It sounds like the moral of a feel-good movie: A man of the people sets out on a quest to start a conversation in the citizenry, a fellowship of the voter of sorts, and launch a debate that celebrates one another's political differences, not set them aside. But actor Sean Astin from The Goonies, Rudy and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy isn't rehearsing for a film; he's outlining the direction for his political talk show.
Launching its second season May 1, Astin's Vox Populi Radio is a bipartisan show where he talks with both sides of the political aisle without resorting to shouting. Yet the actor is known for his roles as Mikey, Rudy and Sam from the aforementioned flicks, along with projects that have fan followings such as Toy Soldiers, 50 First Dates and the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series on Nickelodeon. Even as his later career involves more intense work like the new film Boys of Abu Ghraib and in FX's upcoming vampire show The Strain, Astin has a reputation for being the likable guy on screen audiences root for.
So is it odd that he has entered the divisive arena of politics? Quite the opposite, he said during a recent interview in St. Louis, where he was appearing at a Wizard World Comic Con fan event. In fact, his reputation makes him a good candidate for the job of bringing people together.
"There needs to be places in our public life where people can talk about things without being angry at each other," said Astin.
Though he doesn't conceal that he is a Democrat and has campaigned for Hillary Clinton, Astin said he tries to operate from a "center modality" and conflict resolution on his show in a way he thinks is missing in current political discourse.
"It's one thing to have a passionate belief, it's another to attack someone. A lot of the stuff we have - Fox, MSNBC, CNN, whatever - it's like they set up these car wrecks," he said. "For us, it's about everyone getting to express their viewpoint; we don't want any nines and 10s on the anger meter, we want sevens and eights."
Astin said that approach has connected with listeners, and is the reason he was able to move forward with a second season. Following the show's premiere in 2012, which he funded himself for 36 episodes, the actor said he "got fried" and needed help. The result was a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $66,000 (far beyond the $30,000 goal) and has afforded him additional resources to produce the show.
"Guys who do what I do use [Kickstarter] to raise money for their films," he said. "I used it to do a political radio show.
In that regard, Vox Populi is fulfilling a childhood goal of Astin's. He has wanted to host a show like this for 25 years, and has been engaged in politics for a long time. He also said his father (actor John Astin) told him that a very young Sean would walk down the rows of an airplane introducing himself, and asking passengers to vote for him for mayor.
For a guy who said politics were "embedded in my consciousness" from a very early age, he gets disheartened that others don't want to become involved in the process.
"Most people who you ask -- most people in America I've come across -- what do you think about politics, they say they don't want to talk about it," he said. "As soon as they open their mouth, they're attacked by somebody."
Meanwhile, he said he basically follows everyone's viewpoint when they come on the show because , "you actually reinforce your own position more when you communicate it carefully." Similarly, he said the conservatives who appear on his show have a good time because they are "totally respected."
To highlight his goal to engage the public in respectful debate, Astin will kick off the second season of Vox Populi Radio by appearing on the steps of the Los Angeles Federal Building at 11 a.m. on April 15 - Tax Day - on a day most people on the political spectrum can agree is a headache.
"The Federal building is typically where all the protesting happens, so this isn't so much protesting as celebrating that we're Americans and talking about how we can be better citizens," said Astin, who added he's proud to pay his taxes because he wants to support the nation, "but I'd like to know that that money is being used responsibly, and I think a lot of other people feel that way."
In addition to a concern about how tax money is spent, Astin's listeners can likely come together to chat about his most beloved roles. And just because he is excited to talk about Vox Populi, Astin isn't pushing politics at events like Wizard World, although he doesn't avoid it either. Still, in St. Louis, the larger conversation revolved around The Goonies sequel that director Richard Donner announced to TMZ.
"I've known that, a year after the original film, Steven Spielberg and Dick had wanted to make a sequel," said Astin. He added "it would be great" to return for a sequel, but thinks the movie will likely be a passing of the torch from the original cast of the adventure movie to a new group.
"Our kids are way older than we were when we made the film, so I would think - and what I understand from what they've tried to do - is have it be about the next generation of Goonies."
As for the Goonie he played, Mikey, along with football hero Rudy and the Hobbit Sam, they might approve of the actor's current quest to start an inclusive debate - and might even appreciate Sean Astin's motto for that mission.
"It's sort of presumptuous to call yourself a man of the people, so the moniker we have is Vox Populi- the voice of the occasionally interested people."