HDTGM: A Conversation With Mackenzie Astin, Star Of 'The Garbage Pail Kids Movie'

A famous poet once said:

You take the good...

You take the bad...

You take them both and there you have...the facts of life. 

And in 1986, these were the facts of life for an ambitious child actor by the name of Mackenzie Astin: He was 14 years old, he was dating a beautiful teenage actress and he had recently been promoted to series regular of a popular sitcom called—you guessed it—The Facts of Life.

Everything was going great for Mackenzie, but there was just one problem: things were going even better for his older brother, Sean, who had just finished working with Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner on a little film called The Goonies.

And so, almost as if inspired by his brother's speech in The Goonies, Mackenzie Astin asked himself: when's it gonna be my time? When am I gonna get to star in a blockbuster movie of my own? And, just as these feelings of sibling rivalry reached a crescendo, such an opportunity seemed to come around: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Wow, Mackenzie thought. A whole movie based on those cool, subversive trading cards! How could this possibly go wrong?

Well it did. In almost every single conceivable way. So I sat down with Mackenzie Astin to recount that traumatic cinematic experience and the ripples that would follow...

But first, a quick heads up: the audio version of this conversation — as well as interviews with other great folks responsible for some of the worst movies — is available in podcast form over here at Stitcher Premium. There are 10 episodes currently available and more to come in the coming weeks!

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie

Synopsis: A struggling kid (Mackenzie Astin) finds help, hilarity and occasional harm from a gross, precocious group of garbage-born dolls.    

Tagline: Out of the Garbage Pail and into Your Heart

***

Blake J. Harris: Is now still a good time to chat?

Mackenzie Astin: It's perfect.

Blake J. Harris: Awesome. What was your day like?

Mackenzie Astin: Today's been long, but not arduous. I took my stepmom to the airport, so I was up at 5:45 AM. Then my Dad wanted to get breakfast and then the Dodger game was starting so I never went back to sleep; so you're getting [laughing] what my wife calls "her favorite Mack," which is the Not-So-Much-Sleep Mack.

Blake J. Harris: I'm gonna get a loopy Mack? That's awesome.

Mackenzie Astin: Yup. It's loose, it's fun and if you play Belle and Sebastian I will weep!

Blake J. Harris: Ha. Excellent. I have so many questions for you, but since you actually listened to the episode, and had an experience listening to it, tell me what it was like?

Mackenzie Astin: So my experience of listening to it? Oh man, it was just incredible. First of all, it's funny of hell that the podcast exists; I mean, the hosts of the show are fantastic. And I don't know [sighs] there's something...okay, here we go! You know: film, the experience of watching film together, there's some crazy article from 30 years ago (that I think Roger Ebert is responsible for) and he makes the point that watching film is akin to sitting around a campfire together. So it's a communal experience and its big. So the fact that there exists now, in this day and age, an opportunity for people to have that communal experience looking at, like, the worst possible fires ever [cracking up] with smart and funny commentary...that's a good experience, you know?

Blake J. Harris: I love that. The worst fires ever, that's a good line. Alright, so when you first heard about what this was, a podcast that generally makes fun of bad movies, did you cringe? Were you excited to listen to it? Did you feel like you had to listen to it?

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Mackenzie Astin: Okay, so first of all: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie—in my life, for me personally—is, I think it's fair to say, a sensitive subject. [laughs] In that it is such a stinker and such a clunker and so... how did the New York Times put it? "Stunningly inept and utterly reprehensible." So having that be part of your childhood...it's a little bit icky. Especially—and this is egotistically, egoistically and narcissistically—but especially as it relates to me coming from an acting family. I mean, my old man's put out some good work, my mother's put out some good work, my brother's been in some pretty good films...and I come out of the box with, you know, a terrific stool sample!

Blake J. Harris: [cracks up]

Mackenzie Astin: So, you know, it has played a part in my psyche for a number of years. And so finally I got old enough to stop giving a s***; or learned to give a better s***, and appreciate it for being s***. So I was actually kind of excited to hear the episode. And honestly? For an hour and forty-five minutes, I f***ing giggled and giggled and giggled. And, like, felt good about this experience that I felt bad about for a number of years. And so you guys gave me a gift...[only slightly sarcastic] y'all did some healing on this kid!

Blake J. Harris: Well despite how the movie turned out, I imagine that when you first heard about it you probably had somewhat high expectations? I mean, every kid I know was excited to see it...

Mackenzie Astin: Right. The trading cards were huge. Where they exist culturally is an interesting thing because they were a response to the Cabbage Patch Kids, which people went crazy for; I mean, parents were beating other parents up to get the last one in the store. And they were expensive too. And then Art Spiegelman and a few other guys come up with this incredible answer to that—this incredible commentary on that—and the cards were crazy, crazy popular in a counter-culture kind of way.

Blake J. Harris: Yup.

factsoflife

Mackenzie Astin: And so in 1986, this would have been between seasons 7 and 8 of The Facts of Life, on which I was working as a regular, an opportunity came up to be the star of a motion picture. And it had, as its foundation, this nifty counterculture craze. [laughs] I mean, I don't know what was in my head!

Blake J. Harris: Well was it true—as I think Paul said during the episode—that you went to the audition without your father knowing? Was that accurate?

Mackenzie Astin: Right. So my folks were divorced. Dad was stricter so we spent more time at Mom's. She was the president of the Screen Actor's Guild at the time, so she was pretty busy. And I, you know, I had an agent and manager and they said hey, here's an audition for a movie that you could film during the summer—when you're not filming The Facts of Life—go get it! And I was like, "Alright! Let's go get it!"

Blake J. Harris: Sure.

Mackenzie Astin: [giggling a lot] I hope you put in parenthesis how much I'm giggling before I say this but...so, the book is always better than the movie. In life. And the reason I believe that happens is because individual imaginations are more powerful, in a lot of ways, than what gets put on screen. Like when you read The Catcher in the Rye, you're Holden Caulfield and he's the most meaningful Holden Caulfield to you. When I read, I don't know, Slaughterhouse-Five, my Billy Pilgrim is the most Billy Pilgrim he could ever be to me. So when I read The Garbage Pail Kids [giggles] that screenplay was a lot in my mind than what ended up being discussed on your podcast.

Blake J. Harris: [giggling]

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Mackenzie Astin: So I read it and I was like: hell yeah! I'd love to be the star of a picture during the summer. Let's go get this thing! I had a good audition, the folks in the room found me fitting for the part. The character's name was Dodger and I'm from Los Angeles, I'm a huge baseball fan...the stars were aligning! This was gonna be fantastic! Little did I f***ing know...

Blake J. Harris: Ha!

Mackenzie Astin: And that's the truth. My knowledge at the time was...less.

Blake J. Harris: Sure. And, I mean, if I had been your agent, I probably would have said, "Hey man, you should do this." Maybe I should have looked a little more into the production company and what was actually being made, but on paper...

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah. So all our chips were pushed right in. Mom was tickled because her son was going to star in a movie during the summer. And Dad didn't know dick! So the contracts were signed, it [filming] was probably a few weeks away, and Dad asked me what I was going to do. I said, "Hey Dad, I got a movie!" "What do you mean you got a movie?" "I'm starring in a movie!" So he asked to see the script. You know, this is a father looking out for his son. And I showed him the script and he was like: NOPE. You are not doing this. What do you mean? It's great. Nope!

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Mackenzie Astin: Unfortunately, the contracts had already been signed. And I'm sure I fought for it, as a kid does when he doesn't think his father knows as much as he does.

Blake J. Harris: Right.

Mackenzie Astin: Thankfully, he's had a pretty good sense of humor about it ever since. And, you know, it only took me about 30 years to get a sense of humor about it too!

Blake J. Harris: Well, you mentioned Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, so let's get unstuck in time for a moment and go back to the beginning for you. You come from a family of actors, so it's not shocking for you to want to go into acting, but I'm sure to some degree it was a decision that you made and they encouraged. How did you decide that this was something that you wanted to pursue?

the facts of life

Mackenzie Astin: Sibling rivalry. [laughs] So Sean started first. He was asked to act in an ABC Afterschool Special called Please Don't Hit Me, Mom. My Mom was starring in it and Sean was to play her battered son. And a couple weeks into that production I went down to the set and I thought: this motherf***er was getting so much attention. And I was like: I want that attention!! I want that attention!!

Blake J. Harris: Ha!

Mackenzie Astin: Although I probably didn't say it exactly like that, I asked my Mom if I could do this too. Again, my dad was historically cautious about letting us enter into this business. With good reason, obviously.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Mackenzie Astin: Regardless, a little while later I got to start auditioning for stuff. I got lucky fairly quickly and ended up working on a TV show. And then [giggling] that segued into the start of a wonderful film career!

Blake J. Harris: Well how did you end up getting the Facts of Life gig?

Mackenzie Astin: Let's see? I think I did a couple episodes of Hotel. I did a TV movie called Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal, which if you're not from the east coast sounds a little bluer than it actually is (in fact, the "love canal" was dirtier than any movie you can get on the internet now...)

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Mackenzie Astin: You know, I was lucky enough to get an agent fairly easily because both my folks and my brother were in the business. The talent pool was also a lot smaller then. There were only a certain number of dudes that were the right age to go play "Andy Moffit" on the Facts of Life. So I auditioned and for whatever reason, they hired me.

Blake J. Harris: So since what inspired you was that "sibling rivalry," what was it like during those years—during the 80s—with your brother being in bigger movies than you? Was that hard for you?

Mackenzie Astin: [cracking up] This is why I'm so glad that I didn't get a lot of sleep last night! Because you're gonna get the answer that's not the showbiz answer, which is: of course it was! Back then there was a bigger chasm between television and film. And, you know, Sean had come out of the box pretty well with a film produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Richard Donner [The Goonies]. That's a pretty good start.

the goonies

Blake J. Harris: Right.

Mackenzie Astin: So, you know...that's a pretty good start. And then I got the TV show and was like: well, I'm the c**k of the walk now! Working as a regular on a comedy! But there was an expression that went around the house (not related to The Facts of Life in particular), but it was not uncommon to hear the phrase "piece of s*** sitcom." And the older brother being the older brother was like not afraid to remind me of this; meanwhile, he's off to go do another big movie. So come summertime, between Season 7 and 8, the opportunity to do a movie was what the little brother wanted to do. To, you know, sort of show the big brother that he could do it too.

Blake J. Harris: Yup.

Mackenzie Astin: Although the distance between The Goonies and The Garbage Pail Kids is as vast as the Andromeda Galaxy.

Blake J. Harris: Sure. But like we said: the pop-cultural (even though it was counter-cultural) thing was huge. Like I wouldn't have been shocked if Garbage Pail Kids turned out to be an awesome movie. It could have maybe been a blockbuster under different circumstances. So when did you realize that maybe this was not gonna be the Goonies-type success? Or that it wasn't going to be the movie that you saw in your head when you were reading that script?

Mackenzie Astin: Tough to say, tough to say. Because I think one of an actor's most valuable assets is an ability to suspend his own disbelief. And throw himself wholly into whatever the work is. Also, as it happened, they hadn't cast "Tangerine" [the film's love interest] yet. So when I got the part, they asked if I knew any actresses around 15 or 16 and I was like: well, as a matter of fact...my girlfriend Katie Barberi is an actress.

Blake J. Harris: [laughing]

Mackenzie Astin: Katie and I had been dating, I don't know, two or three months at the time. So the opportunity to work with my girlfriend? Holy cow! So Katie went in to read, they loved her and all of the sudden my girlfriend and I were going to make a motion picture!

Blake J. Harris: That's awesome. Where'd you guys film it? Did you film in LA?

Mackenzie Astin: Yes. [sarcastically eloquent] A famous part of town called the San Fernando Valley. I think Laurel Canyon? In a bunch of warehouses (that they'd converted into stages) and that didn't have central air. So the true heroes of the filmmaking experience were the Little People stuffed inside those costumes.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah! Talking to Kevin [Thompson], who played "Ali Gator," I think he said that he was only 90 pounds and had to wear an 80-pound suit.

Mackenzie Astin: It was crazy. So they had all kinds of hoses hooked up to generators (with air conditioners on the outside) running hundreds of feet into this space so that as soon as the director yelled "Cut" everyone would run and get themselves as close to a hose as possible.

the garbage pail kids movie 3

Blake J. Harris: I was going to say: the bravery [of the Little People] notwithstanding, what did you think of the actual puppets? I think the director is on record saying that he thought it was going to be a lot better in the final production...but this was your first movie (and an odd one at), so I was wondering if it seemed weird to you.

Mackenzie Astin: Again, at the time, I probably knew somewhere deep down that this was weird looking. But at 12 or 13 years old and suspending my disbelief, I probably thought: yeah, that looks like the character on the card. The face and shape are kind of similar. I could buy that. And again: in the moment, even though you're staring into lifeless eyes (that are made of marble or glass), you gotta believe! So I had no idea. I had no idea how deep into the garbage I was.

Blake J. Harris: My experience is the same; whenever I'm writing something, no matter the project, no matter the scope, you've got to put blinders on and all that matters is this one project, doing the best you can do, and all that. So I was kind of surprised to read that interview that you sent me with the director. Where he sounded very dismissive of the project, saying that he only did the movie to get paid. Was that his attitude on set?

Mackenzie Astin: No. From what I remember of Rod [Amateau], and probably because he came from the stunt part of the business, his MO was to get it done; to be buoyant on set and to make the best of what we had to work with. Though he was probably more aware at the time than I that we weren't making Doctor Zhivago.

Blake J. Harris: Right.

Mackenzie Astin: But no, it didn't seem like he didn't care on set.

Blake J. Harris: Okay, good.

Mackenzie Astin: It seemed like everybody was "in" and they were going to do the best that they could.

the garbage pail kids movie 6

Blake J. Harris: So before we talk about some of the downsides to the movie, and what it was like going through your mixed feelings about it, what were some of the best parts about it?

Mackenzie Astin: For the young me, for the Me Then, I would say getting to run around and do (finger-quote) "stunts." Getting to do little things like slide across the hood of the '69 Triumph that was Tangerine's car. Like the Duke's of Hazzard! And being able to throw out ideas was great. Like, oh god, I think I moonwalked in one shot!?

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Mackenzie Astin: And just being the star of a movie was a good experience. The Older Me, the me that's a little bit more mature looking back, I recognize that some of the best parts were the camaraderie amongst the Little People actors. The experience, of working with a collection of people who make their living that way, it was a great vibe to be around. It was a troupe; I was watching a troupe of people work with each other, together, to make sure nobody got hurt and to do a good job. And man...those suits! It was the summer, in the valley, and those things—like Kevin said, they weighed something like 80 pounds—and when the heads went on, they couldn't see. I mean, the choreography was limited by how far they could go without bumping into something!

Blake J. Harris: Right, right. Kevin said he had, like, no orientation. It was so hard.

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah.

Blake J. Harris: And how did it go with Katie? Was it good for you relationship? Was it hard to work with her?

Mackenzie Astin: [long sigh] Blake, we broke up like halfway through.

Blake J. Harris: Oh my god. How???

Mackenzie Astin: I don't know! I mean, I was probably trying to sow my oats.

Blake J. Harris: Sure. You're the star of a movie!

Mackenzie Astin: Right? And an a**hole. So somehow the relationship didn't make it through the film. We broke up about halfway through.

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

the garbage pail kids movie 12

Mackenzie Astin: It's really a testament to Katie how professionally we continued to carry ourselves after the breakup.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, I mean I had no idea. I couldn't notice...

Mackenzie Astin: I mean, it was never unfriendly. But I do remember that by the time the Garbage Pail Kids movie finished, our relationship was in the toilet.

Blake J. Harris: So this was all a really long time ago, and I'm sure there was no specific moment, but do you remember when you started to realize that this was not the movie you hoped it would be?

Mackenzie Astin: I don't know. I'm sure there was part of me...I'm sure at some point during production I started to realize there was no pirate ship that we were going to find. That this wasn't going to be...good at all. But again: you carry through. I think I was excited about the idea of going to see it in a theater. And God, I do remember that day because [cracking up] there was nobody there.

Blake J. Harris: Really?

Mackenzie Astin: It was like me and my buddy and maybe eight other people in the theater. And, you know, nobody really laughed or oohed or ahhed. It was evident once it was on screen that...it should never have been.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah. What was the reaction like from your family? Did your father... how did he avoid the I-told-you-so-type thing? How did that not create a problem?

Mackenzie Astin: I mean, he's a pretty noble dude. So I think it was just instinctive of him to be encouraging to his son. I do remember that he allowed himself to get a kick out of one of the reviews from a paper in the Valley. You need a little background to get it, but Anthony Newley, who was a Broadway star [and who played "Captain Manzini" in The Garbage Pail Kid Movie], and the show he was known for was called What Kind of a Fool Am I? The headline of the review, or maybe it was the first paragraph, was: NOW I KNOW WHAT KIND OF A FOOL ANTHONY NEWLEY IS.

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Mackenzie Astin: It's a silly pun, but the old man got a kick out of it. He still gets a kick out of it. Every now and then I remind him and it makes him laugh 30 years later.

Blake J. Harris: And tell me about the days and weeks and months (and even years) after The Garbage Pail Kids Movie? Like how dejected were you? Did you get back on the horse? Did that haunt you?

March 29, 2016 - File - PATTY DUKE, (December 14, 1946 - March 29, 2016) was an American actress of stage, film and television. Duke died at 69 of sepsis from a ruptured intestine. Duke won an Academy Award in 1963 for her portrayal of Helen Keller in 'Th

Mackenzie Astin: Interestingly, and I don't know how much of a direct impact that experience had, but The Facts of Life finished (I think) the next year. And I had missed out on a whole bunch of school and actually a whole bunch of Little League games (I was a big baseball player at the time). And also I'd learned from my mother's experience that being a child actor can sometimes rob you of your childhood.

Blake J. Harris: Uh-huh.

Mackenzie Astin: So I made a decision after The Facts of Life finished that I was going to go back to high school. I decided that I wasn't going to act for a little while, I was just going to go to school full time. So I hung up the acting shoes for, I think, about three years. I played ball on the high school team and I ended up editing the school paper, which was great. I was a "normie," if you will. Which was great!

Blake J. Harris: Ha.

Mackenzie Astin: Looking back now, I'm sure the rotten egg that the Garbage Pail Kids is (and was) had something to do with that. But also it was just sort of the right decision for me at the time. To step away from the vehicle.

Blake J. Harris: At the time did you feel like you were stepping away from it permanently (and then you just so happened to go back to it)? Like was it something that you planned to stay away from for a long time, or was it always more like a wait and see thing?

Mackenzie Astin: I don't think I knew what I wanted to do.

Blake J. Harris: Okay.

Mackenzie Astin: Other than play ball and have a sort of normal experience. [laughs] I was also fortunate enough to be making TV money, so I didn't have to really worry about making money just yet.

Blake J. Harris: Right.

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Mackenzie Astin: So I went back to school full-time and totally fell in love with not being an actor. And fell in love with journalism, fell in love with writing and putting together a paper. And fell in love with a couple of girls too.

Blake J. Harris: Ha!

Mackenzie Astin: I got into a pretty good school [Johns Hopkins University], in part because my father and grandfather went there, but I ended up not going to college because I was dating a girl that I really liked and... [in a high pitched nothing-to-see-here tone of voice] I might have discovered a little thing called marijuana.

Blake J. Harris: [laughing] That tends to happen around that age.

Mackenzie Astin: So the idea of studying was much less appealing than playing videogames and, you know, trying to make smoochies on as many girls as possible. And having a good time being 18 and having a s***load of dough in the bank.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Mackenzie Astin: So what happened was I got in touch with my old manager. I thought: okay, if I'm not gonna go to Baltimore to go to Johns Hopkins then maybe I'll throw my hat back in the acting ring. Which I did. And was able to keep working. I think actually that break that I took between the TV show I did (and also the worst movie ever made) helped in rekindling what might have been lost.

Blake J. Harris: Do you remember what brought you out of "retirement," as it were?

Mackenzie Astin: I think I did a couple episodes of a show called Brooklyn Bridge. 

Blake J. Harris: Ah, I remember that show. It was kind of like The Wonder Years? 

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah, exactly. Gary David Goldberg was the creator of the show, and it was a terrific, terrific cast. It was set in the 40s, I think, in post-war New York. Jenny Lewis was on the show (this was when she was still acting) and I ended up playing the part of a guy who married her older sister. So that was the first gig out of the box. And before too long I landed a movie, a Disney film called Iron Will. Which was a pretty big film and a pretty exciting experience. And I was out of the gate, which was good.

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Blake J. Harris: Yeah, I love that movie.

Mackenzie Astin: Wasn't it a great film?

Blake J. Harris: How did you end up getting involved with that film? Being Will.

Mackenzie Astin: It was an audition. Probably on a Tuesday (I don't know why I remember that!?) But I had a good audition, I really nailed the audition in the room. I think I was a good fit for the part. And all of the sudden, instead of smoking weed in Los Angeles, I was riding a dogsled in Minnesota. Which was an incredible, incredible experience on the shores of Lake Superior, in the winter of '92.

Blake J. Harris: Like you said: you're young, you're trying to get girls, you're smoking a little pot and you've got money in the bank. In some ways, you don't really have to grow up; you know, you could kind of keep doing this. At what point do you feel like you did? And you started to take the craft, maybe, more seriously? Or just feel like you were starting to become an adult.

Mackenzie Astin: [laughs] Uh, I'll let you know!

Blake J. Harris: [laughing] Fair enough.

Mackenzie Astin: I mean, if you ask any other member of my family I think they'd agree that my adolescence was delayed well into the next millennium. But if you wanna go there—as long as we're here—it was probably about the time I went into rehab.

Blake J. Harris: Oh, I didn't know you were in rehab.

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah. Not a lot of people do. I was lucky enough to be out of the spotlight enough that it wasn't "news."

Blake J. Harris: Uh-huh.

Mackenzie Astin: Which is fortunate because there was a stretch there in the late 90s and early 00s where I think folks were going into rehab almost as a career move. To get themselves healthy, sure, but also to be in the papers. Thankfully, I was (I don't want to say "unpopular enough") but I was not well known enough for my experiences with drugs and alcohol to have made any headlines. Nobody knew what kind of fool I was!

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Blake J. Harris: That's awesome. If you don't mind my asking (and please feel free not to answer), but what led you in there? What was the final straw and what was your experience like with rehab? Did you get out of it what you hoped?

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah. Well there were a number of straws. But the final, final straw? I think it was my wanting to save the relationship I was in. I think I was able to recognize that I was in trouble (and I had been told so by a number of people in my life). As a matter of fact, when that Amy Winehouse song was out, the one called "Rehab," where she was saying "no, no, no," I was living in Baltimore at the time, working with my dad (who runs the theater program at Johns Hopkins University) and I had him snowed. Because I was drinking 8-10 Guinness's a night, getting into a bindle of cocaine here and there...

Blake J. Harris: Okay...

Mackenzie Astin: My brother was like, "dude, you need to go to rehab." And I was like: nope, my Daddy says I'm fine! So I was living those [Amy Winehouse] lyrics. Eventually my wife, who understood that I had a problem, said: You gotta do it. You gotta get help or else we're not gonna be able to be together any more. And I was lucky enough to be in love with her enough so I could start loving myself. [laughs]

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Mackenzie Astin: And God Bless Sean Astin. God Bless Lord of The Rings. God Bless Rudy. God Bless Encino Man and all of those motion pictures because he looked after his little brother. And he ponied up a s***load of dough to put me where I need to be for about 90 days. And, you know, the fact that I'm here having this conversation is like a receipt, essentially. It's proof positive that s*** works.

Blake J. Harris: That's awesome.

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah, it was time. It was time to start acting like an adult. I turned 37 in rehab, I think; and that was a pretty extended adolescence

Blake J. Harris: Yeah. Well, that's probably part of the reason that your father was lukewarm about you getting into the business. It does tend to breed those sorts of outcomes. It's a crazy business with successes and failures...

Mackenzie Astin: Right? It's so true. And I'm glad that you said successes and failures because they'll both make you f***ing crazy.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Mackenzie Astin: They'll both lead you to the bottle or to the bindle; to making decisions that don't turn out so well.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, I mean you can do: Oh man, my movie's #1 at the box office; let's drink! Or: oh man, my movie didn't even get a theatrical release; let's drink!

Mackenzie Astin: Exactly.

Blake J. Harris: Either way, it's a great excuse.

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Mackenzie Astin: Exactly. And actually, I don't know how much of a part this played, but it was the week that Corey Haim died that I ended up going to the fix-you-up place; going to the treatment center. So here's to Corey. Thanks for setting a really powerful example.

Blake J. Harris: And you know, there's so much growth that happens in rehab (and still so much growth today), but what was it about the experience that...helped change your mindset. Or, I guess, if there's someone out there listening and might be struggling; maybe they think "Oh, rehab's bulls***. I can just read a book." What is it about actually committing to it that you feel like actually helped you?

Mackenzie Astin: A number of factors. My father-in-law, as it happens, was a drug and alcohol counselor for many years; he ran a successful business offering counseling to businesses here in the Mid-Atlantic. And so he had plenty of experience with drunks and drug addicts. And by proxy his daughter was familiar with it as well, which I think is part and parcel with her pushing me to get help. But what Al, my father-in-law, said to me before I went in was something like: listen, it's only gonna happen when you're ready.

Blake J. Harris: Right.

Mackenzie Astin: Also, I ended up at a place that fit my personality rather well. I have come to call it the "Montessori of Rehabs." They let you color outside the lines; that's okay. They encouraged you to discover who you are. And it was a full-service place; they offered psych therapy three times a week, which was super valuable. And also they feed you three squares, they got you working out twice a week. I think there was some acupuncture involved. And the general philosophy of the place is: whatever happens to you in your life is for, ultimately, your benefit. And once you recognize that...there's no ceiling on your ability. In other words: we all deal with s***. You know, a fairly well-to-do white kid, growing up in Southern California with a successful television career and quasi succes—well, no, a lousy film career.

Blake J. Harris: [laughing] At that point, yes.

Mackenzie Astin: Someone like that doesn't usually get lumped into the "has a lot of problems" column. But we all deal with s***, you know what I mean? And once we put ourselves into a position to deal with that s***—whether it be child abuse, or growing up poor or battling institutionalized f***ing racism—or whether it be making the worst f***ing movie ever made, s*** happens to us. And we gotta get right with it. And once we get right with it, we can be right. We can be who we're supposed to be. So, like my father-in-law said, I was ready. And my brother picked a good spot. My brother picked a spot that suited my personality. And suddenly I was able to embody that which I had espoused from the corner of the bar; and I really kind of found myself. Which is a funny expression, you know? Because in order to find oneself, you've gotta be lost.

Blake J. Harris: Yup.

Mackenzie Astin: So it was a good thing, it was a good thing.

the magicians

Blake J. Harris: In terms of finding yourself in a professional sense, coming out of that experience as an actor—having a little more self-awareness, a better head on your shoulders—what did you start to look for as an actor? What did you think were your strengths and weaknesses? How did you perception as an actor change?

Mackenzie Astin: I don't think my perspective as an actor changed much. I think my ability to get out of my own way increased. I remember after I came out, bright and shiny and brand-spanking new from rehab, I decided to move back from Baltimore to Los Angeles and throw my hat, once again, back into the ring. But I had a conversation with my dad about my concerns about the kinds of jobs that were available.

Blake J. Harris: What do you mean?

Mackenzie Astin: Like what I was looking for as an actor at the time was a job. In television, which is the medium that has been most welcoming to me. But over the last...well, a long time, has been filled with a lot of sexualized, fetishized violence.

Blake J. Harris: Yup.

Mackenzie Astin: Whether it's cop shows or something else, there's a lot of killing on television. And the jobs you're gonna get as an actor starting out (which I sort of was at the time) are not necessarily the good guys, but the bad guys. So I said to my Dad, "I don't know if I want to be part of a system that, whether they know it or not, is encouraging people to behave in a manner that is probably not best for f***ing society." And he said, "Well, you gotta ask yourself if you're willing to dance with the devil in order to pay the rent." And I decided that I was. [laughs] And the body count in those first two years was, uh, in the twenties. As an actor. I mean, I did an episode of Criminal Minds so that kind of boosts the numbers.

Blake J. Harris: What advice do you have to an aspiring villain? Or someone who's going to play a villain for an episode in one of these shows?

Mackenzie Astin: Someone who's going to be a bad guy in a procedural?

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, exactly.

Mackenzie Astin: Well, it's the advice my Dad always gives: he doesn't know he's the bad guy. And also: be on time. Know your lines. Don't ask for another one (too much). Be respectful. Everybody's working hard. And when the camera's on you: kill the f*** out of them. I can't believe I just said that!

Blake J. Harris: [laughing] I mean, the last ten years you've been on so many shows...

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah, you can see when I got right. In the 7 years now since I got my act cleaned up, I've gotten more work than the previous 25 combined.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, it's crazy. It's like: name a sitcom or a procedural from the past ten years and you did a guest on it.

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah I got lucky. My pal Timmy Busfield says, "It's another line on your baseball card, Mackie."

SCANDAL -

Blake J. Harris: Ha! Well, there's so many. But do you have any favorites that stand out? And I mean more your one-offs, not your recurring roles on Scandal or anything like that. But where you come in for a week, you're working with these people. Do you have any favorites that stand out?

Mackenzie Astin: Well, this a tough question to ask me because I tend to fall in love with, like, every moment that happens!

Blake J. Harris: That's good though. I mean, that's better than the opposite!

Mackenzie Astin: Sure. It's great. It's fortunate. But let's see? It was a real tough, long day on Grey's Anatomy, which was one of the first jobs in this sort of "Second Act." In that episode, my wife and I are kind of pinned under a Volvo that's fallen into a sink hole that opened up in Seattle near the hospital. That was a very difficult long day of work. And the beautiful actress, the gal who played my wife [Amy Price-Francis], she was incredibly patient. And at that point I was happy to be on my knees, getting paid in showbiz. So that was a great day to go home and crack open a diet coke.

mad men

Blake J. Harris: Awesome.

Mackenzie Astin: Mad Men was an exalted experience, you know? That is the major leagues as far as television shows go. And I had been up for a few episodes previously and to land a part before it was no longer a show was incredible. And also I had worked with Jon Hamm years before, in 2000, on a pilot, and he remembered me so that was exciting. He's a genuine...he's as good as everyone says he is. And he's such a professional. F*** is he awesome. So that was real exciting, to go and get my hair parted real hard. And appear on a television show that was about as far from Garbage Pail Kids as you can get.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah. Pretty far, yeah.

Mackenzie Astin: What else?

Blake J. Harris: Let me ask about one.

Mackenzie Astin: Sure, go ahead.

Blake J. Harris: Okay, so I usually don't fan out about anything (and I think that helps me as an interviewer—that I'm kind of apathetic) but there's a few shows that I absolutely love and one of them is Psych. Do you remember working on Psych for that episode that was like a spoof of Friday the 13th?

Mackenzie Astin: Oh yeah. That was a godsend and a gift. And a solid from an old pal. So James Roday I worked together on a show that we shot eight episodes of 2000 called First Years. Which had Samantha Mathis, Ken Marino, Sydney Poitier (the daughter, not the father) and this a**hole on the other end of the phone. It was a great show. Looking back it was incredibly young because...

Blake J. Harris: ...you guys were young?

Mackenzie Astin: Because we were young and the consciousness of the country was young. 2000 is a lot different than 2002, if you know what I'm saying?

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, yeah.

Mackenzie Astin: So anyway, I took off to Baltimore in 2005 and was not working as an actor. Instead, I was getting to the bottom of as many pints as possible. And James called me up. He's like, "Hey, dude! Come play this part. I'm directing an episode of Psych." He told me that he wrote this episode and he wanted me to play...Oh man, what was the name? Something Cunningham. I wanna say Richie Cunningham because that's sort of what they wanted.

Blake J. Harris: Jason!

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah! James said, "I want you to play this part, come to Vancouver and we'll have an awesome time." And I was like: holy f***ing s***. Hell yeah! [laughs] But James goes, "Wait, you gotta put yourself on tape so the network says it's okay."

psych

Blake J. Harris: Ha!

Mackenzie Astin: So my Dad and I, we videotaped an audition for Psych. And it was good enough to get the part (which was already mine!). And when I got there, James was thrilled, as was [creator] Steve Franks, because they were: dude, hearing your dad read off-camera was the best experience ever!

Blake J. Harris: [laughing]

Mackenzie Astin: And I had a blast. You know, James is one of those guys...he's a leader. And a very, very smart and gifted professional artist. Fortunately, I was in his quiver and I got there and had a lot of fun; running around chasing him with a machete.

Blake J. Harris: That's so awesome. Like I said, there's not too many shows that I freak out for, but that one...I just love Psych. And you know, it's probably one of my favorite shows and I don't even think I could explain to someone why it's good. Because of what you're saying about James. Like I don't think I could write something for him because I don't even know how he makes what he makes funny. He just does. He has a very original voice and you can't replicate that.

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah, it's incredible. He's just gifted. And they [USA Network] got very lucky that he got the part. As lucky as he was to get the part. Because what he brought to that show for 8 seasons...and now they've got a film coming out! He's just... he's that good. He's one of those guys that's preternaturally gifted. Like on a baseball team, there are guys that the rest of the players stop to watch take batting practice: that's Roday.

Blake J. Harris: So in the baseball batting practice analogy, who are you?

Mackenzie Astin: Utility player. Happy to play any position. Wherever you want me. I'll do the little things, the intangibles. I don't mind getting dirty. And, you know, I'm okay in the field. I'm a decent defender.

Blake J. Harris: Do you have time for a couple more questions?

Mackenzie Astin: Absolutely.

Blake J. Harris: Awesome. So, you know, I always relate everything back to my experiences and I had a younger brother and I was such an a**hole to him. So I was a little different than Sean [was to you], but there's always a sibling rivalry. It's natural. And I always felt like we weren't friends, we were just brothers. Until I was in my early twenties and we became friends and I realized: wow, I don't need to root against him. Actually, I want him to succeed. So I'm wondering how did your relationship with your brother evolve? Did you ever feel like you could take full participation in his success? That there wasn't a sibling rivalry? I'm sure it was a healthy sibling rivalry, but when did you start to feel like you guys were friends, or maybe you felt that way the whole time.

Mackenzie Astin: You know, relationships are interesting. And siblings, as you know, are interesting. Stuff vacillates and goes back and forth; and I can get absolutely livid with his bulls***, as much as he can get absolutely livid with my bulls***. You know, I think that's just natural. Again, as my friend Timmy says, "That's birth order stuff, Mackie. You can't help it! It's f***ing cosmic!"

Blake J. Harris: Ha!

Mackenzie Astin: So you know...I think we respect each other more now than we probably ever have. Which as men is important.

Blake J. Harris: And you've mentioned a few times that you live in Baltimore (and have previously lived in Baltimore). What brought you to Baltimore?

Mackenzie Astin: A funny thing happened on the way to Birmingham, interestingly. My buddy Ken Marino got married in 2005. I bought my plane ticket late, so it was just a one-way. And, you know, I was still saucing; so I was more than willing to go where the day took me. After the wedding I thought: you know what? I'll go see my old man, who had been living in Baltimore for about five years at that point (teaching at Johns Hopkins). So I bought a train ticket. And I had no idea, really, how f***ing far that is. So it was a real long train ride. And interestingly, it was the first train that originated in New Orleans after Katrina. So it was filled with people who were running from, wow, the biggest storm ever. I happened to, at the time, have just broken off an engagement. So in my own egotistical, egoistical and narcissistic way was running from my own big storm.

Blake J. Harris: Okay.

Mackenzie Astin: And so that train ride was just incredible and filled with good spirit. You know, people are amazing. Especially people who come from nothing and don't have much. Because there is a character there that is priceless and wealthy. And so it was a real good train ride. I got to Baltimore a few days later and fell in love with fall. Fell in love with the changing of season. Fell in love with not being in Los Angeles...I just felt like Baltimore wrapped its arms around me and brought me to its macabre and funky breast and I was more than happy at the time to, you know, get on it.

Blake J. Harris: That's great. Sounds like home.

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah. And then a couple years after that I met my now-wife, which was amazing.

Blake J. Harris: How'd you meet your wife?

Mackenzie Astin: We were both drinking. In the same bar. On a Monday afternoon.

Blake J. Harris: And what was your big pickup line? You said: hey, you know that Garbage Pail Kids Movie? That was me...

Mackenzie Astin: [cracks up] Oh my god. Is there a tape. How did you know that?! No, it worked out perfectly. She had just finished taking some big exams for a Masters Degree in Philosophy and was celebrating with some libation. And all the seats at the bar were taken except for the two right next to me. She came in and said, "Is this seat taken?" No, go ahead. She sat down, put a big book of philosophy on the bar and ordered a drink and we got to talking about (I guess?) philosophy? I don't know, but we just clicked. We just absolutely clicked. We just...we just started a conversation that we've yet to finish, basically.

Blake J. Harris: That's beautiful. And to finish this conversation: final question.

Mackenzie Astin: Okay...

Blake J. Harris: Alright, so I hate questions about regret, like "Do you regret doing The Garbage Pail Kids Movie?" because my philosophy's a lot more like what you described at rehab where we can learn from everything; and you wouldn't be where you are today if you hadn't done that movie, whether you like it or not. So let me ask you this instead: going back to when you were a kid, and you were in the theater with your friends watching The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, feeling whatever it was that you felt that day... if, in the middle of the movie, you went to the bathroom and Present Day You was there, what do you think that conversation would be like?

Mackenzie Astin: [laughs] Wow. You just blew my mind.

Blake J. Harris: Good!

Mackenzie Astin: Wait, who starts this conversation? Do I get to choose? And is Present Day Me fully aware of all the experiences that come after for Garbage Pail Kids Me?

Blake J. Harris: Yes. And you just want your younger self to, you know, get to laughing about it sooner. You know it's gonna hurt, you know this experience is gonna hurt, and you can't change his trajectory...

Mackenzie Astin: So here's what I would say to that kid. I'd say, "Hey, you're the one that plays Dodger, right?" And then I guess Other Me would say, "Uh, yeah."

Blake J. Harris: [laughing]

Mackenzie Astin: [laughing] I would say, "Don't change a f***ing thing. Because in 30 years, you're gonna spend an hour and forty minutes laughing the kind of laugh that will make you feel better than you felt in a long, long time, listening to a podcast about people making fun of what you're watching in there. And little Dodger, you'll also be having a great f***ing season on the field. Go Blue!

Blake J. Harris: Awesome. So I guess the real last question is what can stop the freight train of the Dodgers?

Mackenzie Astin: [nervous about jinxing his beloved baseball team]

Blake J. Harris: I mean, I don't want to jinx it. Knock on wood, knock on wood!

Mackenzie Astin: Yeah, knock on wood. But listen, it's the same thing that can stop us in life: unforeseen injuries...unforeseen forces...institutionalized racism...Donald-f***ing-Trump...and injuries, I think. We just gotta stay healthy. If you stay healthy—I mean, this is life advice—if you stay healthy and keep doing what you are supposed to do, what you are gifted—through Allah, God, Buddha, the Universe...Katie Barberi!—through whatever has made you gifted at what you're gifted, if you stay healthy, you'll get the ring. If you stay healthy...[with over-the-top sarcasm] you'll be the lord of the rings.

Blake J. Harris: [laughing] Full circle! Thank you so much, Mack.

Mackenzie Astin: No, thank you. Honestly...[struggles to find the right words] my perspective on that podcast is individual and specific and unique. And what's wonderful is all of the laughter that I was listening to...I was a part of. And to be a part of something that makes people laugh? That is...that's the most important thing in life. That's f***ing creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky.