Mike Fenton Recalls Steven Spielberg’s Elliott Audition Ruse

In this 30th anniversary year of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’s release, the tape of young star Henry Thomas landing the lead role of Elliott remains a Hollywood highlight. To wit, a weekend YouTube posting of the footage has quickly racked up 65,000+ views.

FishbowlLA decided to take the opportunity to check in with the film’s celebrated casting director Mike Fenton, whose voice can be heard off-camera reading with Thomas. Sure enough, there was much more to this momentous day than what appears in the [since removed] clip below.

“What Thomas’ agent neglected to tell us was that he and his mom lived about five hours from the closest major airport in Texas,” Fenton recalls via telephone. “So on that particular Friday, Henry got up at 4:30 a.m. and by the time he was having lunch with me at the studio commissary, he was very quiet, his head was drooping.”

“We did a couple of audition passes after lunch, at which point Steven [Spielberg] came down to take a look. He pulled me aside and asked, ‘What’s wrong with him?'” Fenton continues. “That’s when I explained Henry had been up for 12 hours already, which would be especially hard on any boy his age. Steven told Henry to take a break in the video game room and then instructed me to do something a little different with the next take.”

“Steven said, ‘When you get to the last page of the scene, go off-book and attack him. Tell him you’re going to take E.T. to DC.’ Fenton followed these ad-lib instructions and a star was born. One that producer Kathleen Kennedy first spied in production designer Jack Fisk’s directorial debut Raggedy Man.

@hollywoodspin rhorgan@gmail.com Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.