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"E.T. sent my world crazy": Boy actor Henry Thomas from E.T. on how hit film changed his life

His role as Elliott, a ­lonely ­little boy who befriends an alien, made Henry Thomas the most famous child in the world.
But 30 years after the release of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the ­Extra-Terrestrial, he ­admits the film’s success brought him bad times as well as good.
“Of course there have been times I ­regretted being the kid in E.T.,” says Henry, now 40. “My world went ­completely crazy. I was that stupid kind of famous, where you can’t go anywhere.
“It was like that for the first six months after E.T. was in cinemas. I’d go out and get mobbed. I was a shy kid, and being approached by adults all the time just freaked me out.
“I was like a circus freak. But the only time I had to deal with it was when I left the house. So I stopped leaving the house. I became an 11-year-old hermit.”
Henry was nine and had been in one film, Raggedy Man, when he won the role of Elliott. He cried real tears in his audition by thinking about his pet ­chihuahua Urso, which had been savaged to death by his neighbour’s dog.

Henry Thomas now
Life-changing: Actor Henry Thomas as he is today

Coleman Rayner

“I saw it happen before my very eyes so I drew upon that. Poor Urso, it may have won me the role but it was a sad price to pay,” deadpans Henry.
“When they told me I had the part and I’d be working for Steven Spielberg it was a dream come true because I loved ­Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
But at first he was unimpressed with his hydraulically-operated extra-terrestrial co-star, which was controlled by a dozen puppeteers.
He says: “When I saw this alien with the weird feet and the telescopic neck, I was like, ‘What the hell is this? Where is my lightsaber?’. But I guess I got a flying ­bicycle, so I can’t complain.”
E.T. was a huge hit, taking $792million (about £510million) at the box office. Henry says no one working on it had any idea it would become one of the most successful films of all time.
And despite the massive fame that ­followed, Henry decided to go back to his old school in Texas.
“It was really dumb,” he says. “I grew up in a rural area, I was from kind of a poor ­family and my parents weren’t showbiz people. But going back was strange, and perhaps stranger for the other students.

Henry Thomas as a child, acting in E.T.
Classic: A scene from E.T of Elliott and the alien flying a bicycle across the face of the moon

Universal Pictures

“I was an easy target. Everybody tried to flush my head down the toilet. Perhaps it was jealousy, ­perhaps it was just kids being kids. They were like, ‘what the f*** are you doing back here? Who do you think you are?’.”
When Henry started ­taking an interest in the opposite sex, more ­problems ­followed. He says: “With girls, it sort of helped, but it’s a double-edged sword.
“I would ­inevitably get the girls who were ­interested in me ­because I was the guy from E.T.. It was kind of tough. I can’t deny ever ­capitalising upon it but on the whole in my teens I was pretty virtuous.”
At 17, Henry moved to New York to work as a jobbing actor, but avoided the party scene.
He says: “I never wanted to ­conform to that stereotype of the child star gone bad. I never wanted to give anyone the satisfaction of getting that picture of me robbing a liquor store.”
Henry worked steadily. He ­appeared in hit films Legends of the Fall (1994) and Gangs of New York (2002), but most of his roles have been in lower profile projects.
Today he lives in suburban LA, in a house similar to Elliott’s in E.T., with his ­wife ­Annalee and children Hazel, seven, Evelyn, three, and Henry, two.
He says he would encourage his children to pursue a career in show-business if they wanted to.

Henry Thomas as a child, acting in E.T.
Instant hit: Henry was bullied after appearing in the film

Universal Pictures

“It can be a crapshoot and I’ll tell them that,” he says. “But if they want to act, that’s fine. I’ll do what my parents did with me, check in with them regularly, make sure they’re okay every step of the way.”
When they get time away from the kids, Henry and Annalee make music together. “We’ll just go in the garage, put a drum track on and sing.” Music is his main interest now and he plays in a band, Farspeaker.
Henry says people always assume E.T. made him rich... but they’re wrong.
“Despite popular belief I didn’t make much money from the movie,” he says. “I was 10 years old, remember. I basically got the minimum wage.
“Universal and Spielberg did really well. The minions had to go back to work. I do get residual cheques, though, which is great. And I got it better than E.T... he’s off in a box somewhere!”
Three decades later he still cannot shake off the shadow of Elliott who, in one scene, has his finger healed by E.T.’s touch.
“I was at a barbecue recently and this really drunk guy followed me around all night trying to get me to touch his finger. In the end he was ­shouting, ‘Touch my finger Elliott, you ­mother******!’.
“I can guarantee almost every day I get someone going, ‘Hey, you’re the guy from E.T.’, usually followed by, ‘What are you doing now?’,” he says. “And not a day has gone by when someone hasn’t shouted ‘E.T. phone home’ at me.”

Henry Thomas as a child, acting in E.T.
Phone home: Henry remained in acting and says despite the difficulties he would encourage his children into a career

Other than Dee Wallace, who played Elliott’s mother, Henry says he hasn’t kept in touch with many of the actors in E.T..
“I still see Drew (Barrymore) once in a while but we’re not close friends. I mean we knew each other for a couple of months in 1982. But I am going to Robert ­MacNaughton’s wedding next month – he played my older brother Michael.”
Henry says he hasn’t shown the full film to his children although his eldest, Hazel, has seen parts of it.
He says: “It’s really funny, she was like ‘That’s you, Dad’. We haven’t had a big ­family screening or anything. They’ll watch it when they’re ready.”
He does not have many souvenirs from making E.T.: “I didn’t get to keep the bike. But I still have the red sweatshirt.”
Despite its huge success, E.T. has never been followed by a sequel.
“If it was made today, it would have been at least a trilogy,” says Henry. “But I think a sequel would have ­cheapened it. What would happen? E.T. would come back? Or Elliot would go on vacation with him.
“It could be like an intergalactic ­reunion with Elliott and E.T. at a beach resort.
“But if Spielberg did make one I would be sorely tempted. I would hate to see someone else playing Elliott.
“I don’t think Spielberg will touch it, although I’d love to see Elliott and E.T. ­sitting at the end of the bar: ‘How’s it been for you man? Good man, another beer?’.”


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