"How do you want to be remembered?" Sean Astin asks.
That's a big theme in the new baseball movie, The Final Season, which he produced and stars in. In the tiny town of Norway, Iowa, the boys find their piece of immortality by winning state baseball titles, after putting in long practices after long days on the farm, just to be remembered.
It's a theme in Astin's life, too. The 36-year-old former child actor, the son of Patty Duke and adoptive son of John "Gomez Addams" Astin, the once-and-future Rudy and Sam Gamgee of the Lord of the Rings movies, has a reputation. He may be the nicest guy in Hollywood.
That helped Astin get The Final Season, about Norway High School's last team, turned into a movie, says Art D'Alessandro, the Maitland screenwriter who wrote the story and co-wrote the script for the movie. Sure, Astin championed the project, D'Alessandro says. No leading man would do less. But it was more than that.
One big investor was an Iowa family that remembered Sean coming to visit their daughter's school, years before when Rudy came out, and "he was so kind to all the students," D'Alessandro says. That Good Guy Sean image stuck with them and helped open pocketbooks.
Astin plays the under-qualified coach, Kent Stock, who took on the task of guiding the legendary Norway High Tigers for just that one year. He's an actor, which might explain why he can play a hobbit when he never had furry feet. But often Astin looks for that genuine connection to a role. Here, it begins with the fact that he played organized baseball for 13 years.
"And I married a girl from a tiny little farming community in Indiana -- Rolling Prairie," Astin says. "It's not a stretch at all to play this guy."
Astin is too diplomatic to come down on one side or the other in the "growing up rural vs. growing up in the sophisticated city" debate. But he appreciates the small-town values the film puts across, "the way life is a different pace, people speak more slowly and take stock in what they're saying. When you live in a place that spread out, I think you're actually closer to your neighbors. You need each other more.
"And in the school, on the baseball diamond, letting somebody down is that much more personal. Which is why it doesn't happen that often. Not in Norway, anyway."
D'Alessandro says Astin's "everyman quality" makes him the very embodiment of the guy he was playing. The actor who doesn't like to let people down was "perfect" for the coach who didn't want to let the school down.
"But you know," Astin says, laughing, "when you make a movie in rural Iowa, and people are always calling you a nice guy, everybody there is a nice guy. So some of my nice guy reputation kind of felt covered in Hollywood scuzz. Hope I didn't seem too obnoxious."