By every definition, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was a labor of love. Tough love, even. Peter Jackson had a vision for the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved and classic novels. And if a cast member was falling short of delivering on the promise of said films, Jackson wasn’t afraid to make that point clear.
Sean Astin recently joined the ReelBlend podcast to talk about his time in New Zealand with Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings cohorts. Astin, of course, played loyal Hobbit Samwise Gamgee, who accompanied Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) on an epic quest to destroy The One Ring. Filming the movies was an epic quest all of its own, and in walking us down memory lane on the making of the films (which are being released as a 4K Ultra HD set on December 1), Astin remembered one difficult detour that few actors like to experience. He remembers a time that Jackson had to call him out, with a “brutal” piece of direction. Astin tells us:
The most painful thing Peter Jackson ever said to me… you know, he's a man of few words. He's a very, very stoic guy. He can be performative when he wants to, or needs to. He can act things out, and he's very eloquent and so forth. But on a day-to-day basis, Peter Jackson is basically like a quiet guy. He sort of lets the work do the talking, and his direction was always very minimal. Mostly his direction would be, ‘Let's do it again.’ … But he came up to me at one point and he looked at me and he said, ‘I just didn't believe that.’ Oh my God, he might as well have -- it was like a Mortal Kombat death blow. It was like he ripped my hair off of my body, and my spine came out with. … [But] it was, it was true. It was true that I was not invested, that I was out of it. I was out of the character. I was out of the mood. I was out of... I just wasn't there.
Sean Astin stopped short of telling us the specific scene in which this happened, though he did imply in his conversation that it happened while filming on the first movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. I immediately followed up to ask Aston if he had ever heard that from a director before. Remember, before venturing to the Shire, Astin had been a Goonie, and was Rudy in a beloved sports drama. But he was quick to admit to us that, at that moment, he needed to hear that from his director:
It was brutal. And he didn't mean it to be brutal. He meant it to land. He didn't mean for it to be brutal, but it was a perfect piece of direction. And he was absolutely right. And it made me be better. It made me focus harder.
It worked! The Lord of the Rings movies ended up being a generational hit, eventually earning a slew of Oscars including Best Picture for the trilogy’s conclusion, The Return of the King. Fans will want to make sure they have the very best versions of the film by grabbing that 4K copy when it hits streets on December 1.