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Well before he carried Frodo up Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings and long before his heroic death in Stranger Things, Sean Astin was a young actor in the classic 1985 childhood adventure film The Goonies. Sean Astin played the lead Mikey in the movie, which was executive produced and based on a story by none other than Steven Spielberg. When he went out for the part, Sean Astin had to audition in front of Spielberg himself.
Sean Astin admits to being incredibly nervous to begin with, but when he got to Amblin Entertainment and he was being led back to the room where he would audition, things got even worse thanks to some words from Steven Spielberg’s personal assistant. Sean Astin recalled:
So we’re walking through it and he says ‘Are you nervous?’ And I said ‘Yeah, a little bit.’ He goes ‘Why?’, and I said ‘I don’t know.’ He goes ‘Well, you’re just about to meet the most powerful man in Hollywood’ and he opens the door. And he had this smile on his face. And I was like ‘Ok.’
To Sean Astin and us reading that, it probably sounded like Spielberg’s assistant was about to offer him some comforting words or a bit of advice, only to pile on the pressure right at the last moment. I’m sure it felt kind of messed up at the time, but knowing that Astin ultimately got the role just makes it funny in hindsight. And while this was undoubtedly a stressful and anxiety-inducing thing for a young actor to hear, it wasn’t untrue.
Around the time The Goonies was made, Steven Spielberg had already made Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and had three Best Director Oscar nominations to his name. Meanwhile Sean Astin’s credits were largely limited to two TV movies. So he had every right to be nervous walking into that audition room as he recalled to Michael Rosenbaum on the Inside of You podcast.
When Sean Astin got into the room, he was faced with producer Harvey Bernhard, director Richard Donner and Steven Spielberg and the audition began. What happened next resulted in Steven Spielberg walking out of Sean Astin’s audition. The actor continued:
So we do this scene, and it’s really good. Until we get to this one point in it, and I forget the line. And I start shaking. And they’re like ‘It’s alright. Do you want to pick it up do you want take it over?’ And I was like ‘Can I just look at it? Oh, right! I remember what it was.’ So we do it again, and at the same spot. I’ve now psyched myself out. But at the same spot I forget. I go ‘Shit!’ And Steven gets up and walks out of the room. And I’m like ‘Well, I guess I’m never going to make another movie in Hollywood.’ I’m a guy who's cursed, you probably don’t want as the star of your kid movie a kid that says ‘shit.’
Lots of kids struggle with speaking in front of a class for presentations during their school years. But for Sean Astin, who was in his early teens at the time, instead of a class full of peers, it was “the most powerful man in Hollywood,” and instead of a school presentation where the worst thing that happens is a bad grade, it was an important job interview that could determine the rest of his career. It’s no wonder he was nervous.
Those nerves and the overwhelming nature of the situation resulted in Sean Astin panicking a bit when he forgot a line. So he lost his composure and thus his professional filter, and he wound up cursing, causing Steven Spielberg to leave the room. I imagine Sean Astin’s heart must have sunk into his stomach at this point, knowing how deeply and irreversibly he had screwed up.
Like Sean Astin said, The Goonies was meant to be a family film, so you can understand where a potty-mouthed kid who couldn’t remember his lines in his audition would cause Steven Spielberg to walk out. Director Richard Donner then came over to talk to him to comfort him before he gave it another go and it went slightly better the next time, as Sean Astin remembered:
So we do it again, and I get to the spot and I kind of bump on it, but I glance, and I get through it. But it’s like, I never did it clean. And they said ‘Ok, thank you very much.’ And I go out and go into the car and my dad goes ‘How’d it go?’ I was like ‘I didn’t get it.’ He goes ‘What do you mean?’ I was like ‘I didn’t get it, I kept messing up. I couldn’t remember my lines.’
You can totally see why Sean Astin thought he bombed the audition and didn’t get the part given that story. He might have been slightly more optimistic had Steven Spielberg not left the room but I imagine that seemed like the nail in the coffin for him. It wasn’t, of course; Sean Astin got the role of Mikey in the beloved film, thus launching his career.
Sean Astin suspects that they wanted him for the part to begin with and despite his terrible audition, they were not dissuaded. Maybe they still saw something in the audition from the actor that they knew made him right for the role, which he ultimately was. We’ve been wondering about Astin returning to that role for years, with Goonies 2 constantly rumored and talked about but never actually produced.
Despite everyone that has tried to make it happen over the years, including himself, Sean Astin now thinks the time has probably passed for a true sequel. While I don’t necessarily think we need Goonies 2, it is surprising it hasn’t happened, especially given the nostalgia and reboot driven nature of the industry. But hey, never say die and all that.
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