As The Strain continues to spread across fictional New York, the Master claimed his first major victim – Jim Kent aka Sean Astin. I had a chance to chat with Sean about his time on The Strain, growing up and what’s up next for the Goonie Hobbit!
“Since being in Lord of the Rings this pop cultural wave of franchise inclusion has swept the globe where people—these comic book franchises, bestselling book franchises, television reboot franchises, they just come in big waves. It’s almost like being in one particular movie or one particular show isn’t enough anymore. So the fact that Guillermo and Carlton Cuse came along with this new incarnation of a vampire world meant a new franchise and so I feel I’m grateful that Guillermo reached out and swept me up in it.”
Part of the appeal of The Strain was Sean’s opportunity work with Guillermo del Toro who is “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.
“Now everybody expects something huge from Guillermo every time he opens the door, so I guess what really impressed me about him is that he continues to deliver in the face of overwhelming expectations and he does it in a way that is calm and fun…It was really a privilege to interact with him.”
Guillermo specifically sought Sean out since “as Samwise Gamgee I’m known for being a friend and loyal and likable, a nice guy; and I think he liked the juxtaposition of somebody doing something morally questionable or wrong, who is likeable at the same time.” Unlike some of Sean’s most famous roles, “Jim is basically a morally compromised guy.”
Sean definitely misses the set with fond memories of how they kept things loose and light on the set: “There was a moment where Corey [Stoll aka Eph] came in on his phone playing this video game, the fighter pilot video game. So I downloaded it and the two of us with our phones or iPad mini’s in between dissecting vampires and bludgeoning the turned captain in the head with a fire extinguisher we were competing. Frankly, I was no match.”
“It was fun coming to work and seeing the different things that they had put together. I keep going back to the autopsy because I don’t think anything like it has ever been shown on television, a vampire autopsy. And they spent so much—it was such an expensive and intricate, I don’t know, was it a prop or special effect. We’ve been working with this actor and now we were dealing with his absolutely life-like corpse. It was really disturbing.”
“Another day, we’re at the airport hanger set and we come around, everybody had been filming for a few hours and they were on lunch break or something and my part started late. So I come in and I walk around and there’s nobody there, but a sea of 300 body bags all stuffed with dead bodies with the morning dew. They’d been filming all night long, over it, the lights reflecting off of it and it was really, really creepy and haunting and arresting—you pick the word and that’s the kind of stuff you’d get.”
He signed on for the role of Jim Kent knowing that it was a limited gig. “I was told in my very first meeting with Guillermo and Carlton that this character from the books, who didn’t last that long in the books, wasn’t going to last very long in the series. So they invited me to be a part of this show knowing full well that, in episode eight, my character is going to get killed off. So there is a little bit of the gallows anticipation that comes knowing we’re in episode five; it’s only a few episodes away now before I get to say good-bye to all my new friends.”
The Strain cast signing
Sean had a great time working with this cast including David Bradley (Setrakian) who is actually the opposite of the dour, serious characters he plays. “It was just a privilege. The guy [David Bradley] is indefatigable, just when everyone else, when I’m freezing cold and my jaw is chattering and my fingers won’t bend, he’s smiling and having a laugh and ready to keep going. So he led by example in a way that was quiet and wonderful. I think everybody feels that way about him.”
“I just watched Corey coming off of his show where he’s just had an incredible turn in House of Cards and it felt like a privilege to be around him. Richard Sammel…I could go through everybody on the show and to-a-person it was a positive interaction.”
“Kevin Durand and I have the same lawyer, so our lawyer really liked the fact that one of his clients was killing the other one of his clients. I just have so much respect for him and I love him so much. And Mia [Maestro] is just such a really whip-smart, beautiful lady, a talented lady, yes, I could keep going on. I loved everybody; I’m sorry to be full-on dead now.”
But at least he went out with a bang, right?
“The one thing I would say for everybody is that I knew that I was going to die, but I didn’t know how and when. I got the script for it, which was only a few weeks I think beforehand, I loved it. Before that I had been a little bit kind of sullen over the fact that I was just getting to know everybody and enjoy everything and I knew I wasn’t going to be around very long. But when I saw how cool the episode was with this kind of Butch and Sundance/Battle Royale out of a convenience store and then the way that it [the infection] was discovered on me and how the relationship is resolved and stuff, I absolutely felt like you couldn’t have asked for a better send-off. I was pretty happy with that.”
“It was pretty powerful emotionally and everybody had this feeling that it was exciting to be doing maybe one of the first big deaths of the show. I guess there had been others, but for me it was the big death because it was me.”
But don’t think Sean was on pins and needles to watch Jim’s demise! No, he was at the happiest place on earth! “I was at Disneyland with my wife and kids. I had run a marathon, this Disney half marathon weekend, so we did a 10K on Tuesday and a half marathon. So I’m walking around and my legs are sore and the kids are having a ball and I realized the episode is airing right now. I hadn’t really been paying any attention to my phone for three days, but we’re sitting on the train going through Fantasyland and I’m looking at seeing all these messages saying ‘All right, Jim! We’re going to miss you buddy.’ ‘It was a sad way for you to have to go, Jim, but we tried to have fun with it.’ ”
“My favorite thing was people with the #RIPJIM. I kind of wanted to get that blown up and put that on the office wall.”
Throughout the interview, Sean sounds really grounded and, well, normal; not what you might expect from someone who grew up in a show biz family, who was a child actor and has starred in some of the most beloved films of all times (eg: Lord of the Rings, Goonies and Rudy if you’ve been living under a rock). His philosophy is very pragmatic and simple: “I’m a working actor; that’s how I see myself.”
He recounts a summer when he was 16 and worked at the local movie theater (the Bruin in Westwood). “I would take the bus into Westwood from my dad’s place in west LA…I remember my mom sort of being shocked that I would do that job, but I liked it. And that couple hundred buck check meant more to me than the $10,000 check that I got when I was eight because that $10,000 check went into an account that I didn’t see till I was 18 . Now I was 16 and I could go spend that money. I count that as one of the good experiences for me.”
“The fun story I have is with my buddy Corey [Feldman]. There’s the big premiere [of Lost Boys] and Corey walks in and I’m wearing my blue blazer with my gray pants and my name tag… All the actors are standing by the concession stand. Mr. Francis [hi sboss], who is I don’t know 147 at that point he’s since passed away and he’s just a known guy, a character personality and he said “Sean, you’ve got to go pick up that popcorn.” I grabbed the broom and dust pan and I walked over. I was like ‘Excuse me, Corey,’ and he looked and he saw me and he’s like, “Sean, what happened?”
Well, what’s going to happen next for Sean? “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. 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.”
“I’ll tell you I’d like to do comedies right now. I’ve just been shot in the head by Kevin Durand and one of the great TV franchises of this new decade is leaving me, so I’d love to flip a switch and start working with a laugh track.”
The Strain continues on Sundays with the season finale on October 5th on FX.
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