Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial couldn’t have made a greater impact on kids of the ’80s if the spaceship had actually landed on their lawns. The bittersweet tale of an abandoned alien longing for home turned into a global blockbuster and an indelible part of childhood for everyone who has grown up since. E.T.’s minor details became obsessions, as the movie famously helped popularize everything from Reese’s Pieces to Kuwahara bikes to red hoodies. It even made squeaky-voiced little brothers seem cool — at least temporarily.
Spielberg has often said that working with Henry Thomas (then 10) and Drew Barrymore (then 6) was so much fun, it made him realize he wanted to have kids of his own. Thirty years — and seven children — later, Spielberg, 65, is now a grandfather of three. Thomas is 41 with three kids, and Barrymore is 37 and gave birth to her first child, daughter Olive, on Sept. 26. They sat down at Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment offices and talked about how E.T. is taking a new generation over the moon.
Henry, you were so young when the film came out — were you aware of the influence E.T. had on your peers?
Henry Thomas Sort of. I was aware of it after the fact. I wasn’t the tastemaker of 1982.
You should say, ”I saw all of that coming.”
Thomas [Strikes a more confident pose] Yeah, I started all of that. [Laughs]
When was the last time you three got together?
Steven Spielberg It’s been a while, but I’m never that far away from either of these guys. There’s a whole other kind of bond that was formed when we were all kids — including myself. This is a memory that just won’t go away.
It’s also a movie that’s never really been gone from the culture. But you all have kids in your life now. At what point do you introduce them to E.T.?
Spielberg My grandson Luke saw it for the first time last summer. I talked him through the movie because I wanted him to know that E.T.’s going to be okay and Elliott was going to find what he needed and no one was going to get killed. He was only 3 years old. So I was really, really careful. My daughter, his mom [Jessica Capshaw], thought it would be okay if I told him what the [upcoming] scene was going to be. So I started talking right through the whole movie, and halfway through I’m explaining to him, ”He’s going to be okay. He’s going to turn a little bit powdery. It’s going to seem really sad for a while, but it’s going to be okay.” And at 3 years old, he just threw his hand up in front of my face and said, ”Don’t tell me!”
Drew Barrymore [Laughs] You give them the cinematic safety net, and then they don’t need it.