Tag Archives: Sean Astin

Matthew Modine Talks ‘Memphis Belle,’ His Real-Life B-17 Connection and Next Moves

modine belleMatthew Modine’s film and television career includes a sizeable collection of memorable fare, from “Full Metal Jacket” and “And the Band Played On” to “Birdy” and “Vision Quest” — to his run as the oversexed Sullivan Groff on “Weeds.” But no project stands out more for Modine than the gripping 1990 WWII film, “Memphis Belle,” in which he plays the captain of a B-17 Flying Fortress on its 25th — and last — mission. Next week, the film is making its debut on Blu-Ray — part of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment’s True Stories of WWII collection hitting the marketplace in advance of the 70th anniversary of D-Day June 6. The release has given the well-regarded actor, environmental advocate and avid cyclist occasion to look back on his “Memphis Belle” experience. He recently appeared at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and met with some WWII vets to “pay our respects to those people who understand the true cost of war.” Modine also looks forward to some exciting film and TV action going on in his professional life right now.

Q: When you were making the film, did you feel sometimes as if you were almost channeling those men, going back in time? You bring the era so to life, crowding into small spaces, and all that metal — the analog world.

A: It really did bring us back. Fortunately nine of the members of the Memphis Belle crew were still alive when we came to do the filming. They told us about some of the hardships they faced, the fears that they had. And personally, for me, I was really honored because my uncle (Wylder Modine) was a B-17 pilot. He was the captain of a crew and so, here I was, portraying something that my uncle had done in real life. I went to him to talk about that experience, and he shared some stories, went to his closet and took out his dress uniform. He gave me the jacket and I put it on — and it fit me. So I told him, ‘I’ll wear it in the film.’ And I said, ‘Is there anything that I could do in the film that would be a wink to you, that I did this for you?’ And he said, ‘No, but when you put that uniform on, don’t disrespect it.’ The way that he said it, it had such history and such deep significance that we learned from Tom Brokaw in his book, The Greatest Generation, they were different people. The way they reacted to hardships and challenges is very different from the way people react today.

Q: Where did your uncle serve? Was he in the European Theater?

A: Yes. Yes, he was shot down over France. After he was on a bombing mission, returning he got hit by anti-aircraft fire and almost had his right arm taken off. He had his crew bail out of the plane. His copilot was shot up really badly, he couldn’t parachute, so my uncle with one arm landed the B-17 that was wounded, you know a crippled plane and he landed in a field in France. With one arm he landed the plane and then he was able to get to the hospital, and they saved his arm, and he was an extraordinary man, my uncle.

Q: It sounds as if he should be a movie himself. Is he still with us?

A: No — that generation is almost gone.

Q: It looked like it got pretty uncomfortable to do the film. I know you’re conscientious, and rightly so, about pointing out that your experience was not on the level of what the real-life crew went through, but still you were out there getting wet and cramped and tired. Was it pretty hairy some days?

A: It was. It was a difficult film to make. It’s remarkable, because as big as the plane is, the cockpit is very, very small. When the planes were hit, when they would become crippled, it would be very, very difficult for the captain and copilot to get out of the cockpit, to get out of the plane before it crashed, you know? You had to get your parachute on and there wasn’t much time. A lot of people just died because they couldn’t get out of the plane in time.

Q: And they suffered terrible casualties with the B-17s didn’t they?

A: Yeah, because of the daylight bombing missions. It’s remarkable to think that just a few decades ago there weren’t satellites to guide people. There was no ability to navigate at night time, so the only way to do successful bombing missions was to do it in the daylight.

Q: What stands out as the worst part of filming?

A: It’s a funny thing — as time goes by, the difficulties you experience disappear and all you’re left with is positive memories of the experience. We’ve all remained such good friends; Eric Stoltz and Billy Zane, Sean Astin and Neil Giuntoli, we’ve all remained friends and I’m very, very honored that they put me in that exulted position where they refer to me as Captain.

Q: How did you get into the mindset of these men?

A: You try to approximate what 24 combat missions would have done to a group of young men. They put us through a rigorous boot camp where we had to learn to work together to solve problems and get through some very difficult obstacles. And that process really brought us together as a group and we learned some creative problem-solving.

Q: It sounds like you’re really busy right now — you have this potential new TNT series, “Proof,” and your “Rocking Horsemen” project that you wrote. What’s on the front burner?

A: Well, it’s the reason I came to Los Angeles. One of the things I always wanted to do was be in a rock ‘n’ roll band, so I’m living vicariously through the script about the Rocking Horsemen, these kids who make a rock ‘n’ roll band in 1962.

Q: You’re doing crowd funding, but not with Kickstarter. It sounds interesting. How’s it going?

A: I tried this other organization called Slated. The difference between that and Kickstarter is that the investors in Slated have the opportunity to become participants in the profits of the film. Where, the other crowd funding like Kickstarter, you get rewards. You get your name in the credits if you give enough money. You get a t-shirt, you get a DVD when the DVDs come out.

Q: At the same time, are you going to be doing ‘Proof’ do you know?

A: I’m not sure. We should know soon. I also did this horror film with a wonderful actress named Olivia Williams, called ‘Altar.’ It’s a horror movie like old fashioned horror movies, like ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ — not one of these slasher movies with lots of blood and people getting dismembered and things like that. They just submitted it to the Toronto Film Festival, so we’ll see what happens.

Sean Astin’s Nightmares and Laughs — ‘Abu Ghraib,’ ‘And They’re Off’

Cheri Oteri, Sean Astin "And They're Off"

Sean Astin tells us he had “nightmares for a week” after finishing Luke Moran’s upcoming big screen drama, “The Boys of Abu Ghraib.”  The nice guy who played “Rudy” and “Lord of the Rings'” Hobbit Samwise Gamgee as an Abu Ghraib prison guard? 

“I’m someone who’s really fixated on politics,” comments Sean, who has actively campaigned for candidates including Hilary Clinton.  “I’ve also done military-themed movies.  I did some work for the U.S. Army.  The fact I was offered the chance to do this, it had to happen.  I think it’s a patriotic gesture to play the part.”

It’s been a hectic — and extremely eclectic — time for Astin of late.  He just wrapped work on his first Christian film, “Amazing Love,” with Erin Bethea (“Fireproof”) and says he the experience meant so much to him, “I’m mourning the loss” of having to move on after having finished production.  He’s playing a youth pastor in the movie he says is about “fidelity and unconditional love” that’s divided between scenes of today and scenes of the Bible story of Hosea and Gomer.  He has one scene with a very familiar cast mate:  his mother, Patty Duke. 

In another change-up, October 28 marks the beginning of the roll-out release of Astin’s “And They’re Off” horse racing movie spoof.  He reports that the toughest part about playing the sad sack horse trainer in the comedy was keeping a straight face.  “We laughed the whole time,” he says of the film that also stars Cheri Oteri, Mo Collins, Gigi Rice, Martin Mull, Alex Rocco and other funny people.  “Sitting across from Kevin Nealon talking about taxidermy, I had to put my face in my hands to keep from laughing out loud,” Sean claims. 

“This kind of film is something I’ve always wanted to do.  I love ‘Waiting for Guffman’ and all those movies.  That it’s set in the world of horse racing is awesome.” 

Astin says that “And They’re Off” writer-producer Alan Grossbard is a track aficionado who infused the movie with accurate bits of color.  “You know who’s going to love it is horse racing geeks.  There’s enough stuff in there, they’re going find it very familiar.”

Sean Astin (L), cast of "Love's Christmas Journey" four-hour telefilm Hallmark Channel photo

Come Nov. 5, Sean will be seen starring with JoBeth Williams, Charles Shaughnessy and Ernest Borgnine in “Love’s Christmas Journey,” the latest installment of the Hallmark Channel’s hugely popular “Love Comes Softly” series of telefilms based on Janette Oke’s book series of a 19th Century frontier family.

            Actors love diverse roles, but Sean admits, “I don’t know that I intentionally set out to do that.  I just want to work.”  And as far as playing bad, he adds, “I played an ax murdering voodoo cult cannibal in a movie once.  I got it because my attorney was friends with the producer.  There was nothing socially redeeming about it at all.”

Diahann Carroll Diamond Birthday Arrives, PBS Special Soon to Air

Diahann Carroll

What a month for Diahann Carroll, with USA’s “White Collar” starting its second season amid strong ratings and critical kudos — even as she launches her “The Lady…The Music…The Legend.” PBS special with its debut airing set for July 31 on Los Angeles’ station KCET.  And the ever-glamorous Diahann turns 75 on Saturday (7/17).

Her diamond birthday celebration “will be small, but special,” she says.

Diahann tells us she’ll be traveling to support of some of the PBS pledge drives to which her “The Lady…” one-woman show is being attached this summer (check local listings), but doesn’t know her itinerary as of yet.

“The hardest part was just surviving it, putting it on its feet,” she says, referring to the special, filmed live this past Spring as a benefit for the Annenberg Theater at The Palm Springs Art Museum.  “We misjudged and didn’t feel that it was going to be as large a project as it became.  I’ve never taken so many trips back and forth to Palm Springs in so short a time.”

Diahann has just returned from a trip to New York, where she filmed two episodes of “White Collar” as June — a.k.a. she who has the handsome ex-con Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) staying at her swanky Manhattan pad in the USA hit.

“I’ll go back in New York in August to shoot maybe two more,” says the Tony-winning Broadway veteran, who loves to take in shows whenever she visits her old  stamping grounds.  She does not, however, see herself returning to the Great White Way.

“It would be great fun.  I admire Angela Lansbury, but I don’t look forward to eight performances a week.  I guess it’s all those years of performing in Vegas, Tahoe and Reno doing two shows a night – some hotels have three shows a night.  That really takes a toll on the body, and you feel it later.  My last dangerous hurrah was doing ‘Sunset Boulevard’ in Canada, when I broke my fibula.  I’m absolutely fine now, but it took a long time to heal and I’m in no mood to face anything like that again.”

This year, “While I was recuperating from the rigors of doing the show in Palm Springs, I was reading ‘White Collar’ scripts.  I think my horizon at the moment is perfect.”  Happy Birthday, Diahann.

THE BIG SCREEN SCENE:  Sean Astin reports he’s now looking at a November production start for his and wife Christine Harrell’s labor of love movie project, “Number the Stars.”  They wrote the screenplay based on Lois Lowry’s beloved Newbery-winning young readers’ book about two 10-year-old girls who are best friends – one Jewish and one Lutheran – in 1943 Denmark, when Danes launched a massive flotilla to evacuate Jews ahead of the Nazis.

Sean, who continues to act while pressing forward with the movie, admits, “We wanted to be shooting in August, but that’s not going to be possible.  We’re doing it — like Frank Sinatra said — we’re doing it ‘My Way.’  We may never get it done, but we’re not getting it done my way,” adds Sean with a laugh.

He’s been speaking to potential investors at every opportunity, including his recent trek to Las Vegas to participate in a charity poker tourney.  When it comes to financing, he’s found, “Building a movie is like building a company.”

MEDICATION CAN WORK WONDERS:  It looks like about the only way for Mel Gibson to get back in the public’s and industry’s good graces at this point – not to mention surmounting law enforcement issues — would be for him to turn up in treatment.  Serious treatment.  His out-of-control, racist, anti-Semitic-misogynistic rants could certainly pass for those of someone afflicted with a mental disorder.  In fact, he sounds like someone who needs help.

CASTING CORNER:  While “Grey Gardens” director Michael Sucsy fine tunes the script for his “The Vow” feature that rolls in August, casting is underway for the family members of Rachel McAdams’ character in the drawn-from-real-life drama.  McAdams and Channing Tatum play the madly-in-love newlyweds whose world is torn apart when they get into a horrific car crash that leaves her with amnesia.  She can remember her mother, father, brother, sister, etc., but not her husband – and finds it more comfortable to be back with her conservative, conformist clan than this stranger with whom she seems to have nothing in common.  Why did she leave home in the first place?  Will her soulmate manage to reconnect with her?  We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

Sean Astin Running for the Roses

Sean Astin Disney Channel photo

Sean Astin is eagerly anticipating word on release of his recently-completed indie comedy, “And They’re Off” – a mockumentary in which he plays a failed horse trainer.  “By traditional standards, he’s not really a trainer – he’s only had one horse — but as far as he’s concerned, he is,” reports the actor with a laugh.  “He’s upbeat no matter what awful things go on.  He’s got a documentary crew following him around the track at Santa Anita at dawn, teaching about horses.  He’s out walking around the track saying, ‘I’m not going to ask my horse to do something I wouldn’t do myself.’”

            According to Astin, the script by Alan Grossbard was “a hoot.”  Veteran TV director Rob Schiller, making his feature debut, left room for the actors, including Cheri Oteri, Martin Mull, Kevin Nealon and Mo Collins to improvise as well. 

Special Agent Oso

            Meanwhile, Astin says, “It felt like I was meeting myself” the other day when he had a face-to-face encounter with his “Special Agent Oso” yellow and green cartoon Panda counterpart.  The Oso special photo op was part of his promotion for season two of the Playhouse Disney series, which launches July 10.  It certainly has its share of celebrity admirers.  Guest voices include Mel Brooks as snoring Grandpa Mel (his real-life grandson is a fan of the show), Brad Garrett, Lisa Loeb, Rita Moreno, Ming-Na, Freddy Rodriguez and Rebecca Romijn.

“Oso is going to be at Disneyland this summer,” Sean reports.  “It was a really special thing to hug this big teddy bear.”  Adds the father of three girls, ages 13, seven and four, “I think every actor who does voiceover for a particular character becomes possessive.  I know I find it off-putting to see ‘Special Agent Oso’ in Spanish because the voice isn’t me.”