Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
E.T: the Extra Terrestrial
Currently Known For:
The Haunting of Hill House, Girl in the Bunker
E.T: the Extra Terrestrial
How can you be the main star of one of the biggest films of all-time and still have your name almost completely unknown by an entire generation of movie fans? Being a child star in that movie is certainly one way to do it.
The actor we’re talking about is Henry Thomas, who was born on September 9, 1971 in San Antonio. Thomas would star acting at a very young age, and was drawing the attention of producers and casting directors almost immediately. In 1981, he would make his film debut in the movie “Raggedy Man” starring Sissy Spacek and Eric Roberts, and starred in the television film “The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid” that same year.
It wasn’t until the next year that the viewing public began to take notice, as Thomas was cast as Elliott in the Steven Spielberg film “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial”. Marci Liroff was the casting director for the film, and had a different child actor in mind for the role. However, “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.”
With that, Thomas was brought in from Texas to read lines to both Liroff and Spielberg, and impressed them immediately. “I finished my scene and they were in tears,” Thomas said of his audition. “Steven says, ‘Kid, you got the job.’ I keep waiting for that to happen again. It was the only part of my career that I knew I had (the role) before I left the audition room.”
Spielberg said that “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.”
So not only did Thomas have the stamp of approval from Hollywood’s most successful director, but was praised universally for his role in one of the biggest blockbuster successes of all time. Why was it that Thomas didn’t become an A-lister afterward like his co-star Drew Barrymore?
It’s not as if Thomas didn’t stop working in Hollywood. After all, he would have four more films in the 1980s, and was very busy in acting once he reached his 20s, following his graduation from Blinn College. Thomas became a member of a local rock band called The Blue Heelers that found moderate success in Texas, but not nationwide.
During the 1990s, Thomas would appear in films such as “Legends of the Fall”, “Suicide Kings” and “Fever”. He also found himself busy with television films, including 1998’s “Moby Dick” playing Ishmael. Still, he wasn’t the big star featured front and center on blockbuster movie posters like many thought he would be.
Much of the reason for Thomas not being a megastar was his own doing. He wanted to live a more normal life, saying “I didn’t know how to deal with the attention or fame.” Thomas added that “You kind of become a social outcast because suddenly you’re in some other category, but don’t feel any different...I thought, if I don’t associate with film people and stay in my little town in Texas, I’ll be perceived as normal. Eventually, you realize no one’s ever going to perceive you as the guy down the street, so you just have to be yourself.”
There’s been no shortage of work for Thomas in the new millennium, including roles in films such as “Gangs of New York” and “Dear John”, as well as television appearances on “Better Things” and “Sons of Liberty”. However, Thomas knows that biding his time and being happy outside of acting is important. “It’s hard when you’re remembered for an iconic role,” he said. “But I’m in an industry where in order to get a job, you have to go into a room and get either rejected or accepted. If you have thin skin, you just won’t last very long.”
Thomas got away from Hollywood and decided to go to Oregon so that he could start a farm where he’s much happier away from the hustle and bustle. If Hollywood comes calling, he’ll return to Los Angeles for as long as he’s needed, but then he’s right back to the Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, he’s been working on his writing and hopes to release a novel in the near future, and says “I’m more interested in making today count as much as I can.”
It’s taken some time for Thomas to make peace with the fact that he’s commonly associated with one of his first roles in Hollywood. It wasn’t easy as a teenager when he was being called Elliott by fans, but says that “I have kids now. And everyone you meet, especially people close to my age, they all have very meaningful stories about seeing (“E.T.”) the first time.