First, this interview was way too short for my taste. I don't particularly enjoy doing phoners as a rule - it's always better to have a genuine give-and-take in person and see how the interviewee physically responds to a question, and have a real conversation as opposed to a couple of minutes in a phone call. But there was no way I was going to pass up talking to the star of my favorite film of all time. Hopefully this will be the first step of my quest to bag the elephant and talk to Mr. Spielberg someday about E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL like Quint did with his amazingawesome JAWS interview last year. I could probably safely die after that moment.
But while I was doing this interview with Henry Thomas for the E.T. Blu-Ray release this week, I was being slammed with Fantastic Fest, physical exhaustion, and lack of sleep, so I don't think I came off at my best here. Plus, again, it was a phoner, which are always a little awkward. But I was still deliriously happy to talk to the man who helped make so many of my movie dreams come true, and it was a huge honor for me.
E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL comes out on Blu-Ray tomorrow. The picture? Phenomenal. I'm so proud to have it, and I'm so thankful to the good people at Universal for making this possible.
Nordling: Mr. Thomas, this is Alan, how are you doing?
Henry Thomas: Hey Alan, I’m doing well. How are you?
Nordling: I’m very well. First off, I just wanted to get this out of the way; E.T. is my favorite movie of all time. I love that movie to death. I have so much emotion wrapped up in that film, and your performance is one of the most iconic children’s performances of all time. I just had to gush and get that out of the way first.
Henry Thomas: Thanks very much, Alan. I’m glad you’re still a fan.
Nordling: Oh, very much so. I’ve played it for my daughter; in fact, there was a 35MM screening of E.T. in Austin a few months back, and I took her to see it when the Alamo Drafthouse was doing their Summer of ’82 retrospective-
Henry Thomas: Yeah, I was almost there.
Nordling: Oh, really?
Henry Thomas: Yeah, I was going to go, but I couldn’t end up doing it.
Nordling: Well, it was a really wonderful experience, and my daughter fell in love with the movie and I fell in love with it all over again. I actually wanted to start from the very beginning, with that famous audition tape. What was going through your mind that day? Because it’s a very emotional piece to even watch now. I know it’s some time ago now, but how did that work for you? They seemed to have really gotten your emotions that day.
Henry Thomas: Well, what had happened was… you know, the first film that I did was called RAGGEDY MAN, and that was a Universal picture, and they had brought me out to do looping, additional dialogue for RAGGEDY MAN, and while I was there, I was to meet with Steven Spielberg. So I met with him on the set of POLTERGEIST, and he said I want you to come in tomorrow and read for me, read for this new project that I’m doing. I said okay, and I came in the next day, and they had a scene, like a one page scene to read. And so I read it, I read it a couple of times, and Steven asked me to do an improv with the casting agent, who was Mike Fenton at the time. And so they set up the parameters for this improvisation, which was basically, “You’ve found something, he’s your friend now, and some government people are going to take it away.” So what you see on the tape is my improvisation of that little scenario. I guess I was just really going for it that day, and luckily it worked out. It’s the only time in my whole career that I’ve actually known I had the job for sure when I walked out of the room, because you could hear Spielberg saying, “Kid, you got the job.”
Nordling: If you’ll recall, what do you think your favorite day on the set of E.T. was?
Henry Thomas: Well, my favorite day… we shot up in Crescent City, in the redwood forest, and that was my favorite time on set because, I think it was the first time that I ever didn’t have that much dialogue, and I could have a little fun, and we were in the redwood forest, which was beautiful. There’s something about being on location that’s really nice for me. I really like staying in hotels with the crew, and being on set, out in the middle of nowhere. That’s kind of fun. There were many memorable days. We had a huge Halloween party; that was fun. I’d never been trick or treating before, so I went trick or treating for the first time.
Nordling: You hear so many stories about how the shark in JAWS was just so frustrating for Steven Spielberg at the time. Were there any moments in E.T. that technically might have been frustrating for you as an actor, or for him as a director?
Henry Thomas: Yeah, there were plenty of those, you know – any time you’re working with something that’s mechanical, it’s going to break. So that happened quite a bit, you know. There were sticky eyelids, and lips that wouldn’t articulate the words properly enough. We’d have to go back and do it again. There were a lot of technical hangups. I actually pulled the arms off E.T. once, on accident. I had to lift it up in this bathtub scene.
Nordling: It’s a deleted scene, I believe.
Henry Thomas: It’s one of the deleted scenes, but I think it’s back in now. Anyway, it was challenging at times.
Nordling: But there’s a real sense of play going on as well in the movie. It’s such an intimate film; a lot of the audience’s believability in E.T. is through Elliott, and if Elliott absolutely believes in it, then we believe in it as well.
Henry Thomas: I think that was the concern and the challenge in casting the role and that was certainly at the forefront of Steven’s mind when he was getting a performance out of me. I had to carry the film in a lot of ways for the audience.
Nordling: Your relationship with Mr. Spielberg in the film, when you watch the behind-the-scenes features on the documentaries on the Blu-Ray, it feels like he was on your level, when he was dealing with you as an actor on your level, not only in your performance, but in general, as a friend and being there. Has that relationship with Mr. Spielberg grown over the years since the film has been made?
Henry Thomas: Well we see each other every once in a while, mostly for E.T. related things, but no, we worked together for 10 weeks. Steven has always been very supportive of me, and he’s always sent me notes and things of encouragement if he’s seen something I’ve done, and he’s always been very considerate and very nice to me.
Nordling: I actually saw a film of yours recently where you played Hank Williams (THE LAST RIDE), and I thought you were terrific in that.
Henry Thomas: Thanks very much. That’s my favorite performance that I’ve done in recent years, and maybe my favorite performance of all time. It’s nice that that little film actually got a release at all.
Nordling: It played in Houston at the film festival there and I remember catching it there and thinking that was a really great performance. Since E.T.’s release 30 years ago, what’s the craziest bit of fan mail that you’ve gotten since then?
Henry Thomas: Oh, there were some crazy ones. I think the funniest piece of fan mail I got – it was addressed to me and sent to my agency, but when I opened it I realized that the person sending it was trying to send it to a linebacker or I think a defensive player on the Minnesota Vikings with the same name as me, Henry Thomas. This was like 10 years ago. But I didn’t realize it until after the fact so when I read the letter it was really funny because this fan had gone into great detail describing a few plays and a few games, so I had to send it back to that guy.
Nordling: Not what you expected. Since the film’s release, it’s obviously considered a great classic now, and I was always curious on your take on Steven Spielberg’s changed it with taking the guns out and the walkie-talkies in, and now the guns are back in. What did you think of that controversy that happened at the time?
Henry Thomas: I understand it, because of the political climate and everything at the time, but I don’t think it was ever a popular decision; I don’t even think it was popular with Steven. He was just under some pressure to do things like that at the time. I mean, there was Columbine, and September 11 happening, so anyway… I think fans are disappointed when anything from the original gets changed at all because that’s not how they remember it. And part of the success of E.T. is because a lot of people now have cited that as one of the first films they remember seeing or going to the theater to se, so… I think giving the people what they want is always a good thing.
Nordling: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Thomas.
E.T. - THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL is out tomorrow on Blu-Ray. Trust me, you want it.