Let’s get this taken care of first: Sean Astin is the coolest. He’s one of the warmest, most passionate filmmakers I’ve met in a while and the kindness and enthusiasm is infectious, so it was a real honor to host his panel at Amazing Comic-Con Las Vegas last weekend. We’re going to have that full conversation for you very soon but to start, we wanted to share a very interesting story Astin told about his hopes to direct a Fantastic Four movie.
This all took place right after The Lord of the Rings, before Fox made and released the live-action Fantastic Four in 2005. At that point, Astin thought directing a Fantastic Four film might be a good move for him coming off of that highly acclaimed mega franchise, and that thought launched quite the campaign to get the gig. Apparently the studio developed a number of Fantastic Four scripts over the years, including one from Chris Columbus, and Astin actually tracked those screenplays down in an attempt to see the evolution of the story the studio was trying to nail, and that process left him with this thought in mind:
“And it’s a little bit shocking. Like, I actually think most of the people in a convention could do a better job of developing most of these franchises than the studio executives themselves.”
In an effort to turn this dream into the real deal, Astin turned to the head partner at his lawyer’s firm, someone Astin described as “one of the most important, powerful lawyers in Hollywood,” Jake Bloom. Astin took an especially big swing and requested that Bloom call Tom Rothman, the head of 20th Century Fox at the time, to let him know that he wanted to direct Fantastic Four. Needless to say, the response was, “You’re out of your flipping mind.” But it actually happened!
Eventually, he got a call back from the one and only Kevin Feige. He wasn’t the head of Marvel Studios at the time, but he was in charge of physical production. Here’s what he said:
“I was just starring in Lord of the Rings so there was a moment where you could just call people. And I said, ‘Listen, is there any way in the world that you’d consider me to direct Fantastic Four?’ And he was like, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ and blah, blah, blah. I said, ‘So are you saying there’s zero chance? Zero? No chance? 100% not gonna do it?’ He says, ‘Well, I’m not gonna say 0% …'”
With that tiny sliver of hope, Astin bought up every single Fantastic Four comic he could get his hands on and also started to make some moves with potential stars. In fact, he had Christina Aguilera in mind for Sue Storm! Eventually the time came for Astin to have his meeting with Rothman:
“He looks at me and he’s like, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I want to direct this movie.’ He goes, ‘Alright, well, this meeting is premature. We’ve ordered another script. It’s due in three weeks from now. And he said, ‘And I’ll let you read it.’ I said, ‘Do I have your commitment that I get to read that and have a meeting with you before you set the director? Please, can I have that commitment?’ He said, ‘I’ll give you that commitment.'”
Astin ultimately got the OK to go to Rupert Murdoch‘s office, sit at his desk and read the new draft. Here’s what happened:
“When I met with the younger executive before I met with Hutch Parker who was the president of the studio and so forth, I was telling him, ‘Look, my short film was nominated for an Academy Award and I did this and I did that and I did the other thing.’ And he was like, ‘Nobody cares.’ He goes, ‘All they care about is, do you know what we should do with this character?’ Or, ‘Do you know what should happen at this point in the story?’ Like, ‘Why isn’t the story working better here? If you can help us make the movie better on its own terms, that’s what we really need.’ And that was so liberating!”
When he got his face time with Rothman, Rothman asked him, ‘Why you?’ Here’s what Astin said:
“Before they’ll put some 24-year-old kid in a $100,000,000 fighter plane, they put him in the best trainers, simulators ever designed. I said, ‘From the time I was 12-years-old, I’ve been in the best simulators you can possibly have for this kind of thing.’ And he goes,’Oh, ok.'”
Oddly enough, after that meeting, Astin went to a boxing match with Michael Chiklis and told him, “You’ve gotta play Thing … that part came down from God for you. You have to play this part.” So for all we know, Astin is the one who nudged that casting closer to reality. He also tried talking Cameron Diaz into playing Sue Storm but didn’t have much luck with that one. Astin said, “She was like, ‘Wait, how long do I have to be in the make-up?’ And I was like, ‘Well, maybe a while.’ She said, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to do that.'”
Eventually he got the call – the call he was waiting for from Rothman. Sadly for Astin, things didn’t pan out with Fantastic Four but on the call, Rothman did tell Astin, “You forced me to take you seriously as a filmmaker … you may not have been on my radar before but you’re on my radar now.”
While things didn’t work out for Astin, of course Fox did move forward with more than one Fantastic Four film. The Tim Story-directed movie hit theaters in 2005 and got a sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, which made its debut in 2007. And then there was the release of the much troubled Josh Trank production in 2015 starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell. And now, thanks to the Disney/Fox acquisition, who knows what lies ahead for the foursome on the big screen? Maybe Astin should throw his hat back in the ring.