There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale by Sean Astin & Joe Layden

Narrator: Sean Astin

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (2004)

Length: 4 hours 33 minutes

Astin’s Page ~ Layden’s Page

Here we have Sean Astin’s adventures as Samwise Gamgee during filming of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He recounts how he first heard about the audition, how he prepped for the role, the delights and difficulties of doing such a long shoot in New Zealand, and how the role changed his life going forward. Told with candor, humor, and sometimes gentle criticism, I found this book quite engaging.

This was an educational delight all around. First, I love that Sean Astin was unfamiliar with Tolkien’s work prior to scheduling an audition for the role of Samwise. I found it amusing and endearing that Astin showed us his initial ignorance of The Lord of the Rings. I hope Tolkien’s works opened a door to other great fantasy and science fiction works.

Prior to listening to this book, I was unaware of Astin’s parentage and it’s a rather convoluted one that involves his birth father’s true identity, step dads, and DNA tests. Even though I have been an Astin fan since seeing Goonies when I was 12, I had not delved into Astin’s personal life. This book lifts that curtain a bit and we get to know this actor for more than just his famous movies.

There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes bits about filming in New Zealand, Astin’s fellow actors, Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh, and his own doubts and personal victories. I was pleasantly surprised at how Astin chatted about the peculiarities and ticks of his fellow actors. Any criticism he offered was done in a gentle fashion and yet still had that center of truth to it.

I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was 13 or 14. So long before the movies came about, I knew just how important Samwise was to story. Therefore, I was a bit surprised at how Samwise, and Astin, were not considered that important to the storyline of the filming until the last movie. Logistically, it makes sense but I could sympathize with Astin’s periodic frustrations with this aspect of filming.

This book also covers the lengthy daily makeup sessions, accidents and near accidents that happened on set, the vagaries of weather, and the toll such a lengthy filming can take on not just the actors, but also their families. All around, this was an eye opener. Quite an enjoyable read!

The Narration: Sean Astin did a great job with narrating his own book. I loved how he would slip into Samwise’s voice at the appropriate moments. He also does a great job expressing his emotions without going over the top.

What I Liked: Behind the scenes look by a favorite author of a favorite movie trilogy; the humor; honesty about Astin’s unfamiliarity with Tolkien’s work; candor about other actors and the filming conditions; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – a great little read!

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