“Everybody in the room was in tears. I just remember turning to Henry and saying – Okay kid, you got the job.” – Steven Spielberg
Global (23 October 2020) – Henry Thomas’ improvisation Audition for E.T. is so moving and so realistic you will think that he had been practising for weeks, but he had just read the script!
And Thomas wasn’t actually the first choice for the role!
Casting director Marci Liroff explained to “Academy Originals” that the young actor who was originally chosen to play Elliott failed miserably in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. The 12-sided die did not roll in his favour when his true nature came out, revealing that he was not the sweet little angel director Steven Spielberg wanted to be Drew Barrymore’s older brother and E.T.’s bestie.
“In about three minutes it became very clear that nobody liked this little boy,” Liroff said. “He became very bossy– it just showed he was not our kid. So I basically had to start over.”
Once nine-year-old Thomas was recommended, he was flown out from Texas to read lines and improv in front of Liroff, Spielberg and some others. Spielberg’s only direction to Thomas was to do whatever it takes to stop the government agent from taking the alien away.
Watch the full interview here:
“The improvisation was so heartfelt and honest that I gave him the part right there,” Spielberg told Premiere magazine in 1982.
“I was blown away by this nine-year-old. Then I came to realize he’s an adult actor, not a nine-year-old. He’s a very controlled, methodical performer who measures what he does and feels what he does and yet broadcasts it in a totally subtle way. His performance is so controlled, unlike most kid performers, who seem to be giving you 150 percent on every shot. Henry’s performance is just a bread crumb at a time, but he takes you in a wonderful direction to a very, very rousing catharsis. He’s just a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ kid.”
And you can watch the “Academy Original” story here: