We know him as a member of the Goonies and someone who’s made grown men cry twice (playing Rudy Ruettiger and Samwise Gamgee). But if you have preschoolers in your life, chances are they know Sean Astin as the voice of Oso, the stuffed panda bear who works for U.N.I.Q.U.E (United Network for Investigating Quite Usual Events) — an international organization of stuffed animals charged with helping kids accomplish everyday tasks, showing them ways to stay active outdoors, and teaching them the importance of telling the truth and what to do if they get lost — on the Disney Channel’s Special Agent Oso.
Season 2 (premiering July 10) finds Oso getting a little bit of help from Buffo the water buffalo (voiced by Brad Garrett), an inventor who creates all of Oso’s special agent gadgets, and features guest appearances by the likes of Mel Brooks (whose grandson is a fan of the series) and famed Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, with whom, of course, Astin has a history. “In the fall of 1992, he let me address their big Friday night pep rally before the Boston College game [during the halftime of which many of Rudy's football scenes were filmed]. I felt really inappropriate. I played flag football for two years,” Astin says, laughing, “not quite the same thing as university-level smash mouth. But Lou Holtz waved me over and introduced me, and I stood up, and I can’t remember what I said because I was kind of hallucinating at that point. But they won Saturday, so I have a 100 percent track record.” Will his luck hold out during an EW Pop Culture Personality Test?
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s say a child really, really wants to see The Hobbit get made. What would Oso tell him to do?
SEAN ASTIN: Hmmm. Hmmm. Sit back, kick his feet up, and just count the minutes because it’s gonna happen no matter what. [Laughs]
So you are keeping tabs on the situation?
Well, you can’t help it. Everybody wants to know, and when the director just fell out, that was on the cover of the trades. I’m not in touch with the primaries finding out what’s going on minute-by-minute, but I’m one of the 8 billion people around the world who’s anticipating its release.
Does Oso/Sean know what’s going on with a possible Goonies sequel?
I know that it is going to be made as a feature at some point, whether in my lifetime or after. They’ve had several screenplays. To my knowledge, there isn’t a newest one, but I’m not on anybody’s list to tell, so I don’t really know. Right now, there’s a lot of cool Goonies 25th anniversary stuff that’s going on. Dick Donner the director, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen, and I all went up to Oregon [last month] for a big event and 8,000 [people] came from all over the world to celebrate. It’ll happen. That and The Hobbit, I predicted from before we finished filming that those would happen just because you just know people will want it, and if people want it, then they’re gonna make it. That’s my feeling.
Did you ever write a fan letter to anyone when you were young?
I don’t think I ever did. When I was 12 and did The Goonies, I would get those big, huge, military-looking sacks full of fan mail dropped off at the house and put in my room. There’s thousands of letters, and I remember starting to cry once, ’cause I’m like, “There’s no way. I don’t want to read all of these. [Laughs] I don’t wanna write my little composition for school. What am I gonna say to everyone?” I think maybe somehow after that surreal experience it never would have occurred to me to be on the business end of one of those letters. Except, maybe I would have written a letter to a politician or the president saying, “I really think that we should have better schools” or something like that. It’s not like I wasn’t a fan. I remember Michael Jackson came to the set of The Goonies for whatever reason, and two weeks later I was sick with the flu and I couldn’t go to work, and I got a message from Michael Jackson on our home answering machine. I listened to it a bunch of times, like, Wow, that’s so cool, but it never occurred to me that I could, like, call him back. [Laughs] I never asked anybody if they had his number. On the other hand, my youngest daughter wrote a fan letter to somebody on a TV show that she liked, which will remain nameless while I’m promoting this other animated television show. [Laughs] She just wanted to visit them, and she said, “Can I write them a letter?” “Okay.” So we sat down, and we wrote a letter that ended up like, “Listen, I don’t know if you have visitors, but I’d really love to stop by.” [Laughs] She just expected that there’s nothing wrong with that. Why shouldn’t you do that? I’m pretty sure she lives with them now. Just kidding. That’s a terrible thing to say.
Is there a piece of pop culture memorabilia from your childhood you lost and wish you still had?
Again from The Goonies, I had one of the original maps. I had one of the original asthma inhalers. We probably five-finger-discounted a good two dozen doubloons from the set. Those are all gone. But you’re talking about, like, my Evil Knievel toy when I was a little kid. I had Smurfs, and they all burned up in a fire when my mom’s [Patty Duke] farm burned down in Idaho. Whenever my wife and kids go to the Rose Bowl swap meet, they’re always on the lookout for little Smurfs, so my entire collection has been replenished because of the thoughtfulness of my family. I can think of so many things. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Probably everything I’ve lost from pop culture you can get on eBay now. It’s robbed us of the ability to feel that nostalgic pain. [Laughs] Intellivision was a game platform after Atari, and I remember just loving that. There was a sea battle game, and the baseball game was so great. But it’s gone, gone forever… except that some of our friends got it for me for my birthday. So, oh, it’s back!
Rudy made EW’s list of the 50 best tearjerkers ever. What movie gets you to cry?
I have three daughters. I cry at everything. I cry at a Hallmark commercial. I don’t care what it is. I met the 10 finalists for The Biggest Loser at the fireworks the other day, I was almost crying looking at them knowing what they had gone through. I don’t know that I’m gonna get any John Wayne tough guys parts anymore in my life because I’m just a big cry baby. [Laughs] I cried when the U.S. lost in the World Cup. I cry when my candidate doesn’t win. I cry for everything. Everyone cries at It’s a Wonderful Life. But there are two moments that always get me, no doubt about it, and one of them may be unique. Remember how he doesn’t get to do anything he wants, he has to keep holding down the fort, and then finally, he marries Mary, and they’re gonna go on their honeymoon and they get in the car and all of the sudden, they look in the rearview mirror and there’s a run on the bank. They stop, and he’s like, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. And she holds up their money, their handful of cash that they’re supposed to use to go on their honeymoon, and they share this look with each other and he realizes that the community is more important, and he takes the money to go save them. Gone. GONE at that moment. That just absolutely kills me. The second moment is at the very end, usually when his buddy who tried to get him into plastics wires from London that he’ll advance him up to $25,000, no questions asked. Forget it. Gone. Something about money, altruism, and integrity — when they connect with each other, it gets me.
What movie do you have to watch every time you spot it on cable?
Gladiator. No, that’s true, but let’s go with my favorite movie to catch on cable, L.A. Confidential. I could probably do all the lines of both of those movies. Oh, Patton. Say Patton instead. Patton‘s the best.
I’ll just say all three.
Yeah. That way I look like a well-rounded guy. [Laughs]
Do you have any films in the works?
I just did a movie called And They’re Off directed by Rob Schiller. It’s a horse racing spoof, and my guy’s name is Dusty Sanders from Dusty Sanders Racing. You know, most trainers have a stable of horses. Dusty’s got one. And it’s an awful horse, a total loser of a horse, but he doesn’t care. He’s just gonna show him clips of Seabiscuit before he goes out for a race. “I know you can do it. Believe in yourself.” Cheri Oteri plays Dusty’s ex-girlfriend, and she’s a jockey…. There’s a scene of Dusty at Hollywood Park, with a documentary crew that’s following Dusty around, and he goes, “Listen, most trainers will come out here and they’ll take a look at the track and make sure it’s okay, then they’ll go back. Not me. I’m not gonna ask my horse to do something I’m not willing to do myself.” So he goes running around the whole track. Then he starts enacting what the final stretch is gonna look like, and he’s getting more and more animated, now he’s galloping. And the documentary crew is running trying to keep up with him. And he’s screaming and yelling like he’s calling out the horse race, all by himself. And I thought, that’s me. All the money and the stories that have gone into this place, Hollywood Park, and I’m the total nimrod who’s running by himself with a crew down the backstretch screaming, pretending he’s in a race. That’s awesome. I just know that I now have a full-proof betting system because I totally understand what’s going on with the horses.
This sounds like a different kind of role for you, a heavy comedy.
Yeah. I’ve done several independent films lately that all seem to be comedy. I did one, Stay Cool, where I played Big Girl, a gay hairdresser, very flamboyant with flowing clothes. “Oh, honey, you look so great,” that kind of a thing. And then another one, Demoted, where I was a tire salesman with Michael Vartan in Michigan, and we’re really sexist guys and we get demoted to be secretaries. We start a secretaries union, and we get them to win their softball league. All of these are flat out comedies, but in the world of independent film, you just wait to see which one’s gonna pop. Maybe one of these things connects, and then I get called to do a studio one. We’ll see. Fingers crossed. I used to want to do action movies, but now I’d love to do just a big broad comedy.
Was a move into that indie world a conscious decision you made?
You go where the work is. I think, what movies are coming out right now in big broad release, where I go, “I should have been in that movie. Why wasn’t I in that movie?” And I don’t see it. The movies are great. Everybody’s doing their thing. I suspect that before too long, something will roll around and it will be right for me, and then I’ll do it, and it will have seemed inevitable. I think it’s important just to have a little perspective. I’ve been enjoying my family a lot. My wife and I have been adapting the book Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, a Newbery winner from 1990. That’s going to be my full-length feature directorial debut. [He and his wife, Christine Astin, were nominated for an Oscar for their 1994 live-action short film, Kangaroo Court. He also directed a short film on The Two Towers DVD]. It’s set in Denmark, two 10-year-old girls in the Second World War. It looks at the Second World War and the Holocaust through little kids’ eyes, and the book has just connected with a couple generations of readers coming through middle school who’ve been exposed to it, and I know people who would love to see it get made.