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In an exclusive for The Digital Bits, I recently had a chance to meet with E.T.’s mom, actress Dee Wallace. She was charming and funny as she revisited the memories of making a small personal movie, budget roughly $10 million, for director Steven Spielberg.
Wallace has made well over 100 films, appeared in numerous television shows and is the author of three books. The most recent is titled Bright Light and explores Wallace’s emotional, spiritual and professional journey, including her unbearable losses as well as her triumphs. She is quite proud that E.T. has become a favorite of many generations.
Wallace said the story of E.T. is one of love and acceptance. “The legacy is about love and truth and keeping your heart open.” She believes the movie is the modern equivalent of The Wizard of Oz. “If you really want to get home, you need to be open to letting extra-terrestrials and everybody else into your life through love,” she said.
Wallace sees parallels between E.T. and The Wizard of Oz in which everybody has powers within themselves to make changes and find their way. “You have the power to get home, to who you are, to your authentic self,” she said.
Wallace was not a mom when she made E.T. but finds fans adore her role of Mary in the film. “People come up and say, ‘Oh my God I always wished I had the mother from E.T.’ and I say, “who wouldn’t?’” Wallace finds it amusing that her character was rather clueless to what was going on in her own home. Witness the scene in the kitchen when she fails to see E.T. right next to her.
The character Mary means well and loves her kids, which is why she has become such a favorite with moviegoers. “I think that nurturing place, that understanding place, that caring place, there’s something in all of us where we would give up our lives for something,” she said. Mary is a warm and caring character that would do anything for her kids. “That’s what E.T. was always about for me, understanding the love for these kids.” But she is not perfect, “sometimes not letting them get away with their crap because I love them so much,” she added.
What Wallace remembers most from making E.T. is watching Spielberg interact with young Drew Barrymore as Gertie, Henry Thomas as Elliott and Robert MacNaughton as Michael. She said that her favorite memory was “standing back and watching Steven working with the children.” Wallace was impressed with the young director as he helped them give natural performances. “He just loved those kids he was working with.” This, she believes, made the family on screen feel so real. “And I think that helped transcend to the screen, this family unit that is so prevalent in there.”
Wallace remembers Thomas having difficulty on some days but Spielberg always being there to help him, and the other actors, get through the problems. She said Spielberg was a good listener and really cared to make a memorable movie. Nobody had any ideas just how beloved E.T. would become during filming.
Wallace adores the scene in the kitchen where her character Mary is so overwhelmed with problems in the household, including Elliott’s misbehaving in school, that she doesn’t notice this strange little alien bumping into furniture near her. “My favorite scene is the kitchen scene where E.T. walks behind me and I don’t have any clue what’s going on,” she said. Wallace was amazed of the young boy (Matthew De Meritt) who performed as E.T. “A little boy with no legs was put upside down in the costume and that’s how he walked on his hands and that’s how they got that amazing look,” she said.
One of Wallace’s most memorable experiences on set involved young Barrymore. “But my favorite moment was me going to Drew and say, ‘OK Drew, we have to go do the scene now where E.T. is dying but you know he’s just acting like us, right?’ And she said, ‘I know
Spielberg also impressed Wallace by having a small crew film behind the scenes as they were shooting the movie. “The genius of Spielberg, what can I say?” Wallace said it was not common back then to film the cast and crew the way it is nowadays. And the new Blu-ray includes almost an hour of behind the scenes footage of Spielberg directing on set back in 1981. “We show so many of those delicious moments in one of the extras on the Blu-ray where we really go into the shooting and making of it, which, by the way, nobody was doing 30 years ago, right, having somebody covering the making of it,” she said.
Never before seen and new to Blu-ray, Steven Spielberg and E.T. is a short but new interview with the director about the impact of the movie on his career and his perspective on E.T. Also new is The E.T. Journals which takes the viewer back in time to what it was like being on the set of the movie, as filmed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer John Toll.
The Blu-ray also offers the DVD supplements, including two deleted scenes, A Look Back a 37 minute documentary made in 2002 with interviews from cast and crew, The E.T. Reunion on the occasion of the 20th anniversary in 2002, and two featurettes involving Academy Award-winning composer John Williams, The Music of E.T.: A Discussion with John Williams and The 20th Anniversary Premiere. There’s also approximately 47 minutes of photos in the Designs, Photographs and Marketing section. Finally, there is the excellent 50 minute documentary The Evolution and Creation of E.T. also made in 2002 on the movie’s 20th anniversary.
E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial works as well today as it did thirty years ago, a testament to its timeless storytelling, great performances, and a director just beginning to spin his magic on the silver screen.
- Mario Boucher
You can order the Blu-ray from Amazon.com by clicking on this cover image. The disc streets on 8/14. Be sure to read our in-depth review of E.T. on Blu-ray here.