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'Steven Spielberg loved the technical parts of making ET'

We were filming the Hallowe’en scene in ET in San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. Elliott, my character, and his older brother Michael, played by Robert MacNaughton (pictured, right), dress ET up as a ghost and sneak him out of the house. We actually shot this sequence around Hallowe’en, so there was a festive atmosphere on set and also a lot of guests. Harrison Ford was there because his girlfriend at the time, Melissa Mathison, was the film’s screenwriter, and Debra Winger visited – she ended up being an extra in the Hallowe’en scene.
Underneath that sheet is Pat Bilon, one of the actors who played ET. To cut down on the heat from wearing the full-body latex ET suit, he was wearing only the mask and holding half a broomstick in each hand with three plastic spoons taped to the end to emulate ET’s arms – which is funny given that ET had radio-controlled functions like moving eyes. Steven Spielberg (pictured, left) spoke to us quite a bit about the technical aspects of making the film; the creature design, building the sets – those things fascinated him. We were using technology that was ahead of the curve. ET was controlled from the other side of the soundstage by 12 or 13 men watching monitors, which was rather hi-tech at the time.
I was familiar with Spielberg’s work before I auditioned so I was pretty excited to be working with him. The audition came about because I’d made Raggedy Man with Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard earlier that year and the director’s editing bay was next door to Spielberg’s editor’s office while he was making Poltergeist so Spielberg asked me to audition.
My parents didn’t have any experience of the film world at all and I didn’t have an agent. I was paid something between $10,000 and $30,000, which is a lot of money to a 10-year-old, but in relative terms when you look at the gross of the film there is huge disparity.
ET was in cinemas for about a year and I was extremely popular during that time. But when I was in my late teens and early 20s I found the fact that I had been Elliott hard to deal with at times. I was trying to be a serious young actor and everyone kept bringing up that fact I was the cute lovable little kid in ET – that used to get on my nerves. Once I realised I probably wouldn’t have had a career without it, I became OK with it. For a while I felt like I had to do something different to be recognised as a talent in my own right. Then you get older and you don’t care.

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