“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is one of my all-time favorite movies. My high school friends and I even had this weird phase where we obsessed with the film.
We gave ourselves nicknames based on little Elliott’s name. Mine was “Kay-lot” and of course it was said similarly to E.T.’s scratchy, broken voice. I really wish I was making this up.
The talent displayed by the childhood stars is big reason why it became the iconic film so many people still love it today. Henry Thomas, who played Elliott, surprised Spielberg and the casting crew during his audition. He more than exceeded expectations.
The casting director, Marci Liroff, already found a child actor that she thought would a good fit. Just to make sure that all of the children actors interacted well with other, they were invited to the screenwriter’s house to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
It became clear pretty quickly that this particular actor would not work out. He was bossy and just didn’t mesh well with everyone else. Liroff basically had to start from scratch to find a new Elliott.
Jack Fisk, a fellow director, recommended that Spielberg audition a little boy from Texas named Henry Thomas. Thomas had just played a lead role in Fisk’s film, “Raggedy Man”, so he knew how talented he was.
Thomas was flown in from Texas and was given a copy of the script to read through right before his audition. When he walked in, he was asked to improvise with someone off screen.
Spielberg gave Thomas a little bit of background for the scene: a NASA official had knocked on the door looking for a creature he had befriended. Spielberg asked Thomas to do anything he could so that the NASA official wouldn’t take the creature away.
Very quickly, Thomas pulled out very intense emotions that had everyone behind the camera sobbing. He later explained that he was thinking of his childhood dog’s death.
Liroff remembered, “Spielberg was behind the camera hitting Mike in the arm going, ‘Tell him he can keep him. Tell him he can keep him.'”
You can then hear Spielberg from behind the camera immediately tell Thomas that he got the job.
Liroff told IMBd, “It was just one of the most amazing and moving audition experiences I had ever really been through.”
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