The magic storytelling capabilities (and cloying sentimentality) of Steven Spielberg can be best illustrated in his 1982 science fiction adventure E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, inspiring a cultural obsession that materialised in merchandise including video games, lunch boxes and more. Starring the likes of Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace and Peter Coyote, it was the lead child actor Henry Thomas that would seize the hearts of an entire western culture.
Following the life of a troubled child named Elliot (Henry Thomas), E.T tells a simple coming-of-age story of the discovery of coverage and self-belief as the boy finds a lost alien and helps him to return home. Inspired by the divorce of his own parents in 1960, Spielberg reported that he filled his loneliness with an imaginary alien companion, stating in his biography that the alien was “a friend who could be the brother [he] never had and a father that [he] didn’t feel [he] had any more”.
Just like the discovery of any new acting talent, the casting process for E.T was an essential one, particularly as the character of Elliot was expected to lead the story from the front line. Auditioning hundreds of boys for the lead role, including Keith Coogan, production designer Jack Fisk suggested Henry Thomas after directing the actor in 1981s Raggedy Man. Called for an audition in front of director Steven Spielberg as well as several members of the casting team, Henry Thomas proceeded to perform one of the most iconic casting tapes of all time, providing such a convincing performance that upon finishing, Spielberg instantly announced, “OK kid, you got the job”.
Speaking to The Academy YouTube channel, Marci Liroff, the casting director of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Mean Girls and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial reported: “In about 3 seconds flat he had us all crying behind the camera”.
Continuing, Liroff added: “He just became this little boy, he used his fear and his anxiety to really push further in the role, he moved us so deeply and so fully…it was one of the most amazing and moving audition experiences I had really ever been through”.
Despite his contemporary success in the industry, Henry Thomas has never quite been able to replicate the astronomical triumph of his role in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. With that being said, he has certainly enjoyed his time in the spotlight, featuring in Gangs of New York by Martin Scorsese, Netflix horror’s Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House, as well as 2019s Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining from Stanley Kubrick.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial remains one of Steven Spielberg’s most celebrated critical and commercial triumphs alongside Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws and Schindler’s List. Take a look at the remarkable audition tape from Henry Thomas for the role of Elliot in E.T below.