For die-hard Lord of the Rings fans, the pinnacle of existence is meeting one of the nine members of the fellowship of the ring. On the convention circuit, Sean Astin — who played hobbit Samwise Gamgee — is constantly approached by fans wearing prosthetic elvish ears. Some of them ask him for a wee bit of a favor.
"I've been asked to participate in marriage proposals," Astin says over the phone with a laugh. But his first instinct is to decline. "Because I'm a father of daughters," he explains, "and I don't know the person — I mean, what if the guy is a jerk? — I want to say, 'No.'?" But sometimes the fan starts filming video, so, Astin has developed a go-to response. Looking straight at the recording device, he'll say, "Listen, this person clearly seems to love you, but use your better judgment, and if you're in any way skeptical about him, then you have my approval to run like hell!"
Chuckling, the actor notes that despite his skepticism, he's been a cheerful participant in many couples' happily ever afters. When fans ask for his own hand in marriage, he sweetly says he's happily married.
This weekend, Astin — who broke into film as a child star with '80s cult classic The Goonies and has more recently been busy voicing animated characters like Raphael the ninja turtle and DC Comics character Shazam — will be in Fort Lauderdale for Wizard World, a convention started by the publishers of '90s magazine Wizard. The company stopped publishing a print magazine in 2011 and has perhaps become better-known for its nationwide series of pop-culture cons, which hit dozens of cities. (There are 26 scheduled at the moment.) Highlights of the Fort Lauderdale con include appearances by Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead; William Shatner of Star Trek; Athena Finger, heir to a piece of the Batman fortune; plus WWE stars, illustrators, game designers, and more.
Having been a part of the convention world for years, Astin has seen plenty of wild fandoms come and go through the convention floor — from Star Trek to Star Wars and from Dr. Strangelove to Doctor Who, Astin has seen it all. He even admits that he has come to base his pop-culture compass on what he sees at comic conventions. "If I see everybody get really excited about something [while at a con]," he says, "the odds are I've never even heard of it or I never even gave it a chance, but now all of a sudden I feel like I'm 'in on the joke,' so to speak."
Though he admits he's motivated to attend comic conventions because he earns a fee, he says he genuinely enjoys them. "Hey, I'm being paid to come and have some kind of entertainment-related interaction with folks," he says — and that's never a bad gig. "I actually really enjoy surfing people, which is what it feels like at these events, since you get a very short amount of time with a whole lot of people, and every one of those little interactions is special and unique." Attendees who purchase the "Sean Astin VIP" ticket at Wizard World for $199 will receive a speedpass for autographs and photo ops with Astin, guaranteed seating at his panel, and more.
In recent years, he's noticed cons becoming more family-friendly. "It used to be a really niche experience for people who knew how to play Dungeons and Dragons," explains Astin. "But now, the whole point of these things is for families. You have a family, and they go and roam around and soak in the environment, and it's fun — it's just fun."
Friday, October 2, to Sunday, October 4, at the Broward Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Sean Astin appears Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $5 to $35 for a one-day pass, more for multiday passes, VIP tickets, and celebrity experiences. Visit wizardworld.com.