of what went on in his life and in the Lord Of The Rings world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
we loved him then, we love him now. I do not kind you when i say this is litteray genius!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never heard of this story so Sorry Everyone but I will try to read it when I have the time
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a let-down. I was disgusted with all but 1/10 of this book. Astin spends most of the time griping about how others disregard his talent and how his feelings are hurt. He complains about the personalities of fellow actors, and then tries to take it back. Great actor, but a selfish and childish person.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes, he's honest and pulls no punches in this book. But why write such an unedifying one, the content of which is in poor taste? If you're a fan of Sean Astin, skip this book -- or be confronted with the truth: that he is a Wannabe, Backstabber, Arse-kisser, and Crybaby. Not Samwise but Gollum! In this book, he comes across as so insecure that when another fellow actor doesn't pay much attention to him, he, craving the approval he needs, has to insult them -- how trite and vindictive. I wonder what PJ, Sir Ian McKellan, Ian Holme, and even poor Stuart Townsend think of him now...if they bother to open this book that offers nothing but base and demeaning comments about the LOTR experience and others (especially actors with more calibre and decency than he will ever have). Unlike McKellan's own website, which freely offers wonderful email exchanges between him and his fans, never disparaging anyone's character, consistently gracious about giving information, Sean Astin is a money/power opportunist, demeaning everyone at one stroke. Hopefully by reading this book sitting at a bookstore, everyone, fans and non-fans alike, will see what a petty, jealous, and ugly person he truly is without spending a dime...I don't care how well he portrayed Sam -- it doesn't justify this backstabbing book. When I read it at the bookstore, glad that I didn't bother buying it, I couldn't help but laugh at how he kept repeating that he took the hardest major in college ('English'), while he had to have a co-author to help him write a book which read like a junior high spam book that gossipped about everyone. Now that we know what an ungrateful and petty braggart he is, may we never have the misfortune to see him on screen again.