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This Lord of the Rings actor hadn’t read the book before being cast

Astin recalls reading the Lord of the Rings novels to prepare for the Pere Jackson's fantasy movies, and how it's coloured how he sees them now.

Sean Astin in The Lord of the Rings

It’s over 20 years since The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring hit theatres. In an interview, Sean Astin, who plays Samwise Gamgee in the action movie, explains that he really didn’t know what he was getting into.


In 1999, when the cast for Peter Jackson’s trilogy was being assembled, Astin was up for Samwise. Though interested, he’d no clue about The Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit for that matter. “I didn’t even know what Lord of the Rings was when my agent called me,” he tells Collider. “Would’ve been late spring of ’99. She’s like, ‘It’s the Lord of the Rings trilogy.’ I’m like, ‘What’s that?’ She goes, ‘The Hobbit. It’s The Hobbit.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ So that’s bad. But I went to the bookstore. And I went in there, [because] she said I was going to audition for Sam.”

He uses this anecdote to explain that Samwise, Frodo’s trusty companion for all three of JRR Tolkien’s mainline novels, has always been his North Star in understanding Middle-earth. Astin believes he could “do a dissertation” on Samwise, and how reliable he is.

He inhaled the books several times over while preparing and filming, of course. But reading them amid doing an adaptation isn’t the best environment, something Astin attests to. “It was like data mining. I was hard-charging through the book so I could appreciate the literature. I could appreciate the descriptions of the topography and all that,” he says. “But I didn’t enjoy the books in the way that fans for 20 years have been describing to me how they enjoy the books.”

Being part of the legacy of Jackson’s trilogy has given him an incredible appreciation for Lord of the Rings, and Sam and Frodo’s journey, since fans now are often more into the films than their source material. You can actually read Tolkien’s books with Astin through Fable.co, a project where the actor is trying to “experience it the best [that] I can not from Sam’s point of view”.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was the first in a mammoth three-part adaption of JRR Tolkien’s classic literature, directed by Peter Jackson from a screenplay by him, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens. It was nominated for its fair share of awards, made healthy takings at the box office, and with The Two Towers and The Return of the King, stands as one of the great pieces of Hollywood filmmaking.