Actor Mackenzie Astin, son of television’s Gomez Addams, brother of filmdom’s Samwise Gamgee and purveyor of inflatable palm trees during his 1980s tenure on TV’s “The Facts of Life,” is heading east for a pre-holiday jaunt.
His father, actor John Astin, who famously portrayed The Addams Family patriarch in the mid-1960s, currently serves as director of the Theatre Arts & Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“He has a production with his students going up on Friday, so I’m coming to help out with some last minute stuff and, of course, to visit with him a bit before the holidays,” Astin says. “Actually, it’s probably going to be a lot of work, but it’s all for a good cause. These kids have paid for a good education, and they’re getting one.”
Capping Astin’s visit, however, will be the world premiere of his latest film, “Elf-Man,” where he and a cast led by Jason Acuña, otherwise known as Wee Man, will stroll the red carpet.
In Frederick, Md.
The holiday film, produced by Wiseacre Films and distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment, made headlines earlier this year as the largest film project ever to be shot on site in Frederick County. It debuts Saturday evening at the Weinberg Center for the Arts.
“Elf-Man” was directed by Ethan Wiley, whose credits include special effects work on “Return of the Jedi” and “Gremlins” and who helmed the horror-comedy classic “House” and its sequel.
But the film found its way to Frederick by way of producer Richard Jefferies, a native, and executive producer Kurt Uebersax, of New Market.
For Astin, who Jefferies had suggested for the role, the opportunity to shoot near Baltimore, where he met his wife Jennifer, was a bit of a gift in itself.
“It was just good fortune, really. It was one audition out of several last January, and it was a good reading,” he says. “I was just so excited to be shooting in Maryland. My wife and I got to see each other every weekend.”
Astin’s in-laws even got into the act, the actor says, when the Union Bridge residents were brought on as extras.
“It was great getting a job where I was sort of shooting right down the street from them,” he says. “They had sort of a bird’s-eye view of the whole process.”
On the flip side, Acuña became somewhat enamored with the local culture, when not hitting his marks as the titular super-hero.
“I had never been to Frederick before,” says the Los Angeles-based entertainer and professional skater. “We mainly shot at night, so during the day I’d go cruising around town. The guys at the [Pitcrew] skateshop and I hit it off, so we’d hang out. I’d skate with them during the day and then shoot at night.”
“Elf-Man” presented Acuña — a performer best known for his head-kicking, Oompa-Loompa lampooning antics on both big and small screens as a member of the “Jackass” crew — with brand new experiences; One, as a producer for a feature film, and, two, as the lead in a family-friendly enterprise.
“It was definitely less stressful being on the set of this film,” Acuña says. “When we’re on the set of ‘Jackass,’ even if we’re not filming, we know that anything could happen at any time, and that the cameras could start rolling.”
That said, the man who would be Wee managed to incorporate his special skillset into his newfound role.
“The scene where grandma hits me with a frying pan, and I go [rolling] down the stairs” he confides, “that was a real take.”
Astin, who portrays Eric Harper, a father and scientist who must rely on the holiday help of Acuña’s elf character when he finds himself the hostage of evildoers, says his famous costar could not have been easier to work with.
“It was such a treat,” Astin says. “There’s something just, I don’t know, magical about him. ... People love him. They’re drawn to him. And he has a great attitude about life in general.
“I know this was a first for him, and he was the utmost professional. ... He’s the real deal. He’s the type of person who walks into a room and it brightens. He’s a dynamo. And I was fortunate to get close to him. ”
Also joining Astin on screen (and on Saturday) will be actress Mirelly Taylor, who portrays his love-interest Amy. The two share the unique distinction of being alumni of the television phenomenon “LOST.”
“I didn’t know the show very well, at all, and I didn’t really follow it afterwards,” Astin confesses. “So, I wasn’t really aware of the specialty of her character.”
Character actor Jeffrey Combs, star of the cult classic “Re-Animator,” rounds out the film’s adult cast as a nefarious villain.
Filming for “Elf-Man” occurred at locales in Frederick and Utica in February, with downtown merchants like Crabapple’s Delicatessen, Firestone’s Culinary Tavern and Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts sharing the spotlight.
“There was this toy store we shot at, and they were tickled to have us,” Astin says of Dancing Bear. “They ended up in the film. Everybody took such good care of us. And I think it was something the community could really get behind. It’s a warm-hearted film.”
A film he has yet to see in its entirety.
“I haven’t seen it yet,” Astin exclaims. “I know that it had a special early release on Redbox, but I’ll be seeing it the first time this weekend [with an audience.]”
Astin says he looks forward to getting back to Frederick, and to spending time with his extended family — not only his in-laws, but the cast and crew that helped make “Elf-Man” a possibility.
Asked if he is a Christmas fan, Astin says, for him, it’s a matter of taking the good with the bad.
“I like the idea of family getting together,” he says, describing himself as “the child of a nuclear family that exploded long ago.” Astin’s mother is actress Patty Duke. She and John Astin were divorced in 1985.
“And the idea of giving is a wonderful thing, over all,” he continues. “But at the same time, I’m a bit worried about the over-commercialization of things. ... That’s the nice thing about Christmas movies. [It’s about] everyone getting together and sharing that feeling.”