There are many things that make Steven Spielberg's 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial' -- thirty years old this year -- a magical masterpiece: a sensitive script, fantastic special effects (it's often easy to forget the title star is a mechanical puppet), John Williams' uplifting score. But one of the most over-looked aspects is the cast.
Eschewing big name stars and established child actors, Spielberg discovered a raft of talent, young and old, that do much to make 'E.T.' such an emotional experience. Here are their 'E.T.' stories and what happened next....
E.T. is 30 years old - hard to believe, but true
Henry Thomas (Elliott Taylor)
That was then: "I used to think 'If I mess this up, what's going to happen?'" recalls Henry Thomas about his days as the lead in 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial'. "'Are they going fire me? I'm nine years old.'" Thomas won the role as the introverted kid who makes a new friend after Spielberg had seen a reel of his work in 'The Raggedy Man'. Aeons away from the standard theatre school moppet, Thomas' performance is restrained and heartfelt, a primary reason why his scenes with a mechanical puppet shine. "To this day, 30 years later, I'm primarily recognised as The Kid From 'E.T'," Thomas says without a hint of bitterness. "It's nice that everyone has been relatively kind. You're always worried that there are people waiting for you to knock over the liquor store -- the child actor gone wrong!"
Henry Thomas as Elliott, ET's best friend
This is now:
Thomas, now aged 40, has pretty much averaged a film a year since E.T., starring as the young Norman Bates in 'Psycho IV' and with supporting turns in Legends Of The Fall, Gangs Of New York and Dear John. Recently assaying county music icon Hank Williams in 'The Last Ride', he will next be seen as Phillip Whalen, a contemporary of beat writer Jack Kerouac in 'Big Sur'. "He was single-handedly responsible for bringing Zen Buddhism to San Francisco," says Thomas. "I'm interested in people who have such strong convictions."
Henry Tomas - not "the child actor gone wrong"
Thomas' other on-going project is his band Farspeaker, a "post punk" outfit made-up of fellow filmmaking types. "We're not going to become overnight Justin Bieber strike-it-rich sensations," he laughs. "We may become underground indie darlings. We're maybe even too old for that!"
Robert MacNaughton played Elliott's older brother
Robert MacNaughton (Michael Taylor)
That was then:
MacNaughton had received strong reviews for his off-Broadway role in 'The Diviners' when he landed on Spielberg's radar. As Elliott's older teen brother Michael, he spent his on-set days bonding with Henry Thomas, tormenting Drew Barrymore -- "I feel a little guilty about that" -- but he will never forget meeting the film's title star. " The first time I saw 'E.T.' was when I saw him in the movie for the first time and knock the shelves down," he remembers. "I did not know the shelves were coming down either which added to the shock value. It really enhanced my reaction."
"The movie where Daddy pretends..."
This is now:
MacNaughton continued to work on stage and sporadically in film (1983's 'I Am The Cheese') before giving up acting to work as a mail handler, firstly in Phoenix, Arizona, then New Jersey. Now 46, he has a young son, Noah, who described 'E.T.' as "the movie where daddy pretends to be a little boy".
Drew Barrymore (Gertie Taylor)
That was then:
For sweet precocious Gertie, Spielberg chose sweet precocious Drew Barrymore. The third generation of the Barrymore acting clan, Drew, who'd appeared in TV commercials since aged 2, originally met Spielberg for Carol Anne in 'Poltergeist' and blew the director away with tales of being in a punk rock band. Despite her own capacity for suspension of disbelief -- "There were a lot of different elements but no matter what, E.T. was always very real to me." -- Spielberg used different tactics to draw out Barrymore's performance, including dressing up as a bag lady for the Halloween sequence. "It was brilliant and he looked really great too." For Spielberg, who became Barrymore's Godfather, "Drew was meant to be in this movie. She became my best friend on the film."
One of the defining moments of the film...
This is now:
Straight after 'E.T.', Barrymore segued into Stephen King adaptation 'Firestarter'. After overcoming well-documented drug and alcohol problems, she worked steadily throughout the '90s, becoming an unofficial queen of romantic comedies such as 'The Wedding Singer', '50 First Dates', 'Music And Lyrics' and 'He's Just Not That Into You'. Her production company Flower Films have produced the 'Charlie's Angels' movies and 'Donnie Darko', itself with twisted echoes of 'E.T.' She made her feature film directorial debut with roller-derby romp 'Whip It' and was last seen in family drama 'Big Miracle'. But she never under-estimates the importance of her 'E.T.' experience. "I really think that 'E.T.' taught me there were no boundaries in friendship," she says. "It opened me up as a person and made me who I am today."
Drew Barrymore has come very, very good
Dee Wallace (Mary Taylor)
That was then:
"I chose Dee because Dee was like a kid herself," Steven Spielberg says about casting Dee Wallace. "I didn't feel like I was violating my rule not to have adults in the film until the very end." At that point, Wallace was the best known of the E.T. cast, starring in cult horror flicks 'The Hills Have Eyes' ad 'The Howling' plus Dudley Moore comedy '10'. "Steven is a master at casting," she says. "He originally saw me doing call girls and hookers and put me into his mother." Dressing up as a cat woman for 'Halloween', Wallace's Mary is movingly trying to keep the pain of her marriage break while her kids are growing up, discovering new words. "I love the penis-breath line in the movie because it showed that Mary was different from other moms," Wallace remembers. "Instead of getting upset, the line cracks her up."
This is now:
Following 'E.T.', Wallace worked prolifically, mainly in horror flicks such as 'Cujo', 'Critters', Peter Jackson's 'The Frighteners' and Rob Zombie's 2007 reboot of 'Halloween'. Always working, she has a clutch of movies pending release including 'The Boarder', 'Cry Of The Butterfly', 'One Of Us Must Know' and Zombie's latest scare-fest 'The Lords Of Salem'. She also runs acting workshops and has a sideline in motivational speeches and self-healing therapy. "I keep reminding myself, in the midst of everything, that the most important thing for me in my life is to stay connected to my own joy."
Peter Coyote (Keys)
Peter Coyote first met Spielberg after giving a clumsy audition for the director -- "I walked into the room and tripped over a lamp"-- reading for 'Indiana Jones'. Coyote's performance as Keys -- so-called because we initially identify him through his bunch of keys -- required a gear-shift from enigmatic government agent to benevolent father figure and Coyote handles it beautifully. "I loved the character that I played in the film," remembers Peter Coyote, "because Steven allowed him to be compassionate and sensitive. He was saying, you can still keep the best part of being a child when you grow up."
This is now:
Coyote has worked consistently in film and TV over the past 30 years including collaborations with Roman Polanski ('Bitter Moon'), Pedro Almodovar ('Kika'), Steven Soderbergh ('Erin Brockovich') and Brian De Palma ('Femme Fatale'). His resonant Henry Fonda-esque voice has also narrated feature documentaries like 'Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room', the National Geographic Explorer series and an episode of 'Lost'. Yet despite his high work-rate, acting isn't the be all and end all for Coyote.
"I'm a Zen Buddhist student first, actor second", he has said. "If I can't reconcile the two lives, I'll stop acting. I spend more time off-screen than on."
And the rest...
C. Thomas Howell (Tyler --BMX friend with balaclava) became an '80s favourite in Coppola's 'The Outsiders', 'The Hitcher' and 'Soul' Man. As an adult, he appeared in 'Summerland' (as Zac Efron's father), the remake of 'The Poseidon Adventure' and most recently as a crane operator in 'The Amazing Spider-Man'...
K.C. Martel (Greg -- BMX friend with big headphones) starred in mid '80s sit-com 'Growing Pains' but then left the entertainment industry...
Sean Frye (Steve -- BMX friend with flatcap) appeared in 'Real Genius' and Molly Ringwald starrer 'For Keeps', then left acting and is currently working in the transportation industry in the non profit sector...
Erika Eleniak (Pretty Girl who Elliott kisses) went onto star in 'The Beverly Hillbillies', 'Under Siege', 'Dracula 2000' and 'Desperate Housewives' but is still best known for recurring role in 'Baywatch'... She has two films, 'Meant To Be' and 'Holiday Spin', in the can awaiting release....
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial went home.
E.T. The EXtra-Terrestrial is available on Blu-Ray from Monday 22 October. Here are some other child stars made good...