July 10, 2015 The Goonies Celebrates 30 years w/ Sean Astin Q&A Worcester, MA 6-27-15
It has been three decades since Mikey and his friends saved the Goon Docks in 1985’s The Goonies. An entire generation of kids cringed when Mouth talked back to Mama Fratelli, sighed when Brand and Andi finally kissed and giggled when she asked where his braces went. The cheers rang through the rooftops when Sloth and Chunk showed up on the pirate ship and everyone shed a tear when the deformed man-child grabbed his friend and garbled, “Sloth love Chunk!” And now, thirty years later, all of those kids have shared the magic of The Goonies with their own children, giving a new generation a taste of what real adventure looks like.
On Saturday, June 27th, Mechanics Hall in Worcester celebrated this momentous anniversary with the MASSive Con screening of one of the best kids’ movies ever made, along with a Q&A with none other than Mikey himself, actor Sean Astin. Although situated on the main street of New England’s second largest city, the pre-Civil War performing arts venue is a piece of American history, ranked one of the top four concert halls in the United States. Amidst the crystal chandeliers and Renaissance architecture of Washburn Hall, an intimate group of about one hundred people sat in the same seats as Henry David Thoreau, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, and presidents Clinton, Ford, Wilson, Taft, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, while awaiting their own bit of history to begin.
The evening began as the lights dimmed and the first flickering frames of The Goonies appeared on the high screen above the raised, twenty-eight foot stage. The crowd cheered on as asthmatic ringleader Mikey, gadget obsessed Data, wise-cracking Mouth, big brother Brand, terrified Andi and sarcastic Stef rocketed their way through underground tunnels looking for pirate One-Eyed Willie’s stolen treasure, all with the counterfeiting jailbreakers the Fratelli’s following close behind. When the ice cream loving Chunk and the youngest Fratelli, Sloth, show up and save the day for our team of eclectic heroes, the entire venue erupted in hooting applause. As the credits rolled and One-Eyed Willie’s ship sailed off once again into the vast Pacific Ocean, the stage lights came up onto a crowd of nostalgia-induced teary eyes as fans both young and old watched this beloved classic as if it were the first time.
When Sean Astin arrived on stage with host Ken Reid to the sound of Cyndi Lauper’s “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough,” the audience once again erupted in excitement. Astin started off the night micless, making him tough to hear at first. “What’s this room? This is Mechanics Hall? I’m not sure what historically happened here, but I think we just raised the bar a little bit,” Astin said to much applause. “To all the people in here under fifteen – did you know that I’m the guy who played the little boy in that movie you just watched? Lots of kids only recognize me as a Ninja Turtle.” He also discussed seeing the movie on the actual thirtieth anniversary in Portland, Oregon, which is very close to Astoria and Goonie Central. “I actually have Willie’s sailing ship on my Facebook page to commemorate the anniversary.”
His Goonies audition did not go as well as planned, and although he is the son of well-known actors Patty Duke and John Astin, he was nervous. “At The Goonies audition, I was terrible. I just kept saying my name. I went with my dad, who took me through the back lot of Universal to Amblin Entertainment where Steven’s empire just had taken root. I had to wait in the hall for the call from Mr. Spielberg. The guy who walked me down the hall – Mark Marshall, now a dear friend – said, ‘You look a little nervous.’ I said, ‘I am a little nervous.’ ‘Don’t be nervous. You’re just about to meet the most powerful man in Hollywood.’ Hey, kid, you’re only thirteen years old. No pressure! So anyway, you’re supposed to introduce yourself. ‘Hi, my name is Sean Astin and I’m auditioning for the role of Mikey in The Goonies.’ Apparently I repeated my own name fifty-eight times. ‘Hi, I’m Sean Astin. I’m auditioning for the role of Mikey. I’m Sean Astin. Hi. Hi, I’m Sean Astin.’ And I just kept saying it over and over and over.”
Experienced or not, the actors all bonded during filming. “It was like a summer camp. How long does it take to start a friendship at summer camp that will last the rest of your life? It doesn’t take very long. For us, it happened like that. Within a day or two, we were friends. This is what happens in movies, and it should happen everywhere in life… I loved the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) movie, so when I found out I was going to be working with Short Round, I was (star struck). But we actually became really close. I don’t know if you noticed, but we were hugging a lot in the movie.” Not only did the kids get along, but director Richard Donner laughed right along with them. “Yeah, like when Jeff Cohen has the ice cream spoon and they take it away from him, you can hear Dick Donner giggling.” But this was exactly what the director wanted. “If you talk to Dick Donner now, he’ll tell you, ‘The thing that was so great about it was that they were real. They were really friends. It was real. It was really happening.’ I mean, there was a real pirate ship… It wasn’t a backdrop or anything. They built a full-sized ship on a real set. It was amazing. The best of its time. It was built on Stage 16 at Warner Brothers Studios. It was the big stage. And they filled it up with water. It was only like (motions with his hands about four feet off the ground) this deep. But still, pretty deep.”
“I didn’t realize how much we cursed in this movie,” said the genial actor. “I’ve come to realize in recent years that that was unnecessary. And regret. I regret it. In interviews, I’ve been asked several times over the past years about the cursing. But tonight, I heard all sixteen times. Wow! We’re just cursing up a storm… And that’s what they wanted. We were just being ourselves and they weren’t stopping us. That’s one of the great things about this story.”
There was also some talk on the lack of merchandising at the time of the movie’s initial release, although there is no lack of it now, with metal lunchboxes, action figures, trading cards and tons of other things. It would not be a complete Goonies discussion without the mention of the main pirate’s name. “If they only knew they were making a genital joke throughout the whole movie… I mean, they were telling this story of a journey with kids, and that’s just really creepy.” Of course, there was also an inquiry about that famous scary octopus that Data mentions to the reporter. Ken Reid took the reins for this one, saying, “I can answer this one for you, Sean. Actually, there are two cut scenes that only made it into the TV version. There was the octopus attack and a scene in the convenience store with a MAD magazine where Troy comes in and burns the map. He lights it like a cigarette.” Although Astin has no memory of filming this scene, he was in it, comparing a current map of the shoreline to Willie’s map and noticing that the local Cannon Beach matched perfectly to the coast on the pirate map. Ken continued, “Then they cut some of the more gruesome scenes for the television version,” bringing up Chester Copperpot’s crushed skeleton. Astin himself did have a few comments on the octopus. “The octopus was terrible. That was its charm. It was just bad, dead rubber. And it didn’t work. And I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the cut except maybe in the music video. But you would look at those tentacles and be like, ‘Okay…’”
The octopus mention was not the only editing fluke that made it through the final process. “What it really shows is, they just didn’t care. The scene where I find the fireplace poker, Josh Brolin, who portrays my brother, Brand, said, ‘Put that down!’ And I said, ‘No, Josh. I’m not gonna put it down!’ The Goonies is a game of ‘look and see’ throughout the entire movie. I think the Fratellis, when they were going down through the Pinches of Peril (sic Slick Shoes) thing, I think he (Robert Davi) really does slip. I think when Mama Fratelli (Anne Ramsey) says, ‘Are you alright?’ he’s really saying (garbled voice), ‘Yeah, I’m all right!’ Through the whole movie, there’s stuff that’s just a little… off. A perfectionist would have said, ‘Let’s do that again. And this time, try not to make that mistake.’ But they were like, ‘Love the mistake! You can go on to the next thing!’ I don’t know what they were smoking when they were cutting it.”
“I remember eavesdropping on a conversation,” mentions Astin secretly. “There was actually a phone at the back of the pirate ship. If you wanted to call somebody on the stage, there was this round table thing with a light on it. So, in the pirate ship… I hear Dick.” Sean’s interpretation of the director’s voice sounds like a cross between a rock slide and a trampoline. “‘Blah, blah, blah, blah… Hip, hop! Hip hop! Let’s go! Let’s turn this thing around!’ That’s what he sounded like. And you just loved it. You would fall right in with whatever he was talking about. So he was on the phone, and he was like, ‘Blah, blah! These kids are driving me nuts… I’m on a pirate ship, for God’s sake!’ Like he was calling his agent to ask when the real job was going to start. He was so tired of working on a kids’ movie.”
When asked about the waterslide, Astin had a lot to say. “Was it fun to go down a waterslide? Okay, first of all, Stage 16 was where the pirate ship set was, and that was the exit for the waterslide. But the waterslide part for stage 16 was only about a foot long. So you’d climb up the back side of the set, get ready and jump on the slide and go out. Whoop! And you’re just out. So, the rest of the waterslide was on Stage 20, I think? It’s actually very much like this size space that we’re in now. They must have worked with a professional waterslide company because the pieces kind of fit like that. But it was built all the way along and around the room. And the basin was in the floor of the stage. It was like a little pool. But they really didn’t want us to do it. There was one element in this super contraption that was the reason Dick Donner didn’t want us to do it. And that was because of the danger factor of getting electrocuted. It’s not like a safe water park. There were like forty thousand watt lights all over. And actually, Dick Donner was terrified of that. So one day, we all played a practical joke on him. We got the effect guys to rig up one of the junction boxes with sparks and we were like, ‘Aaarrrgghh!’ And Dick was like, ‘Oh, my God! I just electrocuted kids!’ We thought that was hilarious!” Could this stunt have prompted that pirate ship phone call?
“But we did ultimately get to do it. The way that it was set up… the camera was set up almost like a selfie. We’re going down and our bodies are moving and there was this guy with a camera sort of hovering over us. There was somebody behind him, and you would just lay down in the front, and you would go but you’d have to be careful because when you landed in the water, the cameraman could land right on top of you. So they had a system for that. At one point, somebody grabbed the camera to stop it but one time it went forward anyway and the cameraman got a pretty good cut under his eye from the viewfinder. So that was something cool.” He paused before adding, “By the way, the whole idea of doing these sorts of events are to have the film you love ruined for you. But anyway, most of the images are of our doubles. And most of our doubles are female. My double – I want to say her name was Denise, but I can’t remember (edit: her name was Desiree. Denise was Martha Plimpton’s stunt double). There’s one where it’s like an above shot of the waterslide, and she’s doing her summersault – all of the summersaulting stuff is the doubles. But any number of my hand inserts, you’ll notice that my hands look way prettier…”
The Truffle Shuffle was not one of his favorite scenes. “Different strokes for different folks,” Sean said, his smile fading. “I don’t laugh at the same things other folks do. Jeff Cohen (who played Chunk), who’s now a thin, thin lawyer, he was just disgusted. I don’t like the Truffle Shuffle. Let me get that out in the open. I don’t like it. But I get why it’s funny to some. I’ve had big football player guys lift up their shirts to show me tattoos of Chunk doing the Truffle Shuffle on top of their truffle shuffle. They think it’s hilarious. And I’m like, ‘Ok, great. That’s good.’ I don’t want to be overly politically correct, but I just don’t like it. Interestingly, Dick Donner paid for Jeff to have a trainer and a nutritionist and all this stuff in the period of time right after the movie wrapped. It’s that certain age. At twelve, all bets are off. But at fourteen or fifteen, it starts to get uncomfortable. People are making fun of you. So Dick did not want that to happen. I always thought it was such a great thing, when he told me that.” Of course, this did not stop Cohen from handing out “Chunk for Prez” lollipops when running for the head of the student body at UC Berkley. He won, of course.
Did Patty Duke really throw out the famous Goonie treasure map? “Well, this is the story that I’ve been telling. What dare I say? I don’t believe we were formally gifted these items. But I remember being in possession of it. It’s an item that would probably be worth like a hundred grand now. And I think my mom threw it out. Although I may owe her an apology. I lived at 266 Denzel Avenue, Los Angeles, California, 90069. And I moved out when I was eighteen, but I left all of my stuff at home. When I say I moved out, I mean I moved my body out. And then I went to do Memphis Belle (1990) in London, and when I came back, my mom had sold our house. She bought another house. But for eighteen years, I had saved some things, thrown some things away. But now nobody knows where the map is. It wasn’t in any of the boxes. But one really cool thing that happened was, a few years ago, my dad brought over this U.S. Mail box. You know those plastic bins? And it had a bunch of junk in it, like one car from a train set, and a sock… He and my stepmom brought it over, just dropped it off, while I was out of town. My wife put it in the garage and it just sat there. Then one day she slid it over to me. And I was like, ‘Oh, look, honey! A letter to my girlfriend from when I was eleven.’ And then on the side of that, I pulled out the skull and crossbones key. And I was like, ‘You have got to be kidding me!’ So, yeah. Maybe my mom has it and she doesn’t know where it is. Maybe one of my friends took it from my room. Who knows.” To the people currently living at 266 Denzel Avenue in Los Angeles – check your basement.
In the thirty years since the movie was made, a few of the actors involved have since passed away. When asked about Anne Ramsey, Astin remarked, “I don’t know if she did her own grunting in that chase scene down the hallway… But I thought it was sexy as hell.” After the audience stopped laughing, Astin continued. “Warner Brothers studios works exactly like how you would picture a movie studio working. They had the stages and the water tower. So the dressing rooms were little cottages. I mean, little cottages. You’d open the door and there was a bed and a little place for them to do your makeup and to cry about life or whatever, and that’s it. But the more sophisticated ones had this tiny little porch. Enough for just a chair and a half. Maybe two chairs if you squished real tight. (Anne) was married to Logan Ramsey. So many nights, Logan Ramsey – who was also an actor (The Beast Within 1982, Scrooged 1988) – he would come to the stage at five o’clock when things were getting ready to wrap for the day. He and Anne would sit on the little stoop of the faux cottages with the sun setting and a couple of Bloody Marys and they would tell stories and enjoy their time and watch the sunset together, then get in their car and take off. They were both journeyman, working class actors at the end of their time. So for someone who was raised by a couple of actors – I think my daughter may also be one – this scene was exactly the way you’d like to picture it. The result of your craft. That’s what’s awesome. That you don’t have to be insane. Yeah, I loved their energy. And we also just recently lost Mary Ellen Trainor, who played Mrs. Walsh.” Along with Ramsey and Trainor, John Matuszak, who played the lovable Sloth, died in 1989 and Keith Walker, Mikey and Brand’s dad, passed away in 1996.
The actor remained mostly mum when asked about the rumored sequel. “As it so happens, I have actually written a plot with a friend. Next question!” Blushing, Astin assured the group that his unnamed friend was not Michael Jackson, and then humorously added that the plot was about the aforementioned octopus. “It actually starts at a sushi restaurant with flashbacks.” Joking aside, he talked about the plentiful amount of fan-fiction before adding, “Ours was really high-concept. It would be totally different. But how can I say it? They didn’t like it. It’s official. It’s never going to be. I think, before I die, I’m going to be like, ‘Rosebud!’ and spit out the plot for Goonies II.”
The best question of the night came from a young boy in the front row. His inquiring mind wanted to know why the Fratelli’s did not add the ice cream in their storeroom to their menu of tongue. The quick-witted actor replied, “I’ll tell you, if I was working there at that restaurant, and I didn’t serve all of the tongue, like if there was some leftover tongue, I’d eat it because I wouldn’t want to deal with that dead body in there with the ice cream.”
And with that last query, the night ended. Questions were asked and curiosity was satiated. Although a sequel to this beloved classic may never happen, fans can rest assured that there are plenty of other versions out there to read and imagine the Goonies continuing on their high stakes adventures. After all, they saved the Goon Docks. What could possibly be next?