Saturday, October 19 was a roaring success at Fandemic Tour Houston as fans arrived at NRG Park to experience unforgettable panels, photo ops, autographs, and even selfies with their favorite stars. Panels ranged across the nerd-sphere from Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin to a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reunion.
Sean Astin has run the gambit when it comes to iconic roles in Hollywood. His most iconic roles include the adventurous Mikey in The Goonies, brave and loyal Samwise Gamgee of the Lord of the Rings films, and more recently the likable Bob on Stranger Things season two. His 11 a.m. panel kicked off the Saturday fun at Fandemic and covered a wide variety of topics.
Astin reminisced about his childhood and his realization early on that he should collect as many mentors as he could. He made sure to ask others for their guidance and the really listen when advice was given. His education was an interesting one as a child actor. He attended both public and private school, including a Catholic school though he was not Catholic. Astin recalled that the school actually created a humanitarian award for him because of his eighth grade project that focused on the homeless. He took it seriously, and used the example to drive home the point that dedication will be noticed by those around you.
In regards to his Stranger Things role, Astin shared that he had attended several cons where fans asked if he had seen this ‘new show’ Stranger Things and described it as very like The Goonies. Not long after that his agent called to say Stranger Things wanted him to read for a role. In preparation he locked himself in his bedroom, lights off with headphones, and binged the entire first season. He originally read for another role, but landed the role of Bob almost immediately. Astin shared that he asked himself, “What am I going to do to win her heart over this gruff, kill for you, burly other character?” when preparing for the audition, but ultimately decided on ‘the happy Sean.’ He was contracted for only three or four episodes with the option to extend, which of course, the Duffer brothers decided to do. Astin approached them and asked that no matter what happened he wanted Bob to have a heroic moment. In fact, he asked that so often he joked that the brothers became a tired of the request.
“Then I got the script for episode eight and was like ‘oh my god’,” said Astin, “I’m like Sigourney Weaver in Alien! I just wanted a little heroic moment, but now I’m saving everyone and it was amazing to film that moment.” He also shared that he thought the chemistry and affection between Joyce and Bob played well on camera because of his long friendship with Winona Ryder.
Fans asked about his experiences filming The Goonies, of which Astin said they knew they had something special from the outset. “The script read like Indiana Jones. You just knew, it was a serious adventure for kids. But you want that adventure to be as real as possible,” recalled Astin. Though he knew it would be well received, he did elaborate that he never would have thought fans would be making trips to the house 30 years later and buying a piece of the deck.
Another fan question asked if he related more to Sam or Bob. “They are all me except that the characters are better than me. Sam is an ideal literary character,” answered Astin. “As an actor, my job was to try and inhabit that character to the best of my ability. The characters I play have a mission. Bob’s is to love Joyce and care for kids and that’s no less important than those other characters. There’s something about the idea of mission that people really relate to.”
The afternoon at Fandemic was no less exciting with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reunion panel that included James Marsters, Juliet Landau, Emma Caulfield, Amber Benson, Clare Kramer, and James Leary.
The panel kicked off with the moderator asking some of the cast to discuss any causes or charities that are meaningful to them. Leary immediately mentioned Project FanCare which talks about how fandom can help people with mental health illnesses. Leary shared that he suffered with severe anxiety earlier in his life, and still deals with it today so it is a charity close to his heart. Clare, however, said it’s less about the grand gestures for her that strive to make huge global changes. She likes to highlight the importance of small acts that can change people’s lives and their perspectives. Marsters mentioned that the Pediatric AIDS Foundation and voting are very important to him. Landau shared her support for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation which educates people about hate crimes.
The conversation then shifted to Buffy and the question of which character, other than their own, would each actor most like to play. Caulfield immediately answered Spike as the audience laughed. Marsters also tried to claim Spike, but switched to Clem which Benson said the leading character, Buffy. Landau claimed Drew and stuck to her decision saying that, “I wouldn’t swap, she was the best, most complex, f*cked up character.” Leary said his younger self would have answered with Spike, but now he would like to play Rupert Giles.
Fan questions then followed with one asking how the actors thought Buffy would have faired if social media had been as wide spread as it is now. Caulfield answered that she believed the show would not have made it in a digital age with such immediate feedback. She also shared that she thought there would likely have been an outcry for people of color characters as well as been quick to highlight the trope of sacrificing the gay characters in television. On the opposite end, Landau asked if the show would have adapted to those critiques and instead it may have flourished in a different way.
When it came to their favorite characteristics of their TV counterparts, Leary answered, “I loved Clem. I just like being comedic relief and lightening the mood.” Caulfield also gushed about her character, “She was just so funny. Every time I read the script I would laugh at the things that came out of her mouth.” Marsters had the entire audience laughing with his answer of, “I just liked frustrating Buffy or Angel even. There is a sense of that to Spike where I just enjoyed ruining their day.”
The cast thanked fans for coming out to the panel and were shocked at how fast everything went by. Marsters was sure to invite fans to stop by their tables to ask any questions or to discuss anything they wanted to about Buffy.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter wouldn’t have been the same without the Weasley twins, and fans flooded into the main stage area to hear James and Oliver Phelps talk all about their experiences on the set. They were quick to admit that they were a bit mischevious like their on-screen characters, “but no where near the confidence level of Fred and George” Oliver pointed out.
Of course, the two played many jokes on set that they oftentimes got away with. Oliver admitted that even when it wasn’t them, they were always the first suspects for any behind the scenes pranks. They shared that one of their favorites was getting ahold of an old radio and tuning the frequency to that of a nearby construction area. “We got on and said ‘alright everyone clear out, go home’ at 1 in the afternoon,” the laughed. “We could hear the foreman screaming back that no one should be leaving,” as they watched the confused workers walk around. One prank they weren’t lucky enough to get away with was playing cricket in Privet Drive. According to the brothers they actually broke a window on one of the houses and were found out quickly.
When asked what they were up to nowadays, James shared his recent victory over the Big Mountain Challenge in which a team of cyclists ride for four days during which they will the equivalent of higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro. He shared that he truly did not think he would be able to complete the challenge, but when he did he immediately signed up for the 2020 ride. The brothers have also done a lot of work with charities and hospital to help raise money as well as awareness.
The panel was then opened to fan questions where one fan asked what scene or moment from the Harry Potter films they would like to revisit. “I’d like to go back to that first scene on platform 9 3/4 and redo it with my current voice,” James answered to laughter from the audience. “The voices were so high.” Oliver, however, would love to relive the filming of the Yule Ball. “It was so much fun,” he recalled, “We did weeks of dance lessons and then it was basically a big party. The Weird Sisters did a concert and we were in a mosh pit. Warwick Davis was crowd surfing,” he laughed.
Their favorite part of playing Fred and George was the characters good natured ability to joke and laugh in almost any situation. “They got serious sometimes, of course” elaborated Oliver, “but then there’d be a smirk. We were able to laugh when others couldn’t.” Another benefit to being the twins was, when recognized in public, fans were friendly since they were ‘the good guys.’
Another fan asked the brothers which of the seven books (or eight films) was their favorite. “Prisoner of Azkaban,” answered James immediately, “I was reading that one when we got the part. Now when I smell the smell of books, I think of that every time.” Oliver’s favorite was Deathly Hallows: Part 1 because he got to have a battle wound. “The first test wound was quite gruesome,” he remembered, “Part of the ear was dangling and you could see bits of skull. They had to tone it down for the ratings.”
When it comes to other film projects, the brothers shared that they actually just wrapped on a horror film, though neither could remember the name of it. They had no idea that it was a horror film until the final wrap. A fan then asked what other franchise they would like to be part of, to which Oliver said The Crown. James’ answer? “The only thing that came to my mind was the Lego Movie,” he said to a roar of laughter from the audience.
The day was certainly jam-packed with amazing panels, stellar cosplay, and fun for fans of all ages. Tomorrow will be every bit as fun so check back with us for coverage of panels with Sebastian Stan, Milo Ventimiglia and Scott Patterson.