MOTW: The Life and Career of Sean Astin

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
November 14th, 2013

MOTW: The Life and Career of Sean Astin

Sean Astin is one of those rare child actors who grew up in the spotlight without withering under its glare. He was born on Feb. 25, 1971, in Santa Monica, California. He is the son of Patty Duke, a famous actress who was married at the time to writer Michael Tell. The marriage lasted just a few weeks, and at the time Sean was born, it was thought that his father was Desi Arnaz, Jr. Duke married fellow actor John Astin the year after Sean was born, and Astin adopted Sean and treated him just like his own son. In fact, Sean credits Astin as his real dad, even though he found out in 1994 that Tell was his biological father. This confusion surrounding his parentage is arguably the most controversial thing about Sean Astin's long career.

He began acting in 1981 at the tender age of ten alongside his mother Patty in "Please Don't Hit Me, Mom." As the title suggests, the TV movie was about a young boy, played by Astin, who had an abusive mother. He did another TV film the following year.

After a three-year hiatus, Astin filmed the movie that would turn him into a star overnight: "The Goonies." The film was an unqualified hit that was chock to the brim with actors who would all go on to have long and successful careers, including Martha Plimpton and Josh Brolin. Astin played the lead character, Mikey, a gawky teen with braces who saves the day when his family's house is about to be bought out by a ruthless developer.

The success of the film made Astin one of the most sought-after young actors in Hollywood, and he got a steady stream of film and television offers as a result. At the same time, his younger half-brother, Mackenzie Astin, was also making big waves in the industry, nabbing a recurring role on "The Facts of Life" and parts in various film projects. Since acting is quite literally in their blood, it is no surprise that they had so much success at such a young age.

Astin capitalized on all of his new fame, but he also yearned to break away from just doing teen roles. He quietly began taking roles that were a little more mature, even if his characters were still teenagers. For example, in the 1991 film "Toy Soldiers," he played a high-school student who is forced to grow up and act like an adult when he and his fellow schoolmates are taken hostage. In "Memphis Belle," he played a young military recruit, which was a big departure from the roles he had taken previously. He was determined to show Hollywood he was all grown up, and that finally happened in 1993 with the tearjerker "Rudy," in which he played a young man who yearns to attend Notre Dame and play on the school's hallowed football team.

While he was transitioning from teen to adult in his work, Astin was doing the same thing in his private life. In 1992, he married Christine Louise Harrell, with whom he now has three daughters named Alexandra, Elizabeth, and Isabella. Things were going swimmingly for Astin both at work and at home, so he decided to combine the two. He and Christine coproduced the short film "Kangaroo Court" in 1994, which earned them an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short Film. Though he continues to occasionally write and produce, his primary job is still as an actor.

He cemented his place in Hollywood lore by appearing as Samwise Gamgee in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and its two sequels, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers "and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He earned several acting nominations, taking home a Saturn Award and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for his work on the famed trilogy.

Since then, Astin has played a wide variety of roles, including a hilarious, dimwitted bodybuilder in "50 First Dates" and a counterterrorism agent in the Fox drama "24." He has also taken on quite a bit of voice work for animated TV and films, including a new iteration of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" television series. He has an incredible thirteen films and TV projects that have either just finished filming or are in preproduction. He can next be seen in the comedy "Out West" from director Lee Brownstein, due out in late 2013.