Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Book 20 of 2014: There And Back Again: An Actor's Tale by Sean Astin and Joe Layden

Many, many years ago, I was gifted a signed copy of There And Back Again: An Actor’s Tale. I was at the height of my obsession with the Lord of the Rings films and was ready to eat up every news article, magazine story and book which could offer me a little insight into the workings of the film set and the people involved with it.

This is basically the story of what Sean Astin did before becoming Samwise Gamgee and sort of looking to the future to see what he was planning to do next. It’s a very personal account of his thoughts and feelings, his relationships with other members of the cast and crew, as well as his aspirations. Plus, it’s signed by the actor himself.

This wasn’t my absolute first attempt at this book, though it was my first successful attempt to finish it. I knew that when I first tried to read it I gave up at some point, but couldn’t remember exactly where I’d gotten to. My main memory of the book was that I found Astin distinctly unlikeable and so hadn’t continued with it. This time around I discovered the bookmark from my first attempt, around page 205, which is a lot further through the book than I thought I’d managed.

Although I still found Astin fairly unlikeable at times, I did find the book easier to read this time. Once I got started with it I was determined to finish and I think that determination carried me through to the end. And I didn’t find it as bad as I thought it would be.

Astin does have a tendency to seem really uptight. Plus he always seems to focus on the negatives. Whenever something was going well for him, he automatically seemed to start planning for things to go wrong. He would say things to people that obviously created tension or do things that made him look a bit strange or silly. I felt like he would’ve have a much happier time of it if he just learned to relax a bit more and enjoy things when they were going well.

One of the things that put me off the book before was the fact that I’d grown used to all the interviews with cast and crew talking about what a wonderful experience the films were, how they were like a family, how everyone watched out for each other, and so on. It’s something I’m seeing repeated as the Hobbit films are made. Yet Astin made it sound like he was miserable the whole time. I’d be interested to hear the perspectives of some of the other people in the scenarios he describes because I get the sense that Astin just takes things badly and tends towards the negatives.

I honestly don’t think that he did himself any favours by producing this book. The cover and blurb lead themselves towards the Lord of the Rings fan who is desperate to get more information about the behind the scenes of the film, but aside from being touched on at the beginning, most of the Lord of the Rings stuff doesn’t come into it until much later in the book. And there’s not a whole lot about the actual making of the films; there’s a bit about costume and make up and training, but then there’s a lot about worrying what Peter Jackson thinks of him and whether or not he’s being listened to or taken seriously.

I spent half the book wanting to get Astin to shut up whinging and just enjoy the ride. On the one hand I do appreciate his brutal honesty but on the other, I don’t think that it adds much to the image or brand of Sean Astin. It’s probably one I’ll revisit in the future, and it has a permanent place on my bookshelf, but that doesn’t mean I particularly enjoy it.

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