'E.T.' stars say they appreciate film more with age
Thomas, Wallace celebrate film's 30th anniversary with Blu-ray debut
For "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" star Henry Thomas, the classic blockbuster film is finally hitting home for him in a different sort of way.
"For me, being in it, it's sort of hard watch unbiased. You're always kind of looking at your performance," Thomas, who played the pivotal character of Elliott, told me in a recent interview. "But as I've gotten older, I can watch it a little bit more detached. But I really like the fact that its themes of friendship and compassion have carried it through over the years, and I don't think that those things will ever alienate audiences."
Thomas and his screen mom, Dee Wallace, are among the cast and crew members celebrating the debut of "E.T." on Blu-ray, which is being released Oct. 9 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, "E.T." tells the story of an inquisitive extraterrestrial who tries to find his way back home after he is accidentally abandoned by his fellow aliens and their spacecraft in suburban California. Elliott is the young boy who discovers and befriends E.T. (as the alien is dubbed), and Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore and Wallace star as Elliott's older brother, little sister and mother, respectively.
With the passing of the years, Thomas, 41, told me that he is finally starting to get a little bit of the sense of what audience members have been experiencing as viewers of the film.
"It's funny, when you're a part of something, it's like seeing the wizard behind the curtain. You can never watch it the same way, as opposed to looking at something you're totally not a part of. You're not in it at all and you can kind of escape that way," Thomas said. "I'm always jealous in that way when watching films that I've been a part of and would like to see 'E.T.' just as a regular audience member."
"I'm getting closer to being able to do that now than I've ever been before. But it's still a special film for me and definitely something I never thought 30 years ago that I'd be talking about today," Thomas added with a laugh.
Wallace is thrilled to be talking about the film 30 years on -- and very much keeps the film close to her heart. She knows the film is fantastical in nature, yet is grounded in real, human emotions.
"I think the film touches one thing in everybody, and that's their heart," Wallace told me in a separate interview. "When you hear or see the truth, that somewhere in your being, it touches you. That's what 'E.T.' for me, is. You've got to keep your heart open, you've got to keep using your light, and when you do that, you can do anything -- even getting back to your little planet."
Wallace, in fact, said she brings the lessons she learned with "E.T." to her life -- and work -- every single day, by keeping her heart open.
"Unfortunately, that's where a lot of us are living after 9/11 because we're living in so much fear. Instead of expanding out, we've collapsed in," Wallace, 63, added. "Hopefully release of the film on Blu-ray is going to reach a lot of new people and teach them the lesson all over again that closing your heart down doesn't work."
Thomas, who was 10 years old when he was filming, recalled his approach to filming "E.T." was like filming any other project he was in at the time. Granted, it was being directed by Spielberg, who had already established his iconic status with films like "Jaws" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" -- but any actor will tell you, there's no such thing as a sure-fire hit in Hollywood.
"I didn't really think of it much until after the fact. When we were filming, I was just doing a job and was having fun -- and it was exciting being on a film set and working with Spielberg because I had just seen 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and that was a huge film for me," Thomas recalled. "The making of 'E.T.' was an event that I would kind of equate to what summer camp would be like. Then I went back home and all of a sudden, the film was a huge success and was in theaters for a year."
Thomas said the fame he experienced from the film was "strange," just because it was so unexpected.
"I don't know if I did handle it very well as a kid, because I didn't know how to handle it. The good thing is, it gave me a permanent foot in the door in the industry," said Thomas, who over the years has starred in such hit films as "Legends of the Fall" and "Gangs of New York," and most recently has appeared on television's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and "The Mentalist." "I don't know if I would have had any kind of career at all if it weren't for 'E.T.'"
As for his titular co-star, Thomas said that the physical presence of the E.T. puppet was a huge plus on the set, and for all intents and purposes, the character felt real to him and was not intimidating to work with.
"I had the most scenes with a robot, essentially, but the success of the film essentially hinges on the believability of the Elliott and E.T.'s friendship," Thomas said. "So there was a lot of pressure, but I wasn't as challenged by that as I was the success of the film. That was much more intimidating."
Wallace said she was glad "E.T." wasn't made in a time where the character would have been rendered digitally. The presence of the E.T. puppet on the set, she said, made all the difference.
"It would be the same. You wouldn't have captured the soul of E.T.," Wallace said. "It would be entirely different for the actors. Working with the puppet was really like working with another actor because they had him in whole every time he was on the set."
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