Making Magic together: Elijah Wood and Sean Astin

Photo by Jeff Brazier

The Marriott Atrium Ballroom was the place to be Saturday at 5:30PM when Brian Richardson, along with two thousand of his closest Dragon Con friends, welcomed Elijah Wood and Sean Astin to Dragon Con 2023. With members still filing in Wood and Astin took the stage and proceeded to regale the crowd with magical tales of walking, acting, and parenthood.

Wood, making his first visit to Dragon Con, was wowed by what he’s seen. Like almost every other guest experiencing this convention for the first time, Wood has been completely blown away by the not just the quantity but quality of the cosplay. His adjective for it: “incredible!”

Richardson began the questioning by asking them to comment on the nature of location work. Having done an extensive location shoot that involved a lot of “walking,” Wood began by emphasizing the “immersive” nature of it. On location shooting forces actors to really focus on the work and on each other. They aren’t going home every night to their families and regular lives. As a result, actors bond. Wood reminded everyone that when he did that New Zealand shoot, he was eighteen years old. He had never lived away from home and it was like going to college. Astin emphasized the bond as well. There are unique pressures that come to play in acting. Actors may meet for the first time and then literally within minutes be kissing or fighting. Those experiences create bonds between people that are unique to the profession and are intensified during long, on location shoots.

A member via the Discord channel then asked about actors about collecting props from various productions. Again, referring to the shoot in New Zealand, Wood did mention jewelry and a map while Astin mumbled something about a backpack.

By this point in the hour, Wood and Astin had found the “groove” and began to riff off one another. Astin called his daughter and wound up recounting the tale of his twenty-one-year-old who is only now learning to drive. Astin recently found out that his daughter had secured her permit and immediately wanted to go driving. He declared that teaching their children how to drive was a father’s “primal right!”  His daughter Elizabeth responded to her dad’s insistence by making two points:  1) he had raised her to be an “independent thinker” and as such she would determine her own timetable and method for learning to drive (this earned a Brian Richardson knitted mike drop!) and moreover, it was a simple fact that he wasn’t that good a driver. That earned Elizabeth a rousing cheer from the audience which Wood shared with her via Astin’s phone.

The conversation then turned to their talents in addition to acting. Wood is an album collector and DJ; an exceptional one according to Astin. His passion for this began, again, in New Zealand. A lifelong lover of music, he brought several CDs with him. So too did Dominic Monaghan. They found a local bar with a CD mixer that the owners allowed them to use. Thus began his journey as a DJ. Over the years he moved from CDs to iPods and finally settled on vinyl, which he collects and uses to this day. Wood has toured as a DJ in Europe, and loves being able to express himself in a different way to a different audience.

Astin has thirteen marathons and 1 Ironman competition to his credit. More recently, he has been working on the completion of a master’s degree in public administration and public policy. The strike has caused him to pause his studies, primarily because he serves on the union’s negotiating committee, but he plans to complete the program as soon as he can. What Astin finds fascinating about his studies is the immediacy and applicability of it at this moment. His work for the union has become something of a field laboratory in which he can apply the lessons learned through his studies.

Photo by Jeff Brazier

Both have done a lot of voice work and it was fascinating to hear them reflect on the dynamics the work entails. Actors, whether on stage or film, have lots of resources available to play with to tell the story in the moment. They use other actors, props, their own bodies, and facial expressions etc. to make their performance effective. In voice work, the only tool available to the actor is the voice. The voice must communicate what the character is experiencing, feeling, and doing. Even more, it is often the case that the voice actor records her/his part in isolation, never encountering the other actors in the production.

Astin still emphasized the collaborative nature of voice work. A glass partition separates the actor from the Director (a conduit between the actor and the creative team) who leads the actor through the script. A lot of actors wouldn’t like being asked to say the same word over and over in several different ways, but that is the fundamental nature of the work. This is the opposite of “realism,” of being in the moment as an actor. Astin likened the multiple takes to that of puppetry. Voice acting was a “dance” between the creative “brains” behind the glass and the actor’s body. While exhausting, this work can produce amazing results.

The panel’s final topic was the strike. Richardson asked Astin how members could support the actors and writers in their struggle. Astin encouraged them to pay attention and engage social media to correct disinformation and provide words of hope and support to actors and writers they follow. He believes the strike with be a “long haul” struggle. He doesn’t sense any urgency on the part of the companies to negotiate. Public opinion polling shows very high levels of support for the artists and that will be critical in maintaining solidarity moving forward. Astin also encouraged local fans to follow the work of the Atlanta chapter of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.

As the session closed, the audience showed their appreciation for these two actors with a standing ovation and thunderous applause. They had, once again, made magic together.

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