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Casting child actors can be a very tricky business, but choosing a lead actor wound up being a rather simply decision for the filmmakers behind E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial back in 1982. Sure, they had to do a bit of hunting in pre-production to find the right kid to play Elliott in the film, but as soon as Henry Thomas finished his audition it became readily apparent that there was no real other choice for the part. Why? Watch the video below and find out:
This little short was created by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as part of their series of Academy Originals, and the story featured is pretty fantastic – highlighted by video from Henry Thomas’ audition. Told to improvise a scene between Elliott and an official from NASA trying to take E.T. away, Thomas stunned Steven Spielberg and the casting directors by becoming amazingly emotionally raw. As he started crying, so did the filmmakers, and I imagine that many of you have tears in your eyes right about now as well.
The headline here, of course, is Henry Thomas’ audition tape, and I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but can we take a moment to discuss the story featured in the first half of this video? Casting Director Marci Liroff says that the original choice to play Elliott wound up losing the gig because all of the other children at a planned Dungeons & Dragons game didn’t enjoy being around him. This young actor’s name isn’t named (thank god), but I can only imagine what a punch in the gut that must have been. That’s easily the most high-stakes game of D&D that I’ve ever heard of (yes, I’m counting those episodes of Community) and that kid lost hard.
Henry Thomas, meanwhile, has carved out a decent acting career for himself in the years since E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Most recently he had a recurring role on the ABC drama Betrayal, but he’s also gotten consistent film work over the years as well. In the same way that a Dungeons and Dragons game wound up screwing over his competition, it’s also strange to think that Thomas’ role alongside Sissy Spacek in the small film Raggedy Man is how he eventually landed one of the greatest child roles ever put to film.
Now go wipe those tears out of your eyes and watch E.T. for the thousandth time… or at the very least head over to Page Two to watch the original theatrical trailer for the film.