Sean Astin: 'The Shift' ponders big 'what if?' questions in a sci-fi multiverse

Sean Astin's "The Shift" opens in theaters Friday. Photo courtesy of Angel Studios
1 of 5 | Sean Astin's "The Shift" opens in theaters Friday. Photo courtesy of Angel Studios

NEW YORK, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Goonies, Rudy, Encino Man and Lord of the Rings icon Sean Astin says his new sci-fi thriller, The Shift, explores the concept that every decision, regardless how small, could impact the rest of a person's life.

Opening in theaters Friday, the faith-based film follows Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha) across dimensions of time and space as he tries to get back to his wife, Molly (Elizabeth Tabish), after an evil entity known as The Benefactor (Neal McDonough) sucks him into a dystopian reality.


Astin plays Gabriel, Kevin's best friend in the hellscape.

"I just love the idea of the multiverse," Astin, 52, told UPI in a Zoom interview Wednesday.

"The thing that is really special about the movie, for me, is that it shares the idea that every choice you make sends you in a direction in your life," he said. "What if all those different choices you make created different worlds?"


Following the movie's logic, it is possible for Astin to conceptualize the many different permutations of his own reality he could have experienced if he acted differently at certain crossroads.

"A 'me' without my wife and kids -- there's another 'me' living life in pain or another one where there is great success," he said.

"You think, 'To what extent do you have any control or any free will over the decisions you make or your instincts of what to do?' You might do well to not take them lightly."

Astin sees connections between these themes and the decades-long acting career that has offered him glimpses of himself as other people, thanks to the dozens of varied roles he has played.

"I've been blessed to be working for 40-plus years now, and I do have these little flashes, these little moments of what my life was like in New Zealand or in England or in the South," said the son of the late Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke.

"I put it in terms of geography a little bit. That's how I orient myself to it, but I can also think of it in terms of how other people have enjoyed the films or they refract their experiences of my movies back to me," he added.


"If I go to a [fan] convention, over the span of an hour, I'll have 30 different people recollecting little elements of my life back to me. They talk about your life flashing in front of your eyes. I have a career full of movies to help with that. I'm pretty lucky."

While that is usually a pleasant experience for Astin in real life, Kevin from The Shift becomes agitated as he views his many different lives on a giant movie screen and tries to figure out which is his home dimension.

"He's trying to punch through," Astin said. "He's trying to claim decisions that he thinks he made or should have made or didn't make or wanted to make or was robbed of."

Astin described Gabriel as a "normal" working-class guy, who somehow has access to food when everyone else seems to be scrounging for their next meal.

"Maybe that's not a coincidence," the actor said with a laugh.

"The 'friend' is someone that I've played a lot," he added. "Samwise Gamgee was the friend to Frodo [in Lord of the Rings]. Bob Newby in Stranger Things is the friend to Winona Ryder and the kids."


Astin said he was happy to portray Gabriel as a similar kind of confidante to Kevin.

Gabriel encourages his friend to continue writing down and secretly disseminating biblical scriptures, prayers and other illegal remnants of his former life as a religious man, even though it could stoke the ire of the devilish Benefactor who wants Kevin to swear his allegiance to him instead of God.

"There are moments when he tries to encourage Kevin to keep sharing his thoughts and his testimony and his visions because they are inspiring other people," Astin said. "There was something about being a broker for inspiration that seemed immediate and close to me."

Astin also wanted to support his co-star, Polaha, who had a lot of intense scenes to film.

"It's not easy to live in this emotionally heavy, laden space for weeks," Astin said. "To come in and be a little bit of a friend to him felt natural and comfortable."

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