Sean Astin is a drifter who chats with God in Jeremiah, his post-apocalyptic Showtime series co-starring Luke Perry and Malcolm-Jamal Warner. It's perfect casting for the actor/director who, after all, had already spent years toiling in the New Zealand fields of the Lord — the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that is! In fact, the filming took so long, Astin — who plays Frodo's hobbit aide-de-camp Samwise Gamgee — says he had his own "spiritual epiphanies." (As any self-respecting fan knows, the final chapter of the fantasy series, The Return of the King, opens Dec. 17.)

Given his post-Rings weight loss of 40 pounds, Astin hopes for more leading roles. Still, he calls his tubby hobbit "the single best supporting character in all of literature" — even with those big hairy feet. "We had a love-hate relationship with the feet," he admits. "They're kind of cushy and foamy, and the people who designed them used the latest technologies, but your feet [do] get injured a lot."

And it wasn't just his tootsies. While shooting The Fellowship of the Ring, an 80-pound Elven fabric loom fell on Astin's head — and "knocked me out cold."

There was more pain (and a lot of hand-holding) when all nine members of the Fellowship got the same Elvish tattoo — in different anatomical spots! "Mine was on my ankle, Elijah Wood's on his midsection and Orlando Bloom and Ian McKellen got theirs on their shoulders. When the female cast members weren't there," he laughs, "it was pretty much anything goes."

Astin proudly offers one little preview of Return of the King: "I open a can of whoop-ass on Shelob, the giant three-story-tall spider who Sam fights." But it's not just about the action, he cautions. "The theme is that of personal sacrifice in the interest of something bigger and more important than yourself. I hope that resonates with people the most."

For more dish on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King , read the current issue of TV Guide magazine, on sale now.