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Henry Thomas' heartbreaking E.T. audition won him the role on the spot

Shola Lee

Published 
| Last updated 

Henry Thomas' heartbreaking E.T. audition won him the role on the spot

Featured Image Credit: Universal

Henry Thomas' audition for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was so spine-tingling that Steven Spielberg hired him there and then.

Back in 1981, a then-nine-year-old Thomas was flown out from Texas to read lines in front of Spielberg after the original actor for the role didn't work out.

Now, as the film approaches its 40th anniversary, footage of Thomas' incredible audition has re-emerged.

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You can watch it here:

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If you haven't seen the iconic film that is E.T., you'd have to be living in space.

But, just in case you need a refresh, the delightful film follows 'a gentle alien [who] becomes stranded on Earth, the being is [then] discovered and befriended by a young boy named Elliott'.

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Elliott (Thomas) hides the alien, nicknamed E.T., in his California home and decides to keep his existence a secret, helped out by his little sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and big brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton).

We couldn't imagine anyone better to play Elliott. Credit: Allstar Picture Library Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
We couldn't imagine anyone better to play Elliott. Credit: Allstar Picture Library Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

While anyone that's seen the film knows how perfect Thomas was in the role, he wasn't the original casting choice.

The part had gone to another little boy, but when the initial actor lost a dice roll while playing Dungeons & Dragons, he handled it badly and it became clear that he wasn't right for the part.

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As casting director Marci Liroff said: "In about three minutes it became very clear that nobody liked this little boy.

"He became very bossy – it just showed he was not our kid. So I basically had to start over."

So, it was recommended that Thomas could be a good fit and he was flown over from Texas.

Seemingly undaunted, he sat in front of Spielberg, Liroff, and others as he read lines and improvised some scenes. And his performance was so staggering, director Spielberg hired him on the spot.

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How could you not hire this kid? Credit: Universal
How could you not hire this kid? Credit: Universal

Spielberg reiterated just how impressive the audition was to Premiere magazine amid film's release in 1982: "The improvisation was so heartfelt and honest that I gave him the part right there."

"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.

"His performance is so controlled, unlike most kid performers, who seem to be giving you 150 percent on every shot. Henry’s performance is just a bread crumb at a time, but he takes you in a wonderful direction to a very, very rousing catharsis. He’s just a 'once-in-a-lifetime' kid."

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If that's not high praise, we're not sure what is.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected] 

Topics: Film & TV, Steven Spielberg, Film and TV, Celebrity

Shola Lee
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