By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—For those who haven’t watched the Aug. 31 episode of “The Strain,” the eighth installment of the exciting and intense sci-fi/horror series on the FX network, you may want to move on to the next article. For those who’ve watched it, and are still in shock over the demise of one of the show’s main characters, please continue reading.
Just days after the CDC’s Jim Kent met his tragic end after it was discovered he was infected with the virus, actor Sean Astin, who played him, spoke about his brief but enjoyable time on the series, which is produced by horrormeister Guillermo del Toro, who co-wrote the book on which it is based. The hour-long thriller airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX. The second season is slated to go into production in November.
Having read the book, Astin knew from the start that his character would have a limited run, but he wanted to work with the noted auteur, whose credits include “Hellboy,” “Pacific Rim” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
Best known for his role as Frodo’s best friend Samwise Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings” films, the 43-year-old performer says he enjoyed playing someone more flawed.
Q: Did your character’s death come as a surprise?
Astin: I knew that I was going to die, but I didn’t know how and when until I got the script for it, which was only a few weeks beforehand. I loved it. Before that I had been a little bit kind of sullen over the fact that I was just getting to know everybody and enjoy everything and I knew I wasn’t going to be around very long. But when I saw how cool the episode was with this kind of “Butch and Sundance” battle royale out of a convenience store and the way that it was discovered on me and how the relationship is resolved and stuff, I absolutely felt like you couldn’t have asked for a better send-off. I was pretty happy with it.
Q: How has “The Strain” been different for you as an actor?
Astin: First of all, working with Guillermo is a unique experience for most people who are working on the show. I would say one of the most exciting things about it is spending time with Guillermo. He’s just so full of life, creativity and imagination. You always feel like he’s both incredibly well prepared and in the moment and able to be spontaneous, so that’s pretty great.
Q: Were you a fan of the vampire genre? Was that something you wanted to do as an actor?
Astin: No. I have not in my life been a vampire guy, really, except when I was 16 and I worked in a movie theater where my friend Corey Feldman’s movie ‘The Lost Boys’ premiered. That was probably the height of my vampire interest. I sort of missed the rest of the wave of ‘Vampire Diaries ‘and all the way through to the recent ‘Twilight’ and everything else, so being like learning vampire lore was pretty cool for me, particularly the cosmology of vampires in Guillermo’s mind is really cool.
Q: Jim is a complex character. Viewers both loved him and hated him. What do you think of him?
Astin: Jim is basically a morally compromised guy and I think he has the occasional comedic quips that reveal some kind of personality that it might be fun to interact with, but his wife is suffering and so he’s a compromised guy basically the way I see him.
Q: What did it mean to you to be part of this series?
Astin: I feel I’m grateful that Guillermo reached out and swept me up in it.
Q: How did you feel when you were shooting your final episode?
Astin: Ironically, the biggest challenge of it was how cold it was. Toronto (where the show is shot) suffered really the coldest winter in most of the crewmembers’ memory. It’s one thing to sit here in a 75-degree day in Los Angeles and talk about cold it was, but it was bitter cold. I’d look outside at the vampires who were in their post-mortem makeup and just figured that it wasn’t too far off from where they’re going to be if they had to stand outside any longer.
Q: What was it like shooting the scenes in the convenience store?
Astin: Blocking the scene where Eph (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia Maestro) discover that I’ve been fully infected was really kind of cool. The first bit where they use the UV ray to see the worm in my face and then they lay me down and do this sort of butcher surgery—that was all kind of cool and relatively straightforward and easy. We discover that it’s all through my back and then I realize that the only thing to do is for them to kill me. I’m saying, “I don’t want to turn out like the rest of them” and “I don’t want go after my parents,” and I’m asking Setrakian (David Bradley) to basically explain what that is with these vampires go to the ones closest to them. It was pretty powerful emotionally and everybody had this feeling that it was exciting to be doing maybe one of the first big deaths of the show.
Q: How did this compare to when your character was killed off on “24?”
Astin: I never knew from one week to the next what was going to happen and I open the script or sitting in the makeup bus for episode whatever, and my character has this spectacular nerve gas death. So, it’s sort of shocking, but you know anything can happen on that show and that is a very heroic death. This one, Jim’s redemption is kind of petty redemption. He’s the first one to plug in the UV ray lights, which is kind of iconic where I come out of the convenience store and I’m the first one to extend my arm with the thing and burn one of the vamps with this UV light; and then of course everybody does it because Jim did it. It was cool.
Q: Did you watch the episode at home when it aired?
Astin: I was at Disneyland with my wife and kids. I had run a marathon, this Disney half marathon weekend, so we did a 10K on Tuesday. So I’m walking around and my legs are sore and the kids are having a ball and I realized the episode is airing right now. I hadn’t really been paying any attention to my phone for three days, but we’re sitting on the train going through Fantasyland and I’m looking at seeing all these messages saying “Alright, Jim, we’re going to miss you buddy,” “It was a sad way for you to have to go, Jim,” but we tried to have fun with it.
Q: Why were you working at a movie theater at age 16, when you already had starred in “The Goonies” and other movies?
Astin: When I was 16, my mom (actress Patty Duke) gave me a car for a little bit but then she needed it back, so I basically was doing summer school and night school. I really wanted to graduate with a better GPA than I had earned throughout the rest of my high school year. So I would take the bus into Westwood from my dad’s place and I just worked in a movie theater. I started by taking tickets at the door, and worked my way up the ranks. It took all summer, but by the end of it, I was making bank drops from the box office and I cleaned the butter maker and it was fun. I remember my mom sort of being shocked that I would do that job, but I liked it. And that couple hundred buck check meant more to me than the $10,000 check that I got when I was eight because that $10,000 check went into an account that I didn’t see until I was 18. I could spend the money I earned at the theater. I count that as one of the good experiences for me.
Q: What is one of your memorable moments from of the show?
Astin: We had when we’re at the airport hanger set and we come around, everybody had been filming for a few hours and they were on lunch break or something and my part started late, so I come in and I walk around and there’s nobody there, but a sea of 300 body bags all stuffed with dead bodies with the morning dew. They’d been filming all night long, over it. The lights reflecting off of it and it was really, really creepy and haunting and arresting.
Q: Is it possible in a future episode we’ll see a vamped out Jim or was that actually the end, period?
Astin: I’m pretty sure that Fet (Kevin Durand) killed Jim properly. I appreciate the mourning. I feel close to Jim. My favorite thing was people with #RIPJIM. I kind of wanted to get that blown up and put that on the office wall.
Q: Since you did have some fair warning of your character’s demise, have you had an opportunity to look around what you’re going to do next?
Astin: I play the voice of Raphael on Nickelodeon’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” franchise. I have an independent film called “The Surface,” with me and Chris Mulkey. It’s a two-hander kind of a meditation on hopelessness and suicide. And then I also have a little animated film that is being released independently called “Ribbit,” about a poisonous tree frog, who believes he’s destined for something more. After that, I don’t know. I’ve been getting offered lots of fun things in the sci-fi horror realm, which I haven’t grown too tired of yet, so as long as there’s something to play, I’m willing to keep thinking about that. I’m pretty promiscuous when it comes to what I do as an actor. Oftentimes, it comes down to whether I feel I can do it.