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The Strain Postmortem: Sean Astin Talks His Character’s Demise, Saying Good-Bye and What’s Next [INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FX
Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FX

Warning: Spoilers ahead for those who have not seen Sunday’s episode

Still reeling from Sunday’s episode of The Strain? Yeah, I know I am. And I don’t mean because Vasily Fet is finally bumped to main character status or Dutch Velders shows back up and joins the team. All that’s cool and great, but that’s not what I’m going to remember about episode eight, “Creatures of the Night.” It’s the death of the adorable and geeky Jim Kent. Total buzzkill, yet a fact of life for a show like The Strain. TV Goodness participated in a press call with actor Sean Astin to discuss his character’s demise, how he felt about the character’s portrayal on the show vs. in the books and what’s next for the actor now that his time on the series is over.

One of the big questions I had was how much Sean was told about his character Jim Kent, prior to accepting the role and particularly his fate.

Sean Astin: “Guillermo told me at the beginning that Jim doesn’t last very long in the book and he doesn’t last very long in the series. So, they invited me to be a part of this show, knowing full well that in episode 8 my character was going to get killed off. So, there is a little bit of the gallows anticipation knowing we are in episode 5 and only a few episodes away now, saying good-bye to all of my new friends.” [Laughs.]

“It was actually pretty cool, the first bit, where they use the UV light to see the worm in my face and they go and lay me down and do this butcher surgery, that was all kind of cool. But then, when we got into Eph discovering it’s all through my back and then, I realize the only thing for them to do is to kill me – my saying I don’t want to turn out like the rest of these people, going off to my parents and asking Setrakian to basically explain what that is, all of it was pretty powerful emotionally. And everybody had this feeling that it was exciting to be doing one of the first big deaths of the show, and for me, it was a big death because it was me.” [Laughs.]

“The characters move on and the show moves on. On 24, you never knew what was going to happen next. I walk in one day, like on episode 13, open up the script and find out my character was dead by nerve gas. Very heroic death. Jim’s redemption is sort of petty. I think he was the first one to plug in the UV ray lights, and for me, it’s kind of comic. I’m the first one out of the convenience store to extend my arm with the thing and burn the vamps with this UV light, and then, of course, everybody does it because Jim did it.” [Laughs.]

For those who watched the episode live on Sunday and who are on Twitter, you will know that when Jim’s death scene rolled in, everyone just went crazy. My feed literally was flooded with #RIPJim tweets and people were very emotional, upset, shocked, sad. How much did Sean follow the fans’ reactions and did he know about the huge outpouring of emotion?

Sean Astin: “I was actually at Disneyland this weekend with my wife, after having finished a marathon. So, I was walking around, my legs were sore, the kids are having a ball and I realized, ‘Oh hey, you know what? The episode is airing right now.’ So, I hadn’t really been paying attention to my phone for three days and we’re on a train going through Fantasy Land and seeing all of these messages, ‘RIP Jim,’ ‘We’re going to miss you, buddy!,’ ‘It’s a sad way for you to have to go, Jim!'”

Perhaps one of the hardest things about watching Sunday’s episode is Jim wanting so badly to redeem himself and for Eph to forgive him and just when it looks like he is about there, we had to say good-bye. On one hand, Eph calls Jim his ‘”friend” but on the other hand, he still seems cold like when he refused to accept the milk Jim brought to him in the convenience store. Did Jim finally find redemption and forgiveness from Eph and even from Nora.?

Sean Astin: “Nora, she was always the more compassionate one. But with Eph, we don’t get anything until he is faced with Jim’s mortality. He doesn’t want a patient to die, but he doesn’t want his friend to die. You can tell. He says at one point, ‘He’s my friend! He’s my friend!’ As an audience member watching, I really liked that. I really liked that he showed something of himself and how he really felt. You know, he would have never been that mad at Jim if he didn’t like him.”

Another difficult part to watch was the back-room surgery performed on Jim’s face to remove the worm. In that particular scene, how was it shot and where any special effects used?

Sean Astin: “They had a brilliant piece that they put on my cheek that they could sew and un-sew. And it was really, really good. People really responded to it on the set. It didn’t take very long to put it on at all. The piece started at the top of my inner eye, over my nose, went down and under my eye, all around the eye basically, then up into the hairline and down the jaw. So, it looked like the Phantom of the Opera‘s mask, a miniature version of that, and then they painted it beautifully. It was really cool.”

And, of course, I had to ask the one question, the big elephant in the room, is Jim really dead (in the human sense, of course)? I’m a stickler for details and I noticed that Setrakian never severed Jim’s head, and this was right after Setrakian had the heart-to-heart with Vasily about how killing a strigoi with a gun is very difficult. Unfortunately, it looks like Jim may be dead, I mean really dead. So, no fun scenes of Sean all vamped-out as a strigoi. Bummer.

Sean Astin: [Laughs.] “I think Jim may be dead proper. At some point, I believe Setrakian talked about how hitting certain bones can hurt them this way and that way. And I think they’ve gone outside and shot them a lot. Nora says ‘They’re still coming,’ and Eph says, ‘You have to shoot them in the head.’ And I don’t know how many times Fet pulled the trigger, but it felt like 4 or 5 times. I’m sorry to have to relate the bad news and I appreciate the mourning, I really do. [Laughs.] But, I feel really close to Jim too and one of my favorite things was people using the hashtag #RIPJim. I kind of wanted to blow that up and put it on the office wall!”

This interview was edited for space and content.

And as for Jim’s wife Sylvia, as much as it may have felt like her storyline was left just hanging, it’s likely we won’t see her again either. That is actually too bad because I would have loved to see her go off and punch Eph in the face for getting her husband killed.

Photo Credit: FX
Photo Credit: FX

Not exactly the answer I was hoping for, but at the same time, we had the character for a lot longer had they followed the book. As I had mentioned before, the Jim Kent in the trilogy actually was infected in that scene in the basement of the hospital and then, to top it off, is thrown into an incinerator (while still alive!) by Eldritch Palmer shortly after that. Now, that would not have been cool at all and I am so glad they didn’t follow that storyline. So, at the end of the day, we got Jim for several more episodes and in some ways, he died a heroic death. I’m a glass half full kind of girl and so, I am thankful for that.

Even though this may have been the end for our Jimbo, Sean has several other projects in the works and so, we’ll get plenty of opportunities for seeing this immensely talented actor on the big screen (and hopefully, on the small screen soon as well). He has an independent film coming up titled The Surface, which focuses on hopelessness and suicide, as well as an animated film called Ribbit, that is about a poisonous tree frog (which sounds too cute, will have to see that one!).  He’s also being offered several roles in the Sci-Fi/Horror realm, but nothing definitive yet.

The Strain airs on Sundays at 10/9c on FX.

You can also check out my review and recap of Sunday’s episode “Creatures of the Night” by clicking here.

A few interesting tidbits

  • One of the biggest challenges on the show turned out to be dealing with the bitter cold. The strigoi, of course, aren’t supposed to be able to breathe and so, this was a big problem for the effects department to deal with. Very interesting detail because I had never thought of that.
  • Sean never really has been a fan of the vampire genre. Before The Strain the only vampire movie he had an interest in was The Lost Boys and that was primarily because his good friend Corey Feldman, was in the film. After that, he pretty much missed the big wave in the genre, the whole Vampire Diaries and Twlight saga. But, once he was introduced to Guillermo del Toro, he admits he was fascinated by his interpretation of the vampire folklore.
  • When Sean was 16 years old and even after he was a successful actor, he worked at a local movie theater. Very modest, humble guy. He had a funny story about one afternoon his friend Corey Feldman, walks in and his boss asks him to go and sweep up some popcorn. So, he goes out on the floor and says, ‘Hey, Corey,’ and Corey’s jaw dropped, ‘Sean, what happened!’ LOL. He didn’t do that job because he had to, he did it because he liked it. He counts this as one of the really good experiences in his life.

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