How does actor and dad-of-three Sean Astin how he balances fatherhood with being a famous movie and TV star - not to mention the voice of Playhouse Disney's Special Agent Oso.
I'm a little bit in love with Sean Astin even before I hear his voice on the phone. After stammering my way through a greeting, and trying not to sound like a prat, I ask him when he's next coming down to Godzone. "I don't know - it's been too long," he replies, then laughs. "I guess it depends - are you going to invite me over for dinner?"
I immediately forget all of the rest of my interview questions and fall head- over-heels in love with him. I mean, what's not to love? He's a family man, happily married to Christine, the mother of his three daughters (Alexandra, 13, Elizabeth, 7, and Isabella, 4) for the past 17 years, active in several charities and organisations, and keeps on making movies and TV shows people love.
Who couldn't feel a tug on their heartstrings at his portrayal of Samwise Gamgee, Frodo Baggins' long-suffering sidekick in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy? and I still have a soft spot for Mikey, his character in The Goonies, when he snatches up a coin from the bottom of a wishing well and vows, "This was my dream, my wish. And it didn't come true. So I'm taking it back. I'm taking them all back."
My daughter is in love with him too. "Oso," she purred upon hearing his voice coming out of my tape recorder when I was transcribing the interview. Even Sean's youngest daughter, four-year-old Isabella, had a hard time separating Special Agent Oso from Daddy when she first saw the show. "Watching Bella figure it out was hilarious. Elizabeth kept saying to her, 'That's Dad, that's Dad!" and Bella would turn and look at her, then look back at the TV. Then I said, 'Bella, you know my voice, and you know how Oso says, "It's all part of the plan!"? That's Daddy's voice!' When the truth dawned, it totally wrecked all fiction for her, for life." He laughs. "She did get excited, and it's really fun now."
Sean is also excited to bring to life such a loveable character. "I feel like the part was written for me. Oso is this fuzzy, loveable, and bumbling guy, and I don't mind that description because that's pretty much me. When I first saw the picture of Oso, I felt like I was looking at myself. I feel a direct, personal affinity with Oso."
Sean may have grown up as Hollywood royalty - his mother is actress Patty Duke - but offscreen, he's also honest and on the level as any other husband and working father. "I wish I could say that I have balance between my work and family life, but it's my wife Christine who is 99% of the reason we have a schedule. I volunteer at my children's schools, I coached soccer for a while, and I'm a very involved and active part of my children's lives, but I could get a phone call and be gone for six weeks."
Sean says what he's learned about being a father has really been eye- opening. "I had no idea what my physical and mental limitations were before I became a father. I had thought that if I wasn't immortal, then I at least had superpowers. And kids are so much smarter and faster than we are! I've picked up on this tone with my daughters, when an adult or an authority figure is talking to them and my girls don't like them, it's generally because they are being condescended to. I certainly remember that when I was a kid, I felt much older than I was, but it just blows me away with my own kids, seeing how grown-up they are. They can be silly and nonsensical as anything - as can I - but lately I'm noticing more and more how switched on they are.
"I like the idea that they will look back at their childhoods and this will be a part of it. I could go on for two or three more books about what I've learned about fatherhood. My dad is 78 years old, a classically trained Shakespearean actor, with an amazing education... He's a titan. And he told me that the one thing he's learned about kids is that it's monkey see, monkey do. It's as simple as that. You have to set the right example."