The view from Middle Earth must look pretty good to Sean Astin (search).

At 32, Astin's back on a roll, one that began with a cult hit in 1993 called "Rudy." His once hot career had fallen to the back burner — until "Lord of The Rings (search)." Now, he's the biggest sidekick since Ed McMahon.

Critics point out that Astin's storyline in "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" gets a lot more attention than it ever did in the previous two films, but in a Manhattan hotel suite he defers that limelight to the others in the cast. He's eager for the future. But he's not pushing it. And he's very candid about certain aspects of his off-camera life.

Bill McCuddy: When is it going to dawn on you that this has come to completion?

Sean Astin: Whenever it finally ends, probably! (laughs) I don't know. I think after the awards season this year.

McCuddy: Are you going to the Oscars?

Astin: I don't know yet. I don't know. As an Academy voter you submit your ticket requests in the lottery to see if you do the thing. Depends on if I'm working. There are so many great opportunities right now for me.

McCuddy: Will Peter Jackson wear shoes to the Oscars?

Astin: (Smiling) If he goes, I think he can be counted on to wear shoes on that particular occasion. Maybe not on the plane on the way to the show.

McCuddy: We should point out to people who don't know, he generally walks around ...

Astin: Barefoot!

McCuddy: Like Jethro on "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Astin: Like a hobbit!

McCuddy: OK, like a hobbit.

Astin: (Laughing) Like Jethro from "The Beverly Hillbillies." That's funny. Well, it's dangerous because there are nails and stuff on the film set, on a stage floor.

McCuddy: Is there a guy with a tetanus shot just constantly walking around?

Astin: I don't think they have rabies or tetanus problems in New Zealand. I think that's a "No Tetanus Zone."

McCuddy: That place is Mecca to you guys.

Astin: Yeah.

McCuddy: You had the biggest premiere in the world there.

Astin: That was more than just a premiere. That was an event where the country was saying "thank you." They were feting us as one of their national heroes so it was a moment in the national history of that country.

McCuddy: Will you go back year after year and be the Grand Marshall of some parade?

Astin: (Laughs)

McCuddy: Eventually open a pub and ...

Astin: Opening a pub's a good idea.

McCuddy: You're the Sam Malone of New Zealand.

Astin: (Humming the 'Cheers' theme) You know, I would love to at some point have a little piece of property down in New Zealand and go there, that would be great. I'm sure that New Zealand will factor prominently in my future travel plans.

McCuddy: Isn't it wild that you could never have predicted a place so exotic would become a part of your life?

Astin: Well, I did a movie with Kevin Bacon called "White Water Summer." I affectionately refer to it as the first Kevin Bacon white water rafting movie — the one without Meryl Streep. (That one was "The River Wild.") But we did a couple of white water rafting sequences in New Zealand twice before, when I was 16, and I felt a very special connection to the place when I went (back).

McCuddy: "Rudy" was made in Indiana —

Astin: Right.

McCuddy: Have you been back there?

Astin: Well, I actually married a Hoosier before I got that part, so I go to Indiana every year in the summertime for a golf tournament. The Mad Anthony's Golf Tournament in Fort Wayne. I go back to visit my family. We spent a lot of time there this summer. My wife's grandfather just passed away. He was sick and we were trying to help him into an assisted living environment. So we were there for a long time. I've spent a lot of time in Indiana. But yeah, there is basically a feeling when you do a movie you establish another base, another dimension, and it's always special.

McCuddy: Because wherever you make a movie, part of your life is there.

Astin: (Nodding) "Memphis Belle" I did in London. So whenever I go to London I know I lived there on Downe Street, and spent this much time in Piccadilly. That's the great part of being an actor — film or television — you get the opportunity to travel and to live. I've always said that you can't really get to know a place unless you live there and work there and you have enough money if you are a working actor to able to travel a little bit. That's one of the perks.

McCuddy: There was a time when you didn't have a lot of money.

Astin: (Laughs) I spent it on travel and education and then I was broke again. I went to community college after having done "Rudy."

McCuddy: Did you play ball for them?

Astin: I thought about it. But it was the scholastics that were so hard for me at that point that I was really focused on.

McCuddy: What's next? How can you follow "The Big Three"?

Astin: Well, I'm really excited right now. I had a meeting with my agents the other day and it was the kind of meeting with agents that I have waited to have for 15 years. They had a very specific plan and we have a stack of scripts — as tall as these chairs — that I'm reading. The future is extraordinarily bright. It's starting to get fun. So I'm not scared at the moment. The reviews, the critics, have helped create this particular momentum right now for me because the ("Lord of the Rings") films are just as successful financially this year as last year's and the year before.

McCuddy: They also say this one is yours.

Astin: (Hedging) Well ... that ... I think the critics have been saying that.

McCuddy: The other cast members haven't been saying that?

Astin: Well ... the ... when you say that I feel, I don't want to compete against Elijah, or Viggo, or Orlando. That is not who I am, I'm, uh ...

McCuddy: You have more screen time in this one.

Astin: I have a little more screen time and people have connected with the emotionality of the performance and are talking about that. I think people have discovered it's OK to talk about. Because there were other moments. Because it became a new thing for journalists to talk about because we've done so much press.