‘Lord of the Rings’ actor Sean Astin headlines Florham Campus WAMFest
The Florham Campus held its annual Words, Arts and Music Festival (WAMFest) on Friday, Oct. 6.
This year’s theme was “The Art of the Mind.”
The festival featured creative works and discussions from FDU students and special guests. Due to WAMFest merging with Family Weekend, many students and their families attended the events that took place.
The day kicked off with a WAMFest Welcome event in Lenfell Hall. The event showcased student works and performances with a pop-gallery and reception. Student performers included Matt Cohen, Catherine Cooney, Breyton Croom, Nicole D’Amico and Abhi Tadakamalla.
Later in the afternoon was a discussion of “Words and Music: The Literary Rhythms of the Mind,” located in the Hartman Lounge. Poet and essayist Michael Robbins and Grammy Award-winning R&B Musician and Producer James Mtume led the discussion while music industry veteran and former CEO of Def Jam Records Bill Stephney moderated.
They discussed the role of poetry and music in a contemporary culture, and the ways in which both remain essential tools for navigating the terrain of modern life.
The evening featured this year’s headlining speaker: Sean Astin, an actor, director, voice artist, producer and author.
Astin is best known for his role as Samwise Gamgee in the wildly popular “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Mikey Walsh in the film-classic, “The Goonies” and the inspiring main character of “Rudy.”
Astin became an author in 2004 with his best-selling book, “There and Back Again,” which focused on his film career, paying particular attention to his experiences with filming for “The Lord of the Rings.”
Astin is the child of Academy Award-winning actress Patty Duke and actor John Astin. In honor of his mother’s struggle with mental health, Astin frequently advocates for mental health and even started the Patty Duke Mental Health Fund in her name.
At the end of October, Astin will appear in the second season of the Netlflix phenomenon, “Stranger Things,” as the new boyfriend of Winona Ryder’s character.
The discussion, facilitated by Professor Anthony Tasso of the psychology department, began with cheers by long-time fans of Astin’s work.
One of Tasso’s first questions for Astin was about what motivated him, much like how his underdog character of Daniel Ruettiger in the 1993 movie, “Rudy,” was motivated to play on the football team at Notre Dame.
Astin said, “I love life, I love life. I’ve been so blessed, I’ve had so many opportunities just put right in front of me, I’ve worked really hard, and so there’s any number of ways in which I can be inspired and do things. My wife of 26 years, our three daughters are endlessly inspiring.”
Astin spoke about being motivated both inside and outside his career.
Two years ago, Astin completed the Iron Man Triathalon in Hawaii, which he considers to be one of his greatest accomplishments because of how motivated he was to train and complete it.
The next topic was about Astin’s first ever movie, “The Goonies,” and “hitting a homerun at his first at-bat” because of the success of the film.
Astin talked about how the movie made $100 million when it first came out, yet when he ran for class president a few days after, he did not make the cutoff. This, along with a few references to “The Goonies,” made the crowd cry with laughter and nostalgia.
Perhaps Astin’s most famous role is the character of Samwise Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings.”
Astin spoke about how little he knew about the book series before filming the movie but how ready he was to do his best.
He said he wanted to work hard for the people who worked on the book and movie, for the fans, and for himself.
“When I got the part, I got down on one knee and thanked God. I knew my life would never be the same,” Astin said.
Duke, who won an Academy Award for playing Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker,” passed away last year.
Duke was known for being publicly open about her mental illness.
“She was a bipolar sufferer and when she was diagnosed in the mid-80s, she was so relieved that there was a name that was meant to describe what she had been feeling and that could account for a lot of her behavior. She embraced the diagnosis and she embraced that as an identity – someone who is suffering with a mental illness and dealing with it and is in the public eye,” Astin said of his mother.
When asked what advice he would give to college students working towards their degree while simultaneously struggling with mental health issues, Astin said, “I think the most important thing for people to remember is that they’re not alone and usually in a university setting there is some kind of help available so not to be embarrassed or ashamed or impatient but to go try and find some support. Yeah, it’s hard, it’s really, really hard. They just need to know that other people know how hard it is and that they’re not alone. Nutrition, sleep and fitness: three totally critical components to wellness.”
Most excitingly for many college students, Netflix soon will release the highly anticipated second season of “Stranger Things,” one of last year’s most talked about shows, on Oct. 31.
Astin will play Bob Newby in the sci-fi web series.
“The Duffer Brothers have said publicly that it is bigger and darker, and it absolutely is, so for people who loved the innovation and the idea of the Upside-Down, it’s just – I’m impressed with what they were able to put together. My career is about getting to do these great things where I feel like my contribution to it is cool but what they did is absolutely mind-bending,” Astin said.