In the realm of cinematic magic, few films capture the essence of childhood wonder quite like Steven Spielberg’s 1982 masterpiece, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. But beyond the dazzling special effects and heartwarming story, lies a lesser-known tale of Spielberg’s exceptional empathy and dedication to his young star, Drew Barrymore.
At just seven years old, Barrymore brought an unparalleled authenticity to her role as Elliot’s spunky younger sister, Gertie. However, this authenticity stemmed from a genuine belief that E.T. was real. The elaborate puppetry and animatronics, coupled with Spielberg’s careful direction, blurred the lines between fiction and reality for the young actress.
Spielberg, recognizing the power of Barrymore’s belief, understood that shattering it could be detrimental to her performance. So, he went the extra mile to keep E.T. “alive” even between takes. This dedication manifested in several heartwarming ways:
Constant Companions: Two puppeteers were assigned to stay with the E.T. puppet at all times, ensuring it could respond to Barrymore’s spontaneous interactions, even during lunch breaks or downtime.
Maintaining the Illusion: The set designers crafted a “breathing” mechanism for E.T.’s chest, creating the subtle rise and fall that further fueled Barrymore’s belief.
Continuity in Care: Spielberg shot the film in chronological order, allowing Barrymore’s relationship with E.T. to develop organically, both on and off camera.
This commitment paid off in spades. Barrymore’s performance exudes an unadulterated sense of wonder and genuine connection with E.T., a crucial element that resonates with audiences to this day. The film’s emotional core thrives on Barrymore’s belief, and Spielberg’s willingness to nurture it speaks volumes about his understanding of child psychology and his dedication to his craft.
The story of Spielberg’s care for Barrymore extends beyond just keeping E.T. alive. The film’s cast recently reunited on “The Drew Barrymore Show” for the 40th anniversary, sharing heartwarming anecdotes about Barrymore’s interactions with the puppet. Henry Thomas, who played Elliot, recalled Barrymore’s concern for E.T.’s well-being, prompting her to request a scarf for the creature on a cold day.
Dee Wallace Stone, who played the children’s mother, revealed that Spielberg, upon witnessing Barrymore’s genuine connection with E.T., assigned two puppeteers to keep the character animated specifically for her interactions. This touching gesture not only fostered Barrymore’s imagination but also protected her innocent belief in the magic of the film.
Spielberg’s actions on the E.T. set transcended mere directing. He served as a protector of Barrymore’s innocence, a guardian of the magic they were creating together. In doing so, he gifted the world not just a timeless film, but a testament to the transformative power of empathy and imagination.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial remains a beloved classic, a beacon of childhood wonder that continues to inspire audiences of all ages. And beneath the surface of its fantastical story lies a tale of real-life magic, woven from Spielberg’s big heart and a little girl’s unwavering belief in the extraordinary.
Steven Spielberg appointing 2 guys to ensure E.T. was always operating incase Drew Barrymore went over to talk to him has made my heart so full. What a mensch pic.twitter.com/fsM9C5jLbh
— Liv Marks (@OliviaLilyMarks) October 29, 2022