ET the Extraterrestrial, a masterpiece directed by Steven Spielberg, turns 40 this year. For the occasion, AlloCiné met Henry Thomas, the actor who played the hero Elliott.
On December 1, 1982, ET the extraterrestrial was released on French screens, attracting nearly 8 million viewers. Steven Spielberg’s film went on to become a world heritage classic.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of ET, AlloCiné went to meet its main actor, Henry Thomas. The artist was only 11 when the feature film hit the big screen. Today, the actor is 51 years old.
AlloCiné: What are your memories of this legendary film?
Henry Thomas: I have so many emotional memories of that fantastic shoot with Steven Spielberg. It was a unique and magical time in my life because I was just a ten year old boy and had just started acting in movies.
ET was only my third movie and I really felt like I won the lottery. It was like a dream come true. It was surreal to work with Spielberg and the multitude of other children who are also in the film. Every day we went to school on the set and we filmed some scenes as well.
What are your memories of your relationship with the little Drew Barrymore ?
She was only seven years old! What’s funny is that the first time I met her, she snuck at me: “So, how many movies have you done before this one?”. And I answer him only two more. She continued with a laugh: “Poor baby, I’ve already made four!”. But I loved working with her and everything went really well.
I also really liked playing with the one who plays my older brother, Michael, played by Robert MacNaughton. I had no film experience and never studied acting. While Robert, who was fifteen years old, had a wealth of experience in the trade; he had even been to the theater to play Shakespeare. I really learned from him and we are still good friends.
Did Spielberg also give you good lessons in cinema?
Not really. He never really gave me advice. But I watched him closely while making this movie, and I learned a lot, just watching him direct AND
It was also interesting to see how he found solutions to all the problems, to all the frustrations he might encounter with a film that was very technical at the technological level and also not easy to tackle with all these children on the set.
What was the hardest scene to shoot?
There were a lot of very emotional scenes with ET, which is never easy to shoot. It’s difficult at ten to find the right tone, the nuances to move without overdoing it. In fact, the scene that freaked me out the most when I read the script, and then when I had to shoot it, was the scene where I was seen kissing a girl.
Especially since it was in front of all the other children and the entire film crew. It’s a scary time for a little boy. Also, Erika Eleniak, who plays the little girl, was two years older than me. She was also 60 centimeters taller than me. What’s funny is that to reassure me Spielberg told me that this girl looked like Brooke Shields.
But there, too, for a 10-year-old boy, Brooke Shields meant nothing at all. I remember the first take of the kissing scene was a complete fiasco because I wanted to kiss Erika too fast and our teeth nearly burst into pieces. But after a few more takes, we managed to put this legendary scene in the box.
After all these years, what does ET mean to you and what are the messages of the film?
First of all, it’s a film about compassion. The compassion of this little boy for this alien lost on our earth. It’s also a very beautiful film about friendship, within a family but also with another creature from another world. This film shows that you have to know how to cherish those you love and take care of them every day with tenderness and compassion.
The stunning video of Henry Thomas’s audition that convinced Spielberg:
I think these messages still speak to everyone forty years later, probably even more today with everything that is happening in the world and these two years of pandemic.
Was it also a film ahead of its time on the issue of the environment?
It is a reading of the film that we can do today. But I think in 1982, Spielberg and the studio weren’t necessarily concerned about the environment. It was not the subject that prevailed at that time. I think the theme put forward is above all to show the universality of life.
How we must help each other whoever we are, a human or an alien.
This film was such a success that one always wonders why it was not the subject of a sequel or a series.
It is certain that I would have liked to do a sequel or revisit this world a few decades later; but that was not Spielberg’s vision and he always wanted this cinematic gem to remain a unique and self-sufficient film.
I stayed in contact with Steven and even auditioned for him several times. He is also one of the producers of The Haunting of Hill House, which I shot for Netflix.
A last word for our young audience who hasn’t seen “ET” yet. What would you say to them to invite them to watch this film that touched so many people around the world?
I would like to tell them: “Hey, kids, do you like Stranger Things ?!” No just kidding. I would like to ask them the question: “Have you ever rescued a street dog or rescued a bird with a broken wing?” Well this movie is just for you.
Interview by Emmanuel Itier.