It’s almost hard to believe that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise has been around as long as it has. In 1984, when the Turtles had their birth in what was intended to be a one-off comic book satirizing popular comic-book tropes of the day, Sean Astin was 13 years old. Now, decades later, Astin has found himself taking on the role of one of the Turtles himself, in Nickelodeon’s reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, premiering tomorrow, Sept. 29 at 11am ET/PT. I spoke with Astin about the new 26-episode series, its place in the Turtles canon, his mom and yes, a little about The Hobbit movie that reunites a number of his former castmates.
Channel Guide Magazine: We’re on the advent of the premiere. How does the series look, to you?
Sean Astin: We’ve seen the pilot episode, and sequences from other episodes. It looks fantastic. I had every expectation that it was going to look great, because we knew from seeing little sketches and so forth that the look they were going for was a hybrid between the darker, more subtle, dramatic style or tone that you’d have from the comic books. And then, combined with a mood — which is appropriate — with a more colorful, Saturday-morning-cartoon feel. And I think it traverses that pretty well.
CGM: Did you grow up with the Turtles? Was this in any way a nostalgia trip for you?
SA: I knew, certainly, the basic premise and the characters — that they’re all named after Renaissance painters, which I thought was cool back in the day. I was too old for it, really, to follow it closely, but I had siblings who had the lunchbox and the sleeping bag, and the toys, and the costumes. You know — all of that stuff.
CGM: You’re playing the character of Raphael this time out. Is there a challenge in taking on a role that’s so established — particularly when all you have to work with is your voice?
SA: You know, I will say this — I was aware of the difference. But I didn’t feel as though there was a threshold I wasn’t meeting. I felt like, ‘Ooh, that was a cool way to do it, and this will be a cool different way to do it.’ The iconography of the Turtles is more about the look of them than the sound of them, in my mind. I know there’s an audience out there — they know exactly what it sounds like, and those of us who weren’t a part of it may sound different, but — I was aware of the fact that Rob [Paulsen] had played the part and I’m sitting next to him and now I’m doing his part. I was a little anxious about that, but he was very supportive and laughed at stuff that I was doing. He’s complimenting everybody, so I just felt after a few minutes, it’s like, OK — we’re doing our thing.
CGM: This franchise has been around for a lot of years, now. How is this series different from the other versions that have preceded it?
SA: The show is being made by fans of the originals, from the comic books through the TV shows, and the live-action films. I was never a big fan of the live-action things — even when I look at them now, they’re so campy that I don’t get behind them — but particularly the comic books. I love the look of the comic books, even though they kind of satire the genre. But you can’t successfully satirize something you don’t also love on some level, or have an appreciation for. So I kind of get that. The look is now CG, where they never had that before, and the shading, the colors — like if you pop out of a manhole and you look down the street, and you freeze-frame, just the way that it’s drawn is so detailed and it’s got such rich layers in it. Just where the buildings are, and where the shafts of light come through the buildings, or the graffiti that’s on a building way in the background. There’s just a real attention to detail that I think is even richer than before. And things like the fight sequences are so meticulously researched — the moves that they do, and the sense of weight that the characters have. You know, like if somebody jumps off a table in a lot of cartoons, they just kind of pause on the top of the ground. But this one, you feel the weight of the Turtles — wham! — and then for a leg sweep or a flip, or a punch, or those kinds of things, it feels realistic. It feels like a movie. … It feels cinematic. And yet some of it is just goofy funny. … The fans of the original will like it. There’s no doubt in my mind.
CGM: I’m going to switch gears and ask you how your mom [actor Patty Duke] is doing. How is she these days?
She’s hanging in there. She’s had her health challenges, but I talked to her the other day and she was in great spirits. You know she’s OK if she’s talking about work, and she’s talking about what her next thing might be. … So she’s doing great, thank you for asking.
CGM: I have to ask about the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that’s reunited so many of your old castmates. Did you get to visit the set in New Zealand? Are you feeling a little left out of all of that this time around?
Well, I have not been a part of that experience at all, and it’s a little bittersweet, I suppose, as it gets closer, but I’ve also — when they put out a trailer or something, I’m always checking it out that day. The last one was last week, and it looks great, so I expect it to be hugely successful. I’ll enjoy it, even if it’s from afar.
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